The Russian Revolution, 1917-1945

By Anthony D’Agostino | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 14
A Debate: Was Stalin Necessary?

We end this inquiry with a little debate. The topic, or rather the cluster of topics, has to do with the question of historical necessity. How much of the history discussed in this volume should be regarded as having been avoidable or, on the other side, fortuitous?

Not long after the end of the war, but before the death of Stalin, Isaac Deutscher, in what became a celebrated work, Stalin: a Political Biography, raised the question of whether Stalin had been “historically necessary.” Deutscher offered the view that his subject should be separated from the literary context of twentieth-century wickedness where he stands as a peer of Hitler. Deutscher was at the time one of the most valued authorities on Soviet subjects, largely because of his ex-Communist credentials and his intimate knowledge of the international movement. As a member of the Polish Communist party, he had opposed Stalin’s turn toward collectivization of agriculture in 1928, a critique that resulted in his expulsion. He and Trotsky, for different reasons, became exiles at about the same time.

Although he had been, strictly speaking, a supporter of the Bukharin position, when he read Trotsky’s account of the rise of Stalin, he found himself in agreement. From this point on he was to champion Trotsky’s line of anti-Stalinism, including the analysis found in Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed of 1936. Deutscher, however, could not go along with Trotsky’s notion of the political overthrow of the Stalinist “bureaucracy,” nor that the Stalin leadership of the Comintern was entirely counter-revolutionary. He refused to join with Trotsky in the project of a Fourth International. That was a

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