Answers to Correspondents: Is Stalin a Dictator?
A correspondent asks: “Is Stalin a dictator, or a democratic leader?”
The Communists would, no doubt, answer that Stalin, particularly since the 1936 Constitution came into operation, is a “democratic leader,” i.e., that he holds a position more or less similar to that of the Presidents of the U.S.A. and France, or the Prime Minister of Great Britain. They certainly would not admit that he should properly be compared with Mussolini or Hitler. It is worth while looking at the text of the Russian Constitution for the light it throws on Stalin’s position. In theory the Russian Government (“The Council of People’s Commissars”) is appointed by the two-chamber “Parliament” (“Supreme Council of the U.S.S.R.”). and the Parliament is democratically elected by the Russian population. In practice, as only one political party is allowed to exist in Russia, the elections are no more democratic than Hitler’s or Mussolini’s elections or the periodical plebiscites at which the population are “allowed” to vote for or against those dictators’ decisions.
But although the “Council of People’s Commissars” is supposed to be the Government of Russia, and is described as the “supreme executive and administrative organ of State power” (Constitution, Article 64), it is restricted and overshadowed by another body, the “Presidium of the Supreme Council.” This Presidium is elected at a joint session of the two chambers of Parliament and between sessions of the Parliament (which, in practice, means nearly all the year round), it has all the real power. It interprets laws, conducts referendums, rescinds decisions and orders of the Government (“Council of People’s Commissars”) “in the event that they are not in accordance with the law,” controls the armed forces, convenes sessions of Parliament, etc.
The Presidium consists of 37 members, of whom Stalin is one. (He is not a member of the so-called “Government,” the Council of People’s Commissars.) Stalin’s authority really rests, however, not on the pseudo-democratic forms of the Constitution, but on the fact that he is General Secretary of the Communist Party, the only Party permitted to exist. The Communist Party is the real controlling organisation in Russia, and the elaborate Parliamentary organisation set up under the Constitution is, so far, merely the shadow.