In a February 2017 poll by the propagandistic organization Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, it was revealed that nearly 1 in 5 American millennials consider Joseph Stalin and Kim Jong Un “heroes”. The credibility of anything published by this deplorable organization is questionable but there is no denying that there is a rising interest in both communism and Stalin, and for good reason.
In this article, I share what some of the leading figures and politicals activists of the 20th century thought about Stalin: Albert Einstein, H. G. Wells, Nelson Mandela, W. E. B. Du Bois, Che Guevara, and Paul Robeson. I also share resources that will help in learning more about one of the greatest socialist revolutionaries in modern history and in shedding misconceptions bred by half a century of Western imperialistic propaganda.
Albert Einstein on Stalin
This is probably the best example of how our education has failed us. We all grew up learning about Einstein and his Theory of Relativity in school but most of us were never taught that Einstein was so much more than just a scientist. Einstein was a radical, a staunch supporter of socialism and the black communists in the US. He publicly and fiercely criticized British and American imperialism, and also strongly opposed Zionism. Einstein was also a supporter of the Soviet Union and thought very highly of Lenin. While these aspects of Einstein’s activism have been carefully removed from our formal education, what has been suppressed even further is that Einstein supported Stalin.
In a 1937 or 1938 letter to fellow German Nobel winning physicist Max Born, Einstein wrote:
“By the way, there are increasing signs that the Russian trials are not faked, but that there is a plot among those who look upon Stalin as a stupid reactionary who has betrayed the ideas of the revolution. Though we find it difficult to imagine this kind of internal thing, those who know Russia best are all more or less of the same opinion. I was firmly convinced to begin with that it was a case of a dictator’s despotic acts, based on lies and deception, but this was a delusion.” (The Born-Einstein Letters translated by Irene Born, Walker and Company, New York, 1971 ISBN 0-8027-0326-7)
Max Born commented on this letter, saying, “The Russian trials were Stalin’s purges, with which he attempted to consolidate his power. Like most people in the West, I believed these show trials to be the arbitrary acts of a cruel dictator. Einstein was apparently of a different opinion: he believed that when threatened by Hitler the Russians had no choice but to destroy as many of their enemies within their own camp as possible. I find it hard to reconcile this point of view with Einstein’s gentle, humanitarian disposition.”
Even though it seems that Max Born did not align with Einstein on his views regarding Stalin, Einstein continued to support Stalin and the USSR, primarily because of Stalin’s efforts to protect the Jews between the two World Wars. Stalin’s policies welcomed Jews into the Soviet Union and created a safe space for them at a time when they were being ruthlessly persecuted. The Soviet Union was also the first non-black nation that gave equal rights to blacks. Read more about Einstein and the Soviet here.
H. G. Wells on Stalin
The relevance of H. G. Wells is beyond his famous works in science fiction such as The Time Machine and The Invisible Man. Wells, a socialist, had also written extensively on human rights and his 1940 piece titled “The Rights of Man” was used as the foundation by the UN in the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights.
“I have never met a man more candid, fair and honest, and to these qualities it is, and to nothing occult and sinister, that he owes his tremendous undisputed ascendancy in Russia. I had thought before I saw him that he might be where he was because men were afraid of him, but I realize that he owes his position to the fact that no one is afraid of him and everybody trusts him.
I confess that I approached Stalin with a certain amount of suspicion and prejudice. A picture had been built up in my mind of a very reserved and self-centered fanatic, a despot without vices, a jealous monopolizer of power. I had been inclined to take the part of Trotsky against him. I had formed a very high opinion perhaps an excessive opinion, of Trotsky’s military and administrative abilities, and it seemed to me that Russia, which is in such urgent need of directive capacity at every turn, could not afford to send them into exile. Trotsky’s Autobiography, and more particularly the second volume, had modified this judgment but I still expected to meet a ruthless, hard—possibly doctrinaire—and self-sufficient man at Moscow; a Georgian highlander whose spirit had never completely emerged from its native mountain glen.
Yet I had had to recognize that under him Russia was not being merely tyrannized over and held down; it was being governed and it was getting on. Everything I had heard in favor of the First Five Year Plan I had put through a severely skeptical sieve, and yet there remained a growing effect of successful enterprise. I had listened more and more greedily to any first-hand gossip I could hear about both these contrasted men. I had already put a query against my grim anticipation of a sort of Bluebeard at the center of Russian affairs. Indeed if I had not been in reaction against these first preconceptions and wanting to get nearer the truth of the matter, I should never have gone again to Moscow.” – H. G. Wells, Experiment in Autobiography
Nelson Mandela on Stalin
We grew up hearing about and revering Nelson Mandela as a peace and civil rights activist. The first line of his Wikipedia introduction even calls him a philanthropist but does not mention that Mandela, too, was a communist.
In his notes on the Liu Shaoqi book How to be a Good Communist, Mandela wrote, “A Communist is a member of the Communist Party who understands and accepts the theory and practice of Marxism-Leninism as explained by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, and who subjects himself to the discipline of the Party.”
He also reiterated from Liu Shaoqi:
“Every Party member must raise his revolutionary qualities in every respect to the same level as those of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin…
Some say that it is impossible to acquire the great qualities of revolutionary geniuses like Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin and that it is impossible to raise our own qualities to the same level as theirs. But as long as Party members work hard and earnestly, never allow themselves to be isolated for one single moment from the day to day struggle of the people, and make serious efforts to study Marxist literature, learn from the experiences of other comrades and the masses of the people, and constantly strive to steel and cultivate themselves, they will be perfectly able to raise their qualities to the same level as that of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin.”
W. E. B. Du Bois on Stalin
W. E. B. Du Bois was an American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, writer, and editor. He was also a close friend of Einstein and Paul Robeson, and significantly influenced Einstein’s political development. Du Bois fought for the rights of blacks in the US and strongly protested against lynching, the Jim Crow laws, and firmly believed that capitalism was the primary cause of racism.
Du Bois wrote a eulogy to Stalin that was published in the National Guardian in 1953, titled On Stalin. Below is an excerpt from the obituary but I recommend reading the whole piece.
“Stalin was not a man of conventional learning; he was much more than that: he was a man who thought deeply, read understandingly and listened to wisdom, no matter whence it came. He was attacked and slandered as few men of power have been; yet he seldom lost his courtesy and balance; nor did he let attack drive him from his convictions nor induce him to surrender positions which he knew were correct. As one of the despised minorities of man, he first set Russia on the road to conquer race prejudice and make one nation out of its 140 groups without destroying their individuality.
His judgment of men was profound. He early saw through the flamboyance and exhibitionism of Trotsky, who fooled the world, and especially America. The whole ill-bred and insulting attitude of Liberals in the U.S. today began with our naive acceptance of Trotsky’s magnificent lying propaganda, which he carried around the world. Against it, Stalin stood like a rock and moved neither right nor left, as he continued to advance toward a real socialism instead of the sham Trotsky offered.
Such was the man who lies dead, still the butt of noisy jackals and of the ill-bred men of some parts of the distempered West. In life he suffered under continuous and studied insult; he was forced to make bitter decisions on his own lone responsibility. His reward comes as the common man stands in solemn acclaim.”
Che Guevara on Stalin
Che Guevara, like Mandela, needs little introduction. The revolutionary hero who, along with Fidel Castro, liberated Cuba from the oppressive Batista regime in 1959, was a dedicated socialist and Stalinist. While Che has been converted into a personality cult and is romanticized by both liberals and Leftists alike, it is not very widely known that Che had declared that he had “come to communism because of daddy Stalin”. (Stalin is regarded as the father of socialism for having built the first successful socialist state in modern history.)
During the Cuban revolution, Che had said, “In the so-called mistakes of Stalin lies the difference between a revolutionary attitude and a revisionist attitude. You have to look at Stalin in the historical context in which he moves, you don’t have to look at him as some kind of brute, but in that particular historical context. I have come to communism because of daddy Stalin and nobody must come and tell me that I mustn’t read Stalin. I read him when it was very bad to read him. That was another time. And because I’m not very bright, and a hard-headed person, I keep on reading him. Especially in this new period, now that it is worse to read him. Then, as well as now, I still find a Seri of things that are very good.”
Years before the Cuban revolution, in 1953, after having completed his famous travels in the Motorcycle Diaries, a 25-year-old Che had written to his aunt Beatriz, saying, “Along the way, I had the opportunity to pass through the dominions of the United Fruit, convincing me once again of just how terrible these capitalist octopuses are. I have sworn before a picture of the old and mourned comrade Stalin that I won’t rest until I see these capitalist octopuses annihilated.”
Paul Robeson on Stalin
Paul Robeson was an American concert artist and stage and film actor who became famous both for his cultural accomplishments and for his political activism. He was a socialist who strongly opposed imperialism and supported the Soviet Union, which got him blacklisted due to McCarthyism. Consequently, his income was severely affected and he was also denied an American passport in 1939. His travel rights were restored only in 1958.
Like Du Bois, Robeson also wrote a eulogy to Stalin that was published in the New World Review in 1953, titled To You Beloved Comrade. In it, he wrote, “Here was clearly a man who seemed to embrace all. So kindly—I can never forget that warm feeling of kindliness and also a feeling of sureness. Here was one who was wise and good—the world and especially the socialist world was fortunate indeed to have his daily guidance. I lifted high my son Paul to wave to this world leader, and his leader. For Paul, Jr. had entered school in Moscow, in the land of the Soviets… in this whole area of development of national minorities—of their relation to the Great Russians—Stalin had played and was playing a most decisive role.
I was later to travel—to see with my own eyes what could happen to so-called backward peoples. In the West (in England, in Belgium, France, Portugal, Holland)—the Africans, the Indians (East and West), many of the Asian peoples were considered so backward that centuries, perhaps, would have to pass before these so-called ’colonials’ could become a part of modern society.
But in the Soviet Union, Yakuts, Nenetses, Kirgiz, Tadzhiks—had respect and were helped to advance with unbelievable rapidity in this socialist land. No empty promises, such as colored folk continuously hear in the United States, but deeds. For example, the transforming of the desert in Uzbekistan into blooming acres of cotton. And an old friend of mine, Mr. Golden, trained under Carver at Tuskegee, played a prominent role in cotton production. In 1949, I saw his daughter, now grown and in the university—a proud Soviet citizen.
Stalin, Glory to Stalin. Forever will his name be honored and beloved in all lands.”
The views of such leading human rights activists and intellectuals on Stalin are highly relevant today as we begin to understand that Stalin was deliberately demonized by Western capitalists and that any form of government other than a Western liberal democracy has been labeled a dictatorship. Western media, along with our failed education apparatus, have ensured that we do not learn about the political activism of these leaders and their support of socialism. Modern history is primarily a fight between socialism and capitalism, a fight that capitalism has nearly won through anti-communist propaganda, which has been brainwashing people for over half a century.
To understand Stalin and the Soviet under his leadership better, I recommend reading Another View of Stalin by Ludo Martens. It can be ordered here but if you cannot afford it or if it does not deliver in your country, you can also download a PDF version for free.
You can also listen to this podcast on Stalin by Revolutionary Left Radio that gives an objective view of Stalin and his governance of the Soviet Union.
The legacy of Stalin lives on and as Paul Robeson mentioned in his obituary about Stalin:
“In the inspired words of Lewis Allan, our progressive lyricist—
To you Beloved Comrade, we make this solemn vow
The fight will go on—the fight will still go on.
Sleep well, Beloved Comrade, our work will just begin.
The fight will go on—till we win—until we win.”
An earlier version of this article mentioned that Nelson Mandela wrote How to be a Good Communist but the book was originally written by Liu Shaoqi and Mandela made handwritten notes about it.