On the Relations between Lenin and Stalin

Maria Ulyanova


In this issue we publish the third in the series of materials relating to the ‘Lenin Testament’ and the relations between Lenin and Stalin. The two statements of Maria Ulyanova, the sister of Lenin, given below were published for the first time in the USSR in 1989 during the period of ‘perestroika’. Yu. Murin and V. Stepanov who prepared these and related documents for publication in the Soviet journal ‘Izvestia TsK KPSS’ noted that the background to the writing of these two statements was the joint plenum of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission of the A-UCP(b) held in 1926:

‘The opposition (L.D. Trotsky, G.E. Zinoviev, L.B. Kamenev and others) in their struggle against I.V. Stalin and the majority in the CC used the last letters written by V.I. Lenin, in which he had put forth his opinions of eminent party leaders, and accused the CC of hiding these documents from the party. G.E. Zinoviev in his speech at the plenum talked about the contents of V.I. Lenin’s letter to I.V. Stalin dated 5 March 1923. Consequently the following documents were read out in the plenum : V.I. Lenin’s letter to the Congress dated 25 December 1922, the follow-up letter dated to the Congress dated 25 December 1922 – ‘On the question of nationalities or ‘autonomisation’ and the letter ‘To the party of Bolsheviks’ dated 18 (31) October 1917 on the attitude of L.B. Kamenev and G.E. Zinoviev towards the question of the armed rebellion.

‘Following the discussion at the plenum and having taken into consideration the reading of the letters of V.I. Lenin, G.E. Zinoviev, L.D. Trotsky, N.I. Bukharin and I.V. Stalin, M.I. Ulyanova issued statements which were appended to the stenographic report of the plenum.’

(‘Izvestia TsK KPSS’, No. 12, 1989, below p. 200, translated from the Russian by Tahir Asghar).

It is clear from the second statement made by Maria Ulyanova that the first had been prompted by the request of Bukharin and Stalin to guard the latter a little from the attack of the opposition. The involvement of Nikolai Bukharin in the preparation of Maria Ulyanova’s statement dated 26th July is evident from the following note in his handwriting on the letterhead of the CC of the RCP(b) which is preserved in the former archives of the CPSU(b) :

‘In view of the systematic slander on Comrade Stalin by the opposition minority in the CC and the unending assertions regarding a virtual termination of all relations by V.I. Lenin with I.V. Stalin, I feel obliged to say a few words about the relations between Lenin and Stalin as I was present alongside of Lenin during the whole period at the end of V.I.’s life.

‘Vlad. Ilyich Lenin highly valued Stalin, so much so, that at the time of the first stroke and also during the second stroke V.I. entrusted Stalin with the most intimate of assignments while emphasising that it is Stalin alone that he is asking for.

‘In general, during the whole period of his illness, V.I. did not ask for any of the members of the CC and did not want to meet any of them and would ask only for Stalin to come. Thus all the speculations that V.I.’s relations with Stalin were not as good as with others is totally contrary to the truth’.

(Loc. cit. Translated from the Russian by Tahir Asghar).

In the first statement Maria Ulyanova rejected the charges made by the opposition that there had been a rupture between Lenin and Stalin in the last months of the life of Lenin and also affirmed the closeness of the political and personal relations between the two Bolshevik leaders. Zinoviev in his speech of 21st July 1926 at the joint plenum of the Central Committee and Central Control Commission of the A-UCP(b) had referred to the evaluations by Lenin of Stalin in the second part of his ‘Letter to the Congress’ (24th December, 1922), the continuation of the letter (4th January 1923) and the article ‘On the Question of Nationalities or ‘Autonomisation’. On the question of Stalin’s ‘rudeness’ Maria Ulyanova asserted her opinion that the incident between Stalin and Nadezhda Krupskaya was ‘completely personal and had nothing to do with politics’. It had arisen as by the decision of the Central Committee Stalin was charged with the responsibility of ensuring that no political news reached Lenin during the period of his serious illness as per the instructions of the doctors. Nadezhda Krupskaya had breached this decision which led to Stalin criticising her and in turn was hammered by Lenin. Maria Ulyanova considered that ‘had Lenin not been so seriously ill then he would have reacted to the incident differently’.

The second, undated, statement by Maria Ulyanova is more reflective of the events in the last months of the life of Lenin. Ulyanova sought to delve more deeply into the connection between the last letter of Lenin which demands an apology from Stalin for his behaviour with Nadezhda Krupskaya with the last writings of Lenin and the political line of Stalin in the period after the death of Lenin. Maria Ulyanova sheds new light on the personal and political intimacy between Lenin and Stalin. We learn that Stalin was a more frequent visitor to Lenin in the period of his illness compared to the other party leaders. Lenin turned to Stalin for help when he came to the decision that in the event of his becoming paralysed he wished to end his life by consuming potassium cyanide. Maria Ulyanova’s account of this matter is of great value as it answers the scandalous charge levelled by Trotsky that Stalin had arranged for Lenin to be administered poison. (L. Trotsky, ‘Stalin’, Vol. 2, London, 1969, p. 199). The narration is of further value in countering the assiduously fostered notion prevalent in the west that Trotsky was in some sense closer to Lenin and in fact the ‘heir’ of Lenin and Leninism. From her direct knowledge of the discussions of Lenin and Stalin on the subject of Trotsky, Maria Ulyanova is able to aver that Lenin stood in close political proximity to Stalin despite the difference between the two on the Caucasian question. (On this see the note ‘Bolshevism and the National Question’, ‘Revolutionary Democracy’, Vol. 1, No. 2, September 1995, pp. 66-69). Ulyanova’s account of the dissatisfaction of Lenin with Stalin on the matter of sending monetary assistance to the émigré Menshevik Martov may not convince many of Lenin’s political correctness on the question, rather political sympathy may go to Stalin who exclaimed to Lenin that he should find another party secretary if he wished to send money to this enemy of the workers.

The differences between Lenin and Stalin manifested in Lenin’s last letter to Stalin where he demanded an apology from Stalin originated, as Maria Ulyanova pointed out, from a situation where Stalin was required by the party politbureau to ensure the compliance of the doctors’ instructions that Lenin should not be informed of political developments. Ulyanova indicates that the ‘maximum fear’ was of Nadezhda Krupskaya who was accustomed to holding discussions on political matters with Lenin. Stalin’s attempt to maintain the medical instructions precipitated the quarrel with Krupskaya in which he threatened to take her before the Central Control Commission of the party. This in turn provoked the contretemps between Lenin and Stalin.

Lenin’s letter to Stalin of 5th March 1923 did not touch upon the fact that Nadezhda Krupskaya was circumventing the medical instructions and that Stalin had been charged by the politbureau to ensure their compliance. Lenin demanded that Stalin withdraw his words to Nadezhda Krupskaya, apologise or face a rupture in their relations.

This letter is well known as it was circulated at the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU by Khrushchev in 1956 and later reprinted all over the world by the revisionist Soviet press.

It is now known that Khrushchev had been a member of the Trotskyist opposition in the early 1920s so that, as Kaganovich has pointed out in his memoirs, the ‘secret speech’ represented an example of political recidivism.

Lenin’s letter to Stalin was held back at the request of Nadezhda Krupskaya and was eventually delivered personally by M.A. Volodcheva to Stalin on 7th March, 1923. Stalin immediately replied to the letter of Lenin but it was not read by the intended recipient as Lenin’s health worsened. The rebuttal of Stalin is self-explanatory. It is published as an appendix to the two statements of Maria Ulyanova for the first time in the English language.

Vijay Singh

Click here to return to the April 2002 index.