The Russian Doctrine

A graduate of Annapolis and a lifelong student of the Russian language and literature , VICE ADMIRAL LESLIE C. STEVENS, USN (Ret.), was Naval Attaché to Moscow from the summer of 1947 to the end of 1919. TV hiJe he teas in Russia he talked with Russians in all walks of life and,subject to the usual difficulties,traveled to Central Siberia and Transcaucasia. To the May Allantic he contributed his first article,on the Russian People. Now he discusses the Doctrine which the Kremlin has enforced.



GOSPODIN ADMIRAL, the Russian people do not want war.We have had enough of wars. But why is it that your leaders want war? What a fine thing it would be if America wore communist like Russia. Your people would be freed from exploitation, and there would be an end to all this warmongering.”

I have often heard such remarks, and in attempting to answer them I have come to realize that they are due to something deeper than propaganda.

The leaders of the Communist Party of Bolsheviks have made it very clear that their ultimate goal is one communist world, controlled by themselves or by their successors. Since those same leaders are simultaneously the leaders of the Soviet. Union, and since the Soviet Union is a Great Power and a dictatorship, it is customary for us to assume that such a goal is the result of Russian nationalism, or of some sort of dynamic of dictatorships which forces them on to an endless expansion of power in order to preserve the regime from internal stresses. History has, however, shown stable dictatorships, including that of the Tsars, which gave no evidence of such a dynamic. The internal stresses which undoubtedly exist in the Soviet regime are well under control, and the ultimate goal of the Party was recognized and proclaimed as a necessity long before any power, let alone dictatorial power, came to its hands.

Like other dictatorships, the Soviet Union does not need to consult the wishes of its people; and like other Great Powers, it is influenced by considerations related to the geography and resources of the territory which it controls. But unlike other dictatorships and other Great Powers, it is also motivated and influenced by a special attempt to explain the world and all that is in it, and to use that explanation as a practical guide — in short, by a complete philosophy. If that philosophy is correct, the ultimate goal of the Party and its major tactics follow as a logical necessity. All countries have their own ideals and viewpoints, more or less clearly expressed and to which they are more or less committed, but the Soviet Union is unique in history in that, it is fully committed to the conception of itself as the first wholly rational and scientific stale, the rationally and scientifically inevitable wave of the future.

Whether or not the Soviet leaders themselves believe in the ultimate truth of their philosophy, it has obviously been of great service to them throughout the world, and it is highly probable that it is absolutely necessary to their power, not for self-justification — many a dictatorship has been its own justification — but because of the nature of the Russian people on which their physical strength is founded.

We instinctively tend to appraise the Soviet Union in terms of the conventional Great Power, not fully realizing that she is more apt to act consistently with her ideology than with the manner in which Great Powers normally act, because she has commitments as well as capabilities — values — which differ from those of the conventional Great Power. It happens that the great base of the Communist Party is geographically identical with Tsarist Russia, and the illusion of a Great Power acting as such is strengthened by the applicability of many of the same strategic considerations to both. The frequent attempts to derive a pattern of national strategy based on this similarity are full of pitfalls. The ultimate objective of world control was never an aim of the Russian people or of the Tsars, nor has it arisen now merely because Russia has become suddenly strong and formidable.

Thu Soviet Union, if it were simply another Great Power, could from time to time be expected to reach some sort of agreement with us, as other nations do, on a basis of mutual advantage. For a long time many people in the West have thought that if we could only understand her problems and her insecurities we should be able to determine what she really wants; and then, if we were smart enough diplomatically, we could negotiate some sort of settlement. As this line of thought continues to be frustrated, it leads to the conclusion that the Soviet Union is fired by unlimited imperialistic ambitions, and that when we become strong enough to convince her that she cannot fulfill them, she will be willing to reduce her demands to something less than world supremacy, something more in the nature of the classic ambitions of Tsarist Russia; whereupon the negotiations can proceed on a basis that is more favorable to us than now.

But when we consider that we are dealing with communism rather than with a Great Rower, we roach a somewhat different conclusion. A knowledge of the internal history of communism makes it crystal-clear that the Party, and therefore the Soviel Union, is incapable of compromise. For forty years, any Party member who has seriously proposed any sort of deal with the bourgeoisie on a basis of mutual advantage, or for any purpose other than a temporary one which will eventually further the Party interests and hurt those of the bourgeoisie, has been branded as a deviationist, a capitulator, and an enemy of the people. He has either retracted, or been sent to Siberia, or been shot, and his family has been persecuted, it is not the fault of the West that we cannot deal with the Soviets. They are committed to their ideology on this point, as on many others, literally by the blood of many, many of their own people, shed over many, many years, and that fact is known by all Russians. Realization of the depth and st rength of this commit ment sheds a different light on Soviet intransigence in the United Nations or in a Foreign Ministers’ conference.

The Party, instead of thinking and act ing broadly along the same lines as we do, except for opposing interests, is guided by concepts and commitments which are completely foreign as well as hostile to us. It not only has a fantastic degree of discipline and control over a great many activities and relationships which are spontaneous in our civilization, but it embraces a system of ethics which permits and even demands deception on a grand scale. Lenin’s famous statement on morality is known to every Russian. He said in effect: “We Bolsheviks have been accused of having no morals. Thai is not true. We have a moralily that is much higher than that of the bourgeoisie. It does not come from the revolutions of a nonexistent God, but from the realities of the class struggle. Everything that helps the Revolution is right, and everything that hinders it is wrong.”

Many misconceptions of communist doctrine are current in the West. One of them is that, being based on the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin, it is a dogma which is asserted on the authority of those writers as distinguished from something which is the result of one’s own reasoning or experience. There are many Russians who quote those names as authority and who undoubtedly regard the doctrine as dogma in the strict sense of the word, but this tendency is steadfastly denounced by the doctrine itself. The Party makes a special point of insisting that the basic tenets of communism are not dogma but constitute a guide to action; that mastering the theory does not mean learning all its formulas and conclusions by heart and clinging to its letter, but requires first of all distinguishing between its letter and its substance and then learning to use the substance in practice.

In short, the doctrine presents itself for acceptance on the sole grounds that it is a completely rational science, in which the only authority adhering to Marx and Lenin, like that adhering to scientists in general, is that wherein they are demonstrable right in staling objective truths and their relationships.

The doctrine holds that since it is a science, it cannot stand still, but must develop and perfect itself, become enriched by new experience and new knowledge, and not hesitate to replace —in accordance with the subsin nee and not the letter of the theory — such of its propositions and conclusions as have become antiquated, by new ones corresponding to new historical situations. Although this is a logical implication of the conception of the doctrine as a science, it permits much flexibility in detailed content.

This flexibility has much to do with another Western misconception, to the efleet that the communist doctrine is all things to all people — so complex and voluminous that, like the Bible, practically anything can be proved thereby. This misconception is partly due to confusing ihe operating code with the doctrine from which that code is derived, the Party line with the Party principles, propaganda with the intent of propaganda. Actually, the basic doctrine, while retaining a wide field in which it can be flexible, has a high degree of consistency, and there are some areas where it cannot reverse itself wit limit destroying its rational foundations.


IT SO happens that most of those who are versed in the doctrine are sympathetic to at least the socialist side of Marxism, and the miseonceptions of both dogmatism and inconsistency have been fed by the efforts of such people to point out wherein Leninism or Stalinism is a perversion of Marx or a prostitution of Marxism to the aims of power. It is possible, in a way, to admit both of those charges and yet remain a good Bolshevik.

To most of us it is of little importance whether or not the doctrine of the Communist Party of Bolsheviks of today is good Marxism. It is much more important that we know what it really is, and particularly what are the commitments from which it cannot free itself. To do so, we do not have to thread our way through the wilderness of the voluminous works of Marx and Lenin, nor even those of Stalin himself. In September, 1939, the Parly itself published its own conception of what Marx, Engels, and Lenin meant to it. That date coincided with the German attack on Poland. Although that coincidence accounts for the fact that the Short Course in the Party History was not more widely known at an earlier date, the dale of publication is especially significant as marking the end of the Great Purge.

Many of us consider the purge of 1936-39 in terms of the spectacular Moscow trials as an internal struggle for power in the Party, and think ol it as largely the liquidation of such senior Party members as Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin, Rykov, and Trotsky, and of high-ranking military and naval officers. Actually, millions of Russians were imprisoned during this period — so many that the purge got out of hand. One reason lor its getting out of hand was that few Russians knew what was heretical and what was not —they did not know the substance of the doctrine.

Since the publication of the Short Course, no Russian can be excused on grounds of ignorance or confusion in basic viewpoints, for that book is an orientation course in doctrine. It is not the Party line, but the principles from which the Party line is derived and by which it is justified. The Party line can be inconsistent and can reverse itself, but the consistency of the doctrine as set forth in the Short Course is evidenced by the fact that not one word or comma has been changed in the many editions which have been issued since its initial publication almost thirteen years ago. In fact, consistency is a touchstone by which the basic doctrine can often he distinguished from the propaganda line and its implementation. The dissolution of the Third Internationale and the not infrequent talk of capitalism and communism being able to live peacefully together are stamped as propaganda by the fact that there is never a mention of them in any edition of this basic handbook, which nevertheless continues to teach that on Lenin’s death, Stalin swore his famous oath to remain true to the principles of the Third Internationale.

The title page of the Party history says that it was edited by “a Commission of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Bolsheviks.” Stalin was widely supposed to have participated. Then it appeared in its entirety as a volume in the serial publication of the Works of Stalin. Finally, on the tenth anniversary of its publication, Pravda, the Party newspaper, stated that Stalin was the writer, thus firmly establishing its authenticity.

The Short Course cannot be fully understood without the interpretations which are placed on it by the Party press, particularly on the anniversaries of its publication, when the Soviet newspapers are given over to iis eulogy. It is Pravda and not the literal text of the Short Course which tells us that this book is not a guide for Russians alone, but for the common man of all countries.

In it, however, can be found the chain of logic which it offers in lieu of authority and by which millions of noncommunists as well as Party members are bound, for it is required reading for all Soviet citizens who hold responsible positions, and a basic educational requirement for all. This is the political indoctrination of which we hear so much. The depth of its impact can be appreciated when it is realized that it has been excellently translated by the Parly into almost all the languages of the world, and that more copies of it have been published than of any other book in till history with the possible exception of the Bible. In 1948 a single Russian edition of 10 million copies was issued.

A knowledge of the nature of its message should destroy the illusion that communism is merely an all-embracing socialism, or that it regards this as a goal which can be achieved through the processes of reform or peaceful development. It holds that the common ownership of the means of production is the inevitable and highest aim of human development, and that the inevitable and only path thereto is revolution not in any figurative sense such as the “industrial revolution” of the nineteenth century, but literally the forcible seizure of power.


THE chain of logic that leads to such conclusions is clear, and outside the area of flexibility. The first link in the chain is an acceptance of the philosophical proposition that the external physical world around us and all its laws are fully knownble and the internal world within us is only the reflection of this external world; that our knowledge of the laws of nature, tested by experiment and practice, is authentic knowledge having ihe validity of external truth; and that there are no things in the world which a re unknowable — only things which are still not known, but which will be disclosed and made known by the efforts of science and practice.

The second link is an acceptance of the proposition that the universal process of change and development is one which passes from an accumulation of imperceptible and gradual quantitative changes by a rapid and abrupt leap to open, fundamental, qualitative changes. A parallel proposition which forms part of the second link is that the internal content of the transformation of quant it ative changes into qualitative changes is a struggle between internal contradictions which are inherent in all things and phenomena of nature — a struggle between positive and negative, past and future, the old and the new, that which is dying away and that which is being born, that which is disappearing and that which is developing.

Next, it follows from the first link that social life, the development of society, is fully knowable, and that the data of science regarding the laws of development of society are authentic data having the validity of final truths. The fundamental and developing relationship of society is the ownership of the means of production.

The conclusions form the closing link in the chain of logic. Since the passing of slow quantitative changes into rapid and abrupt qualitative changes is a law of nature, political revolutions made by oppressed classes to obtain ownership of the means of production are a natural and inevitable phenomenon. The transition from capitalism to socialism and the liberation ol the working classes from the yoke of capitalism cannot be effected by slow changes, by reforms, but only by a qualitative change of the capitalist system, by revolution. Since development proceeds by way of collisions between opposite forces on the basis of internal contradictions, the class struggle of the proletariat is a natural and inevitable phenomenon, which one must not try to check, but must carry to its conclusions. One must not cover up the contradictions of the capitalist system, but disclose them; one must not follow a reformist policy of harmonizing the interests of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, a compromiser’s policy of “the growing of capitalism into socialism, but must acerbate them and pursue an uncompromising proletarian class policy.

The Soviet Union has been remarkably consistent in acting in accordance with this reasoning, and an understanding of these springs of action makes her ultimate intent clear and main of her baffling tactics understandable. Her area of flexibility and maneuver lies in freedom to alter her conception of the detailed and varying nature of the contradictions of capitalism, and of the nature, progression, and timing of the various stages in both the posited decay of capitalism and the growth of ultimate communism. But the chain of logic, which claims to be science as a substitute for dogma, is another matter.

One of the most sensitive and understanding observers of Russia has pointed out that in their doctrine, with its basic altruism of purpose, the Rolsheviks “found the justification for their instinctive fear of the outside world, for the dictatorship without which they did not know how to rule, for the cruellies they did not dare not to inflict, for the sacrifices they fell bound to demand. In the name of Marxism they sacrificed every single ethical value in their methods and tactics. Today they cannot afford to dispense with it. It is the fig leaf of their moral and intellectual responsibility.” Stripped of it, the masters of the Soviet Lnion. “would stand before history, at best, as only the last of that long succession of cruel and wasteful Russian rulers who have relentlessly forced the country to ever new heights of military power in order to guarantee the external security of their internally weak regimes.”

I would add that stripped of this fig leaf of moral and intellectual responsibility they would stand thus revealed not only before history, but before the world and before their own people.

The links in the chain of logic; which holds the fig leaf in place are crude, and their very crudeness gives an illusion of strength to their weakness. The naïve man-in-the-street materialism does not even face, let alone solve, the great riddles of time, space, and causality that constitute the essence of the problems of being and of knowledge. Scientists usually keep clear of these ullimate regions of philosophy as being beyond the field of science. Of those who do not, only a very few are unaware of the genuine intellectual problems that are involved, and the rest know that no viewpoint can be established there with scientific rigor as final. A variety of philosophic viewpoints is possible, and the single viewpoint of the communist doctrine is neither warranted nor scientific. Any scientist who accepts that viewpoint should logically lake the same attitude as the Soviet regime toward the quantum theory, and should deny the possibility of the objective existence of any random quantity in nature.

It is not a scientific fact that qualitative changes, as distinct from quantitative ones, always occur abruptly and violently in nature. The transformation of water from ice and into steam is not analogous to the growth of a sapling from its seed, nor to the petrification of the mature log or its transformation into coal. Semantics can obscure the argument here, for many interpretations can be pul on “qualitative” and “quantitative change, and tfie meaning of “abruptness" can vary widely. Such ambiguities are completely foreign to science in the sense on which the communist claims to rationalism are based. The parallel proposition of universal struggle between contradictions is a nonscienlific and irrational interplay between figures of speech and failures to pin down exactly what is meant by them.

Semantics again enters into the concept of the laws of development of society. The social sciences are of an order different from the physical sciences, and their “laws” do not have the same degree of exactness or universality. The overriding emphasis given to the ownership of the means of production cannot be underwritten by any true rational science.

In view of all this loose thinking, the inevitability of revolution and of the class struggle of the proletariat is not established, and the scientific and rational basis for the tendentiousness and the uncompromising intransigence of the Soviet Union, rising of necessity from social conflict that is soluble only by force, is a bogus claim.


IT WILL be noted that no mention has been made of spiritual or religious values. This is not because they are not pertinent, but because of the purely scientific conditions on which the Party has chosen to base its case.

It is not as easy as it seems to convince a wellindoctrinated individual that the communist doctrine is false. Party members have told me that since mind-stuff is only a reflection of the external world, the mind-stuff of one brought up in capitalist surroundings is diflerent from that of a Soviet citizen, and that bourgeois logic is necessarily different from communist logic. They ran spring this trap to their own satisfaction only in the areas where the doctrine has flexibility. No sincere communist —and there are many such, both in and out of Russia — means by this that unmasking one’s class background will make two plus two equal anything but four.

The Bolshevik regime needs hundreds of thousands of loyal followers simply in order to administer its vast bulk, and there are some 200 million citizens who must be handled and controlled. No one knows what proportion of them are fanatical believers who cannot be shaken even by logic from their conviction that their belief is founded on logic, and who are capable of a genuine ultimate duality of thought which is compatible with one of the least understood facets of their national character. Even the regime does not know what proportion is at the other end of the spectrum in complete disillusionment and disaffection.

It is probable that the vast majority of the population partakes of all the shadings between these two extremes. A great many of them, regardless of all efforts at political indoctrination, are just not interested in doctrine. Perhaps they would be more interested if they knew that the doctrine was false. From any point of view, the interests of the West seem to coincide with those of objective truth in studying and testing the exact nature of whatever it is that holds the fig leaf in place. Truth is powerful, and the Iron Curtain is not perfect.

One reason there is so little agreement among Americans on the contribution the philosophy has made to the present difficult and dangerous situation is that most of us find it so easy to reject that, philosophy that it is hard to believe that others do not think in like fashion. When I first went to Russia I was not greatly disturbed about the enduring power of the communist ideology over the Russian mind, for I thought that the great increase in literacy alone could not fail to carry with it the questioning mental activity which would bring about a similar rejection. By the time I left Russia I was shaken in that hope, for I had seen such an accelerated process of ihoughl control in action that I began to doubt whether the literate Russian mind would long have anything substantive on which to feed.

Russia is not seething with rebellion. Its people are unhappy because life is hard, but they do not necessarily attribute that fact to the regime. The massive daily distortion of facts leads to dark and subtle difficulties. Refugees tell us that it is very difficult to reason within the cultural vacuum which exists outside the accepted ideology and which is deliberately fostered by the Iron Curtain. A thoughtful critical literature in the West would seep through, and could be of priceless assistance in helping the recipients in their intellectual struggle.

Moreover, the communists and fellow travelers outside the Iron Curtain arc very accessible to a living literature of criticism. We often hear that we have no quarrel with communism, but only with Stalinism. Insofar as there may be communists who do not accept the basic chain of logic as set forth by Stalinism and the Russian Communist Parly, there may well be a grain of truth in this, It is a pity that these adherents continue to contribute to the semantic confusion by clinging to their terminology. Let them read the Party history. Such tactics seem to help only the Bolsheviks, who would themselves reject such people when they had outlived their usefulness. They would reject them as being, not communists, but only bourgeois socialists, and would place them very high on the list of public enemies. Let them not forgot that in true Leninist tradition many factions, and even an entire national party, have been cast into outer darkness for lesser reasons.

Although the individual can sometimes be reached, even in Russia itself, the organization, whether it be called the Bolshevik Party or the Soviet Union, can he expected, as a matter of principle as well as of temperament, to continue on a world-wide scale to apply the advice given to Gogol’s wonderful character of Chichikov: —

However bad things may get, lot nothing embarrass you. If you see that things are approaching decision. don’t try to justify and defend yourself. Just bring in extraneous factors so that others get involved as well as yourself. . . . Confuse the issues, mix things up by bringing in new elements. Mix things up, and mix them up again, that’s all. . . . Why, you can muddy the waters so that no one will ever he able to make head or tail of them. And after all. only crayfish can he caught in muddy waters.