Project Canterbury

Joseph Stalin

An Address Given by the Rev. Stanley Evans, M.A., at a Memorial Service for Joseph Stalin at the Church of St. George, Queen Square, London, on March 13th, 1953.

London: Society of Socialist Clergy and Ministers, 1953.

Transcribed by Richard Mammana 2019

Since Thursday of last week the entire Soviet peoples have been plunged into mourning, and their grief at the loss of their leader has been fully shared by the peoples of China, of Mongolia, of Poland, of Czechoslovakia, of Bulgaria, of Rumania, of Hungary and of Albania. From the Arctic to the Black Sea heads have been bowed in grief and eyes have been moist with tears: from the centre of Europe to the other side of Asia men and women have been joined in a sense of personal loss. But the men and women of Moscow who have so mourned; the collective farmers of Karaganda; the herdsmen of Kazakhstan; the treefellers in Latvia; the miners in the Donbas; the machine-men of the Urals—they have not been alone in their mourning. The death of Joseph Stalin, the great Soviet leader, has not accentuated the traffic East-West division which bedevils the world today, rather has it minimised it, for the grief of the peoples who acknowledged his leadership has been fully shared by a vast number of others throughout the world. Working people who have seen in him the leader of their historic struggle for emancipation; Asiatic people who have seen in him the lode-star of their liberation; honest men and women of every class and every philosophy who have seen in him an outstanding leader in the struggle for world peace in which we are now engaged—these too have mourned.

If, then, the question be asked, why is it that we commemorate this man, who was an atheist, in a  Christian church, the first answer is that a church which could ignore so vast an array of human feeling, a church which was insensitive to so profound a sea of human grief, would be a church bereft of that charity which is supposed to be its hallmark, of that compassion for suffering mankind of which is the first endowment of its Master.

But, important as this answer is, imperative as it is at a time when sympathetic and fundamental understanding between peoples is the very key to world salvation, there is much more to be said. For this man whom we commemorate today, Joseph Stalin, was not loved and venerated by so vast and diverse sections of humanity without abundant reason; the feelings which he evoked can only be the result of a leadership of a quite distinctive quality and of labours which have borne a fruit which a considerable proportion of the human race has found to its taste.

Next after Lenin, Stalin epitomises the Russian Revolution. “The importance of Russia,” said a Report of the Commission of the Churches for International Friendship and Social Responsibility in 1942, “lies not merely in the vast population and resources governed by the Soviet; but also in the fact that under the forms and methods of Communism a régime has been created in which the rights and needs of the common man are prior to the rights of property. The extent of this achievement, not only in the economic but also in the social and cultural spheres, can hardly be exaggerated.” Exactly. This was the monumental achievement of the Russian Revolution that, for the first time in history, the rights and needs of the common man were given priority to the so-called rights of property. The ordinary man was no longer stunted and starved and oppressed and thwarted. Society was his: he was society. The result has surpassed believe because it has meant that the vast creativity which lies latent in every human being has begun to blossom, and today, when the Russian Revolution stands no longer alone, but China and a whole series of European countries are following the same road, we see from Stettin-Trieste to the Yellow Sea that inch by inch, step by step, yard by yard, mile by mile, the horrors of poverty give back before the heralds of plenty: that illiteracy disappears and is flooded out not by mere literacy but by an era of universal discussion, that quite literally the deserts, for the first time in history, yield pride of place to fertility; that rivers are chained and canals are built; that suppression gives place to equality. Russia and the Far East have been the classic lands of the subordination of women; they are so no more. They have abounded in national oppression; they do so no longer. The Russia of the Black Hundreds was the foul land of anti-Jewish pogroms and ritual murder trials—today it is a land of racial equality. All this and much else has sprung from placing first “the rights and needs of the common man,” of putting man before money. It is a monumental achievement. In Russia itself it means that a country once typified by the Mouzhik with the bent back and the vodka bottle is now typified by the stalwart upright men of clear purpose, who possess what the present British Ambassador in Moscow described after a visit to Stalingrad only a few months ago as an “electric feeling of energy.”

We live a world of party political debate and prejudice, most of which is as childish and pathetic as the attempts of King John to hold back the waters of the Wash. If, only for a moment, this prejudice can be swept aside, who could be found to deny that this revolution which has transformed and is transforming so vast a section of Europe and Asia from backwardness and barbarity to a seething cauldron of purposeful and fraternal human endeavour, is a landmark, and more than a landmark, in human history? And if this is so is not humanity immeasurably in the debt of the acknowledged leader of such endeavour?

We are apt to forget something of the price which has been paid for these achievements. The life of men like Stalin in the Russia of the Czars was that of outlaws; for them the chain, the knout, prison, exile in the Arctic. He himself went through it all, constantly escaping, never giving in, and emerging from it to play an outstanding part in the events of 1917 and the succeeding years.

His first post in the Soviet Government was one which has a significance of its own: he was the Commissar for Nationalities. Not only was he given a task of utmost complexity, and that because of his own previous theoretical studies in this matter, he was placed at the point of principle. It was an Englishman who first said: “No nation which enslaves others can itself be free,” it was the Georgian Stalin who first put it into practice. But this was by no means his only service at that period: wherever he the battle was hottest there was to be found the “man of steel,” and the name of Stalingrad itself commemorates his classic defence of Tsaritsyn in the days when the rule of the common man was being threatened by the armed onslaughts of the defenders of privilege at home and by their supporters from all over the world who fought the common man at home by trying to crush his victory in Russia.

There is neither time, nor is this the place, to give any general survey of the life of this remarkable man. This, however, must be noted: that after the death of Lenin he became more and more the acknowledged leader of the Soviet peoples, and that it was under his leadership that their gains were consolidated and that they proceeded constantly from one achievement to another. The planning of industry, the development of industry, the struggle for co-operation in farming, these and many other things were bought at a price, which was no light one and which was deliberately accepted with the idea that not all the gangrened evil of the past idea of the priority of property over man, whatever eruption it threatened, could be allowed to stop the march into the future.

But among all these struggles one thing stands out: it is the dispute with Trotsky. This is a subject not often spoken about in churches, although even here it may be noted with considerable propriety, for it is important still today to consider what was involved in Trotsky’s doctrine of the export of revolution. In the name of progress it proposed to bleed humanity: it proposed that whatever strength the Soviet people had gathered should be expended in the promotion of revolutions abroad and in fanning the flames of civil wars. When, in after years, the history of this century of ours is written, it may well be that this episode will be seen as one of overwhelming importance and that the man who, in the name of social justice and of revolution itself, set himself to thwart this project, taking the commonsense view that there would be revolution or not as each separate people decided and as their conditions determined, not only saved the world from much that was senseless and tragic, but also preserved for the world the victory of the common man in his own country. Surely the day will come when it will be universally seen that the debt here is overwhelming.

And who can deny that the debt was overwhelming in the second World War? In these days, when the generals who marched for Hitler are again pressing their uniforms, it is not so fashionable as it was to speak of fascism. But fashions do not alter facts, and Auschwitz with its gas chambers and its mechanised murder still epitomises a tyranny as evil, as deadly and as dangerous as the world has ever known. From this scourge humanity was saved because, however late in the day, it learnt a lesson in unity and solidarity; but for all that in the heroic page of history that was then written no name stands out more clearly than that of the man who then led the Soviet people. “There is,” said the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1942, “a beacon shining through the clouds of destiny. That is Russia, who is fighting as one man not for any system or party but for the cause of freedom.” At the focus of that beacon was Joseph Stalin. Few of us realize, perhaps, how much he was its focus. Visiting the Soviet Union shortly after the war, it was interesting to hear men who had taken a leading part in the struggle at Stalingrad say: “During the battle we had a direct wire to the Kremlin. Whenever we ’phoned we spoke at once with Stalin himself. We wondered when he ever slept.” Far away in the Urals in key industrial plans they said exactly the same. Others, too, said the same, and a picture began to emerge of a man big enough to give personal attention to all the key problems upon which the salvation of his country, and with it of the world, depended.

He could have been forgiven indeed if, after the war, he had chosen to spend the few years that remained to him in rest. But that was not his nature—there were new struggles, the restoration of the country, itself the biggest task of reconstruction the world has ever seen, new five-year plans, vast plans for the changing of what had come to be accepted as the very natural order. And even with all that this man found the time to engage in theoretical studies of far-reaching importance.

Again this is not the place to assess these studies, except to say that one thing stands out in them which is fundamental—it is that note of what is properly called humility, the reminder that however great the achievements of the Soviet people they are still bound by the laws of social development, that it is for them to achieve the very limit of the possible and not to think in terms of what is not possible. This reminder is wholly in character, for above all else Stalin was a man of the people; it was his genius that he trusted the people, and he reminded his followers more than once that close to the people they would live and grow, apart from them and their ideas could only wither and die.

It is our fate—our glorious fate—to live in a century which, while it is one of acute struggle, is also a century in which can be made real and concrete what in past ages have been only the dreams and visions of the best minds of humankind: justice, social equality, the exaltation of the common man to his proper sphere, equality between men and women, equality between nations, the blossoming of the desert as the rose, the achievement of universal peace.

It is because he has made so vast a contribution to these ends that Joseph Stalin is so widely mourned. Let us not forget that in the official speeches of mourning in Moscow, among all that has been stressed there stands out the note of peace and international co-operation. Whatever differences there may be among Christians about the things for which Stalin has stood, whatever differences there may be in the minds of any about anything I have said today, here there can be no differences; here, on the question of peace, Christian and Communist must be united, and the Christians of Britain can vow with the peoples of Russia, of Georgia, of China and of all the other countries, that they will share their mourning for so great a leader by dedicating themselves anew to the immortal and wholly Christian cause of Peace.

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