La Pasionaria on Stalin and the Mass Line

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Dolores Ibárruri with Vietnamese Communist leader Ho Chi Minh

The following article from 1940, “Stalin, Leader of Peoples, Man of the Masses” is by Dolores Ibárruri, also known as “La Pasionaria”, Communist militant and political leader of the Republican forces during the anti-fascist Spanish Civil War. The article is particularly interesting in its exploration of the method of leadership that the Chinese Communists would call “the mass line“.

Stalin, Leader of Peoples, Man of the Masses

To speak of the triumph of socialism on one-sixth of the earth; to write about the luxuriant development of agriculture in the Soviet Union, a development unequalled by any other country; to admire the astounding growth of socialist industry and the tempestuous advance of the workers; to marvel at the unprecedented achievements of the mighty Soviet air fleet, at the powerful reinforcements of the Soviet navy; to describe the glorious deeds of the Red Army, liberator of peoples; to study the wonderful mechanism of the gigantic socialist state with its manifold nationalities united by indissoluble bonds of fraternal friendship; to observe the progress of science, art, the culture of all Soviet peoples, the joyous life of their children, their women, the workers, the peasants and the intellectuals, the permanent security of all of them and their confidence in the future; to know the daily life of socialism and the heroic deeds of the Soviet people—means to see Stalin, to speak of Stalin, to experience Stalin.

For Stalin—means people, work, struggle; Stalin—means unswerving loyalty to the revolutionary principles of Marxism-Leninism; Stalin—means unyielding hardness towards the opportunists, towards the betrayers and enemies of the toiling people; means tireless vigilance against all enemies of socialism.

Within the limited space of an article, it is very difficult to hold fast to the wealth of features that determine the political countenance and the human profile.

Of the genius who, together with Lenin, knew how to find still unexplored paths of Marxist science, paths of socialist construction along which the Bolshevik Party advanced and, under the conditions of capitalist encirclement, destroyed capitalism in one country, uprooted the last remnants of capitalist economy and built a socialist order for the first time in history;

Of the admirable leader who, with absolute devotion to the cause of communism, set himself the greatest world-historic task of building up socialism in a country which is surrounded by hostile capitalist powers and actually solved this task;

Of the leader of peoples who, at the head of the Bolshevik Party, with calm assurance, led the working class and the millions of peasants as well as the peoples of the Soviet Union into the struggle against the capitalist survivals and against the backwardness of the country and who led this country to victory over the musty and difficult past in which hunger, misery and oppression ruled;

Of the great revolutionary who created a new social order in which there are no exploiters and no exploited, an order of which the best representatives of humanity only dared to dream, an order which is the shock-brigade of the international proletariat, which, through the beacon light of its socialist victories, promises all oppressed peoples the perspective of liberation.

How could this titanic achievement be realized? Where did Stalin get this energy, this indomitable will that permitted him to stand fast in the most dangerous moments?

There is nothing “miraculous” in the life and revolutionary work of the leader of the world proletariat. With his characteristic modesty and simplicity, he has himself explained the origin of his strength, the source of his energy, of his endurance and firmness in the struggle for communism.

In his speech at the final session of the Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in March, 1937, Comrade Stalin explained where and how the Bolsheviks find the strength necessary for waging a successful struggle.

“Lenin taught us,” Stalin said, “not only to teach. the masses but also to learn from them.

“What does this mean?

“It means, first, that we leaders must not become conceited; and we must understand that if we are members of the Central Committee or are People’s Commissars, this does not mean that we possess all the knowledge necessary for giving correct leadership. An official position by itself does not provide knowledge and experience. This is still more the case in respect to a title.

“This means, second, that our experience, alone, the experience of leaders, is insufficient to give correct leadership; that, consequently, it is necessary that one’s experience, the experience of leaders, be supplemented by the experience of the masses, by the experience of the rank-and-file Party members, by the experience of the working class, by the experience of the people.

“This means, third, that we must not for one moment weaken, and still less break, our connection with the masses.

“This means, fourth, that we must pay careful attention to the voice of the masses, to the voice of the rank-and-file members of the Party, to the voice of the so-called ‘small men,’ to the voice of the people.” (Joseph Stalin, Mastering Bolshevism, pp. 54-55, Workers Library Publishers, New York.)

And he further emphasizes:

“Contacts with the masses, the strengthening of these contacts, readiness to listen to the voices of the masses-in this lie the strength and inpregnability of Bolshevik leadership.” (Ibid., p. 58.)

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Chinese poster illustrating the leadership of Comrade Stalin

This ardent emphasis on the importance of the Party and the leaders being connected with the masses; this profound conviction of the necessity of not becoming isolated from the masses-a conviction which Stalin instills in the consciousness of every Bolshevik, of every member of the Communist Party and every non-Party Bolshevik-reveals one of the many characteristics which make Comrade Stalin the best intepreter and continuer of Marxism-Leninism; of teachings which are hostile to all that makes for rigidity, of teachings which, basing themselves on the experiences of the masses, makes theory a living reality and leads the proletariat along the path of victory.

Marx said, “Theory becomes a material power when it takes hold of the masses.”

And Comrade Stalin always takes this power, the power of the masses, into account, that is, of the workers, of the peasants, of the toiling intellectuals, that power on which the Party as the vanguard of the working class must base itself, as the Party that leads the struggle against the class enemy and against all the forces and survivals of the old capitalist social order.

And just as great as Stalin’s love for the masses, as his concern for them, as the attention which he pays to even the slightest justifiable wish if it can be transformed into revolutionary energy—is the firmness with which he corrects mistakes that have been committed, the boundless courage with which he goes against the stream and blocks its course when it threatens to take a direction not in accord with the interests of the Revolution.

It was in 1905, the year of intense revolutionary actions, the year that began with the tragic and bloody Sunday on which the armed forces of the tsarist autocracy fired upon peacefully demonstrating workers. Following this crime, the revolutionary wave, whipped up by the Bolsheviks, spread all over Russia. The tsar and his advisers were frightened by the anger of the people and on October 17, 1905, the tsar published a proclamation in which he made vague promises of reforming the autocratic regime.

The Mensheviks, especially the Mensheviks of Transcaucasia where Comrade Stalin lived during this period, were furious because the workers had plunged into the struggle. They used every means in an effort to halt the uprising of the workers and peasants who were determined to fight.

The Mensheviks regarded the tsar’s proclamation as a great achievement, a “great victory” and were of the opinion that an armed struggle was now out of the question.

In his book On the History of the Bolshevik Organization in Transcaucasia, Comrade L. Beria quotes the remarkable reminiscences of M. Torozhelidze which relate how the Georgian Mensheviks received the tsarist proclamation of 1905 and how Comrade Stalin appeared before the Georgian workers:

“The day on which the Proclamation of 1905 was issued,” Comrade Torozhelidze reports, “a meeting was called in Nadsaladevi (Tiflis). The well-known Menshevik Noe Ramishvili stands on the platform and, triumphantly, announces: ‘Henceforth there is no autocracy, the autocracy is dead. Russia is entering the ranks of the constitutional monarchies. Henceforth our slogan will not be “Down With Absolutism,” but “Down With the Monarchy.”’ He is followed by several speakers who repeat the same thing. Finally, a speaker ends his speech with the words: ‘We do not want arms, down with arms!’ He also is enthusiastically applauded by the people. . . . At this moment, Comrade Koba (Stalin) appears on the platform: ‘I must tell you that you have a bad habit,’ he begins, ‘no matter who speaks and no matter what he says, you greet him with joy and applause. They tell you: “Long live freedom,” and you applaud. “Long live the Revolution,” and you applaud. That is good, but when they tell you “Down with arms,” you also applaud this. What revolution can be victorious without arms and what revolutionary would say: “Down with arms!” A speaker who says this is probably a Tolstoian, not a revolutionary and whoever he may be, he is an enemy of the Revolution and of the freedom of the people.’

“The people began to stir and voices asked: ‘Who is that? What a biting speech! The language of a Jacobin!’ Koba continues: ‘What is needed for a real victory? For this three things are needed: first, we need arms, second, arms, third, again and again arms.’ (Applause.)”

How could the twenty-five-year-old Stalin so courageously oppose a crowd which was under the influence of Menshevik lies?

Because Stalin was an integral part of that mass of people who wanted to struggle. Because these people saw in Stalin one of their own, a brother, a friend, a comrade, who lived with them; who felt their pains, their suffering, their misery, their oppression; who struggled with them, who led them into the battles and who did not desert them in difficult moments.

They believed in him, they knew him as one who was incorruptible and who served the interests of the oppressed with boundless devotion, who was unyielding and relentless in the struggle against the servants of the autocracy, in the struggle against the enemies of the working class. The words, “We believe in Stalin, we trust Stalin,” which years later were uttered by millions—workers, peasants, men and women—tortured by the capitalist oppressors, degraded and enslaved by the exploitation of the bourgeoisie in all capitalist countries and in the most backward colonial countries—these words were at that time and are today on the lips and in the hearts of those who are fighting in Stalin’s ranks to liberate humanity from the fetters of exploitation and oppression.

And they were not deceived at that time, just as the workers today are not deceiving themselves. They who look back into the past, test the present, and peer into the future—standing above the bourgeois pseudo-patriotism with which the Social-Democratic leaders cloak the real aims of the present imperialist war—and in the factories and mines, in the fields, at the front and in the trenches, they say: “We have confidence in the policy of the Soviet Union, we have full confidence in Stalin.”

And this happens because Stalin’s word is always followed by deeds which correspond to this word.

Pitilessly, he criticized the philistine and corrupt leaders of Social-Democracy who say one thing and do another; with the white-hot steel of his solid and indisputable sentences, he branded those who revealed an abyss between words and deeds; who claim to represent the cause of the working class, who speak of socialism, of peace, of right and justice, but who are really agents of the worst enemies of the workers.

“The workers cannot trust their leaders when these leaders sink into the swamp of the diplomatic game, when their words are not supported by deeds, when the words and deeds of leaders do not coincide. Why have the Russian workers displayed such boundless confidence in Comrade Lenin? Merely because his policies were correct? No. Not because of that alone, but also because they knew that there was no contradiction between Lenin’s words and Lenin’s deeds, because they knew: ‘Lenin does not fool us!’

“It was on this, among other things, that Lenin’s authority rested. That is how Lenin trained the workers, that is how he kept alive in them faith in leaders.” (Stalin, “Speech to the German Commission of the Enlarged Executive Committee of the Communist International,” The Communist International, No. 3, 1926, p. 286.)

And for the same reason, Stalin is loved by the Communists of all countries and, together with them, millions of workers and peasants who are enslaved by capitalism—even in the remotest countries of the world. For that reason, they believe in Stalin; for that reason, they trust him.

And they trust Stalin and believe in Stalin not only because they see the correctness of his policies confirmed by their own experience, not only because the facts have proved the correctness of Stalin’s predictions, but because they know Stalin’s words are facts, deeds, because Stalin like Lenin “never deceives,” that Stalin is firm and unshakeable in the cause of the toilers, in the cause of Communism.

Stalin is an irreconcilable enemy of all the bureaucracy of calculating politicians who believe that they are everything and the masses are nothing; who doubt the masses because they are afraid that when the Revolution is unleashed, the masses might “go too far” and overstep the bounds drawn by the laboratory “theoreticians” of the Revolution. Stalin castigates the vices of pedantry, the disregard of the masses, the fear of them. Stalin is always with the masses, believes in them; he gives expression to this belief in the following words:

“Theoreticians and leaders of parties who know the history of nations, who have studied the history of revolutions from beginning to end, are sometimes afflicted with an unpleasant disease. This disease is known as fear of the masses, lack of confidence in the creative ability of the masses. Sometimes on this ground a certain aristocratic pose is displayed by leaders towards the masses who, although not versed in t the history of revolutions, are destined to break up the old and build the new. The fear that the elements may break forth, that the masses may ‘break up too much,’ the desire to play the role of nurses who try to teach the masses from books but who refuse to learn from the masses—such is this sort of aristocracy.” (J., V. Stalin, Lenin, p. 28, International Publishers, New York.)

In every situation, Comrade Stalin wants to make the masses conscious of their strength; he wants to uproot their old attitude that their leaders are “liberators,” “messiahs.” He wants every worker, every peasant, every toiler, to feel his own strength, to feel that he is a citizen, to become capable of being a hero at the front as well as the rear, a hero in every sphere of socialist construction. He wants to penetrate to the most backward sections of the people and arouse in them the feeling of collective strength, the pride of common achievement, the consciousness of the worth of every member of the great socialist family. Stalin is always a leader to the masses; at the same time, he always learns from the masses.

He “does not go down” to the workers in the sense that vain numbskulls give to these words—but he raises them up to himself.

Let us see what he says in his speech in 1926 to the workers of Tiflis:

“Comrade Arakel (Okushvili) stated here that in the past he considered himself my teacher and me his pupil. That is quite right. I am and continue to be a pupil of the vanguard of the railroad shop workers of Tiflis.

“I recall back in 1898 when I was first entrusted with the conduct of a circle of railroad shop workers. It was 28 years ago. I remember when I acquired my first lessons in practical work in the home of Comrade Sturua, in the presence of Sylvester Dzhibladze (he was also one of my teachers at that time), S. Tshodrushvili, George Tsheidze, Micho Botshorishvili, Comrade Kinua and other advanced workers of Tiflis. In comparison with these comrades, I was a beginner at that time. Maybe I was better read then than many of these comrades, but as far as practical work was concerned I was unquestionably a beginner. Here in the circle of these comrades, I received my first revolutionary baptism. Here in the circle of these comrades I became an apprentice of the Revolution. As you see, the Tiflis workers were my first teachers. Allow me now to express to them my sincere fraternal thanks.

“I further recall the years 1905 to 1907 when the Party sent me to work in Baku. Two years of revolutionary work among the oil workers hardened me as a practical fighter and as one of the practical leaders. In my contact with such advanced workers of Baku as Vazek, Saratovez and others, on the one hand, and in the storm of great struggles between the workers and the oil magnates, on the other hand, I learned for the first time what it means to lead large masses of workers. There in Baku, therefore, I received my second revolutionary baptism of fire. Allow me now to express my sincere, fraternal thanks to my Baku teachers.

Finally I recall the year 1917 when the Party sent me to Leningrad after the hardships of prison and exile. There, in the circle of the Russian workers, in the immediate proximity of the great teacher of the proletariat of all countries, Comrade Lenin, in the storm of great struggles between proletariat and bourgeoisie under the conditions created by the imperialist war, I learned to understand for the first time what it means to be one of the leaders of the great Party of the working class. There in the circle of Russian workers, of the liberator of oppressed peoples and the champion of the proletarian struggle of all countries and nations, I received my third revolutionary baptism of fire. There in Russia, under Lenin’s leadership, I became a master of revolution. Allow me to express my sincere, fraternal thanks to my Russian teachers and to bow my head in memory of my teacher, Lenin.

From apprentice (Tiflis) through journeyman (Baku) to master of our Revolution (Leningrad)—that, comrades, is the school of my revolutionary development. That, comrades, is the true picture of what I was and what I have become, if I am to speak honestly and without exaggeration.” (Stalin’s speech before the meeting of the central railroad shops in Tiflis, June 8, 1926.)

By consistent work, Comrade Stalin creates and develops the confidence of the masses in the leading Party of the revolution; for they see that shortcomings are openly corrected, mistakes criticized and that it is not afraid to admit its errors.

Stalin’s vigilant eye discovers the weaknesses and uncovers them in order to correct them. Stalin castigates the “lacquered” Communists who are of the opinion that open criticism might undermine the authority of the Party or of its leaders. Comrade Stalin said the following regarding this at the meeting of the Moscow actives of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks) in 1928:

“I know there are people in the ranks of our Party who are not very fond of criticism in general and self-criticism in particular. These people whom I should like to call ‘lacquered’ Communists shy away from self-criticism, and growl: ‘That cursed self-criticism again; bringing up our shortcomings again; why don’t they let us alone?’ It is clear that these ‘lacquered’ Communists have nothing in common with the spirit of our Party, with the spirit of Bolshevism.” (International Press Correspondence, No. 40, 1928, p. 711.)

And Comrade Stalin teaches us how we must utilize the initiative of the masses, how the Bolsheviks must listen attentively to their voices, and must investigate their complaints and troubles with affectionate care; he teaches us to appreciate the enormous value of the criticism and self-criticism of the masses.

“Often,” Stalin says, “our critics are reprimanded because of the incompleteness of their criticism; they are reprimanded because their criticism is not always 100 per cent correct. Sometimes the demand is made that a criticism be correct in all its points, and when it is not correct in everything, people begin to denounce it, to drag it through the mire. That is false, comrades. That is a dangerous mistake. Just try to put forth such a demand and you will shut the mouths of hundreds and thousands of workers, of worker and peasant correspondents who want to correct our shortcomings but who do not always know how correctly to formulate their thoughts.” (Ibid., p. 712.)

“ . . . You must know that the workers sometimes hesitate to tell the truth about the defects of our work…. In order not to suppress self-criticism, but to develop it, we must listen attentively to every criticism by the Soviet people, even when it is not entirely correct or not correct in every detail. Only under these conditions can the masses be convinced that they will not ‘put their foot’ into it by an inadequate criticism and that they will not be ‘laughed at’ because of some deficiency in their criticism. Only under this condition can selfcriticism really acquire a mass character and really find a mass echo.” (Stalin, On the Work of the Enlarged April Plenum of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission, April 13, 1928. pp. 9-11, Russ. ed.)

The profound love for Stalin, the boundless confidence of the workers in him, is not only confined to the Soviet people, to the workers and peasants of the Land of Socialism.

Everyone of us Communists who work in close contact with the masses of people any place in the world knows very well the profound love of the toilers, the exploited, for the man who embodies the longing for freedom of the oppressed throughout the world.

I recall our joy and emotion during the years before the rebellion of the Franco generals when we went on a propaganda tour in the Asturian mountains, in the heart of Castile, Andalusia or Estramadura, in localities where there was no organization—and when we arrived, a man or woman came to us from the village and joy and satisfaction radiated from their sunburned faces: “We have no Party but we have a little Stalin.”

And they brought us their son, a small lad whom they had named Stalin.

We asked: “Why did you do it?” And the answer was naive and simple: “Because Stalin is the best protector of the poor.”

“And how do you know that?”

“Because they made a revolution in Russia and because they gave the land of the gentry to the peasants; the factories and mines no longer belong to the rich. There are no longer any bourgeois there. And Stalin has led this revolution, and because we also want that, we love Stalin; and we named our boy Stalin so that every day we see him he will remind us that we still have to make the revolution.”

That may seem naive to many people; and yet, in the course of events; it was of profound significance.

In the revolutionary war of the Spanish people, it was, as we know, the peasants who supplied the greatest percentage of the people’s army.

And Stalin’s name was like the dawn of the coming freedom and the coming prosperity to the landless peasants of Asturias, Estramadura, Andalusia—in those provinces where we still had a chance to speak with the peasants before the war—and Castile. The name told them that the rule of the rich can be broken; it reminded them that there is a country in the world where this has already been realized and where the peasants and workers, masters of their own fate, live joyous and happy under the banner of socialism.

This feeling of boundless love and boundless confidence in Stalin has been expressed by our whole people, all Spain, which has fought for its freedom and independence: the workers and the peasants who courageously and resolutely entered the heroic struggle for a revolutionary Spain. The day on which our Jose Diaz received the historic telegram from Comrade Stalin in which the best friend of the oppressed peoples said:

“If the toilers of the Soviet Union help the revolutionary masses, they are only doing their duty. They are aware that the liberation of Spain from the oppression of the fascist reactionaries is not the private affair of the Spaniards, but is the common cause of all advanced and progressive mankind.” (The Communist International, August, 1938, p. 708.)

This day was a day of jubilation and joy in republican Spain. In the cities and villages, at the fronts and at the rear, millions of voices, expressing what their hearts felt, cheered Stalin. In the factories and trenches, the workers and soldiers carved the name “Stalin” on their tools and on their gun-stocks. The most beautiful streets of the cities and the most important localities were called: Soviet Union Avenue. And Stalin’s picture had a place of honor in every home and his name, lived in the hearts of all who fought and worked for a Spain freed from its age-old enemies.

Despite the difficult, terrible conditions under which our people live and struggle and offer stubborn resistance to its hangmen today, they cannot tear from the hearts of the toiling masses of Spain the memory of Stalin, of the noble unselfish aid which the great Soviet people generously gave our people in the unforgettable days of the heroic struggle.

Stalin is right when he says that only the people is immortal and everything else is transitory. But his work is as immortal as the people; for Stalin, the friend and collaborator of the great Lenin, has made it possible for the one hundred and eighty-three million people of the Soviet Union to live happily, for the people to feel free and build their own lives.

And in this immortality of the people, Stalin’s name ever remains the beacon light illuminating the way for the struggles of today and tomorrow on humanity’s road to communism.

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6 responses to “La Pasionaria on Stalin and the Mass Line

  1. Your conclusion of YOUR text ” the mass-line” is: “We are not a large organization, and there will be many twists and turns on the road. There is no reason for us to be boastful at this point in the game. We should be modest and learn from the people as they learn from us. By consistently applying the mass line we can do that. It is a powerful tool for building the struggle, for strengthening the organizations and movements of the people, and constructing revolutionary organization. We do not know when our class will take power. But we can be absolutely sure that the organization that is at the forefront of the revolutionary process will make use of the mass line.”

    I am afraid that here lays a capitulation, not doing “vanguard” propaganda with “vanguard” political points.
    Although Stalin was “a man of the masses” he opposed a by the masses aplauded slogan, “Down with all arms” with: “No, we have to collect our arms and USE them for revolution which is in fact already beginning”

    So is now, I think, the moment for revolutinaries to explain (with all kinds of CONCRETE analysis) that the workers (in the imperialist centres as US and Europe) have to organise themselves for tearing down imperialism. That is their task as a part of the worldwide working class, of which the biggest part are living in colonial productionrelations put on them by FORCE. The ongoing extension of the imperialist war in Afghanistan, Irak (and in the future against Iran?), the commitment to the further existence of “Israel”, is such an actual colonizing FORCE.
    That is also their contribution to the development of a worldwide anti-imparialist united front, that is already in its beginning stage….

  2. I should say, Nico, that a lot has changed for Freedom Road since the late 1980s, when that study on the mass line was written, both in terms of the strength of subjective forces, and certainly in terms of objective conditions. I do not disagree with your point that communists must put out a revolutionary line to advanced workers. But I have to say as well that the FRSO still is not the vanguard of the entire working class in the united states, though certainly it attempts to play a vanguard role in the struggles in which it participates.

  3. Well, I hope your organisation wil overcome a similar outburst of some opportunism (round 1985)that led in 2004 to an installing of an revisionist leadership in the WPB (round Peter Mertens and Boudewijn Deckers), an expelling of some cadres who did not overcome totally that opportunism but remains on anti-imperialist principles (as there were Nadine Rosa Rosso and Luk Vervaet).
    In 2008 the majority of the WPB congres accepted that WPB became, IN FACT a reformist party.
    Of course there will NOT be an exact IDENTICAL evolution in YOUR organisation. I just was worried because recognizing some conceptions…..
    But as long as you are trying to play a vanguard role IN THE PRACTICE, and let develop al (internal) discussions on a real democratic centralist way that that are linked to that militant practice, I am convinced that FRSO will be at least a part of that final vanguard organisation of the whole working class in the US.

  4. Cde,

    I am looking for an online article outlining the trechery of German social democracy in refusing to form an alliance with the KPD. Any suggestions appreciated.

    John

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