W.E.B. DuBois on Josef Stalin

I am in the middle of Blum’s DuBois: American Prophet. I hope to write an extended analysis and review once I am done. While reading some this morning, Blum reminded me of a document DuBois wrote entitled On Stalin. In this eulogy drafted shortly after Stalin’s death, Du Bois praises a man that brought faith, confidence and respectability to a proud nation. Du Bois, as did FDR, highly respected Stalin. I have long found that history books have been kind to Stalin; he killed more people than Hitler, he brought an end to freedom for many living in Eastern Europe, and he challenged the ideology of America until his death; it was his ideological challenge that most interested Du Bois. By the death of Stalin, DuBois had lost faith in American democracy. He claimed that it had failed the American Negro….There was no faith in democracy or capitalism. The following document is one that I have used in my class before; it is a powerful piece.

DuBois on Josef Stalin:

Josef Stalin was a great man; few other men of the twentieth century approach his stature. He was simple, calm and courageous. He seldom lost his poise; pondered his problems slowly, made his decisions clearly and firmly; never yielded to ostentation nor coyly refrained from holding his rightful place with dignity. He was the son of a serf, but stood calmly before the great without hesitation or nerves. But also — and this was the highest proof of his greatness — he knew the common man, felt his problems, followed his fate.

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 judgement of men was profound. He early saw through the flamboyance and exhibitionism of Trotsky, who fooled the world, and especially America. The whole ill-bread 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.

Three great decisions faced Stalin in power and he met them magnificently; first, the problem of the peasants, then the West European attack, and last the Second World War. The poor Russian peasant was the lowest victim of tsarism, capitalism and the Orthodox Church. He surrendered the Little White Father easily; he turned less readily but perceptibly from his icons; but his kulaks clung tenaciously to capitalism and were near wrecking the revolution when Stalin risked a second revolution and drove out the rural bloodsuckers.

Then came intervention, the continuing threat of attack by all nations, halted by the Depression, only to be re-opened by Hitlerism. It was Stalin who steered the Soviet Union between Scylla and Charybdis; Western Europe and the US were willing to betray her to fascism, and then had to beg her aid in the Second World War. A lesser man than Stalin would have demanded vengeance for Munich, but he had the wisdom to ask only justice for his fatherland. This Roosevelt granted but Churchill held back. The British Empire proposed first to save itself in Africa and southern Europe, while Hitler smashed the Soviets.

The Second Front dawdled, but Stalin pressed unfalteringly ahead. He risked the utter ruin of socialism in order to smash the dictatorship of Hitler and Mussolini. After Stalingrad the Western World did not know whether to weep or applaud. The cost of victory to the Soviet Union was frightful. To this day the outside world has no dream of the hurt, the loss and the sacrifices. For his calm, stern leadership here, if nowhere else, arises the deep worship of Stalin by the people of all the Russias.

Then came the problem of Peace. Hard as this was to Europe and America, it was far harder to Stalin and the Soviets. The conventional rulers of the world hated and feared them and would have been only too willing to see the utter failure of this attempt at socialism. At the same time the fear of Japan and Asia was also real. Diplomacy therefore took hold and Stalin was picked as the victim. He was called in conference with British Imperialism represented by its trained and well-fed aristocracy; and with the vast wealth and potential power of America represented by its most liberal leader in half a century.

Here Stalin showed his real greatness. He neither cringed nor strutted. He never presumed, he never surrendered. He gained the friendship of Roosevelt and the respect of Churchill. He asked neither adulation nor vengeance. He was reasonable and conciliatory. But on what he deemed essential, he was inflexible. He was willing to resurrect the League of Nations, which had insulted the Soviets. He was willing to fight Japan, even though Japan was then no menace to the Soviet Union, and might be death to the British Empire and to American trade. But on two points Stalin was adamant: Clemenceau’s “Cordon Sanitaire” must be returned to the Soviets, whence it had been stolen as a threat. The Balkans were not to be left helpless before Western exploitation for the benefit of land monopoly. The workers and peasants there must have their say.

Such was the man who lies dead, still the butt of noisy jackals and the illbred 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.

W.E.B DuBois, March 16, 1953.

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13 thoughts on “W.E.B. DuBois on Josef Stalin

  1. That’s some strong kitty litter DuBois was spreading over Stalin’s biography.

    Eddie, do you think a biased eulogy like this affects the credibility of DuBois’ other writings?

  2. DuBois lost some of his influance by the time of his death. Remember, there was a large black intellectual following of communism by 1950; it is true that a number left the Communist Party after 1939 when Satlin signed the non-aggression pact with Hitler in 1939. Still, many continued to follow the party but took the path of Trotsky. Blacks like the idealism of USSR’s communism (no racism, sexism, classism — we would later discover that was a lot of propaganda). Dubois was held as a hero in Russia, as were other black intellectuals. His wife was a hero in communist China. White Americans who were not a part of the intelligentsia could not comprehend the complexity of modern racism and ideology. In David Lewis biography of DuBois, he pretty much stated that he lived 30 years too long. His voice had subsided amongst the Civil Rights push. When he left the US, that was a sign that he did not have any faith in democracy
    He is stilll my hero. You must read Blum’s book. It is that good. I will bring it to you at the draft in August.

  3. Would you say that blacks early on lacked the resoueces and outlets to discover the reality of Stalin and the USSR? Or was this an oppertunity for a few black elites to further themselves from the southern poor black masses who were probably not reading much of his complex writings?

  4. Dubois pigeonholed himself toward the end.

    This display is quite a contrast to his eulogy for Booker T. Washington in which he said, “In stern justice, we must lay on the soul of this man a heavy responsibility for the
    consummation of Negro disfranchisement, the decline of the Negro college and
    public school, and the firmer establishment of colour caste in this land.”

  5. I would like to give DuBois the benefit of the doubt and assume he had no clue the depths to which Stalin went to maintain power. The eulogy comes off as an apologetic piece, though, as if DuBois knew the “real” Stalin better than most people did and feels Stalin is getting a bum rap. From what I understand there were many socialists/communists (including Trotskey) that took a dim view of Stalin creating a “personality cult” about himself—elevating one man above his comrades. Stalin went to great lengths to create a whitewashed image of himself as a benevolent man of the people, and I’m trying to figure out if DuBois is merely buying the product or if he was part of the propaganda. I’m guessing the former.

    After reading what he wrote about Booker T. Washington, DuBois comes across as a man very passionate about his beliefs… but maybe too passionate… too quick to cast off friends he knows are mostly with him ideologically for potential friends that he imagines are totally in agreement with his views. Washington wanted many of the same things that DuBois wanted, but he felt the path to get there was longer and in a different direction. DuBois found a man he did not really know (Stalin) more compelling than a man he did know (Washington) because one got results faster, perhaps?

    Would that be an accurate observation of DuBois, Eddie? I’m no expert on the man, but the little I’ve read makes me think he was a man that expected racial, economic, and political equality NOW and not later. Too much of an idealist? Anything less was frustrating to him? He might assume the grass was greener in Stalin’s yard because of the difficulty in getting the U.S. yard up to his standards.

  6. Matt S,

    I just wanted to say that I always enjoy reading your comments here. Carson tells me that you two are friends from college. I find your knowledge and insight to always be very good. I cannot believe you are not in history education. I have even seen you cause Carson to pause and rethink a position or two on this blog. If you know Carson you know that is not easy. I think you got it right regarding DuBois. He was a bit disillusioned probaly out of pain and frustration.

  7. Matt S,

    “DuBois comes across as a man very passionate about his beliefs… but maybe too passionate… too quick to cast off friends he knows are mostly with him ideologically for potential friends that he imagines are totally in agreement with his views.”

    I think you are right. DuBois was in a league that made it very difficult for him to relate to poor black people. His intent, in my opinion, was to inspire an elite group of educated blacks to shape the plight of the race. His voice was lost among the people. His ideas were not as practical with black people as Washington’s were. Southern poor blacks believed in hard work and capitalism. I realize it was a capitalist system that enslaved blacks, but poor black southerners saw a problem with Russia and its idelogical construct.

    I think he was an idealist early on; however, by the 1950s he realized his idealist views of negro integration would never work. He died in 1963. I wish he could have lived another 10 years. Whites and blacks united to defeat Jim Crow,

  8. Sorry that I’m so late in chiming in on this issue. I think, as I discuss in my work, that context matters vitally. Where would Du Bois get full and accurate information about Stalin? Could he trust the American media when it detailed stories of Soviet atrocities? Remember, this was the same media that had vilified African American men and women day in and day out. Or could Du Bois trust the US government – the government that refused him visas over and over, that had FBI operatives following him, that brought trumped up charges against him? Du Bois’s leftist politics was not an unmitigated love for Stalin, but rather hopes that unrestricted capitalism (and even government that only sides with big business) could be overturned. And, Du Bois may have been closer to “poor black people” than many realize. He was never wealthy (he had trouble paying dental bills, in fact); he taught in the South for a long time; and it was everyday African Americans who rose to support him in the early 1950s.

  9. Blum,

    As the US moved toward the apex of the Civil Rights movement, I was thinking that both his age and frustrations contributed toward the rise and shift of his idealism that many Southern blacks did not see as a part of their plight. From what I have read, I always sensed that he was a mighty voice with a message that did not always convey with the rest. I seemed his faith n God came across as being a bit convoluted to others as well.

    “Where would Du Bois get full and accurate information about Stalin?” And, what is wrong with seeking another alternative when the US current direction is not working? I understand what he was doing; but, did southern blacks understand?

  10. Great questions on this blog I will be returning. I you pose interesting food for thought Matt S. when you say DuBois probably thought the grass was greener on Stalin’s side because the U.S. was tired of trying to get the U.S.’s yard up to standards.
    Very good point there was an immediate “collective identity” Dubois possibly felt towards Stalin not so much in ideologically

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