H.G. Wells Interviews Joseph Stalin in 1934; Declares “I Am More to The Left Than You, Mr. Stalin”

wells and stalin

From the 20/20 point of view of the present, Joseph Stal­in was one of the 20th century’s great mon­sters. He ter­ri­fied the Sovi­et Union with cam­paign after cam­paign of polit­i­cal purges, he moved whole pop­u­la­tions into Siberia and he arguably killed more peo­ple than Hitler. But it took decades for the scope of his crimes to get out, most­ly because, unlike Hitler, Stal­in stuck to killing his own peo­ple.

In ear­ly 1930s, how­ev­er, Stal­in was con­sid­ered by many to be the leader of the future. That peri­od was, of course, the nadir of the Great Depres­sion. Cap­i­tal­ism seemed to be com­ing apart at the seams. The USSR promised a new soci­ety ruled not by the oli­garchs of Wall Street but by the peo­ple — a soci­ety where every­one was equal.

H.G. Wells inter­viewed Stal­in in Moscow in 1934 for the mag­a­zine The New States­man. Wells was an avowed social­ist and one of the left’s most influ­en­tial authors. His first nov­el, The Time Machine, is essen­tial­ly an alle­go­ry for class strug­gle after all. The inter­view between the two is fas­ci­nat­ing.

Wells opens the piece by stat­ing that he speaks for the com­mon peo­ple. While that point is debat­able — Stal­in calls him out on that asser­tion – Wells does speak in a man­ner that is read­i­ly under­stand­able. Stal­in, in con­trast, speaks in flu­ent Polit­buro. The bland­ness of his speech, choked with Com­mu­nist boil­er­plate, seems designed to make the lis­ten­er tune out. But then he drops lit­tle bon mots into his mono­logues that hint at the vio­lence he has unleashed on his coun­try. Take this line for instance:

Rev­o­lu­tion, the sub­sti­tu­tion of one social sys­tem for anoth­er, has always been a strug­gle, a painful and a cru­el strug­gle, a life-and-death strug­gle.

It’s a chill­ing line. Espe­cial­ly when you con­sid­er that at the time of this inter­view, Stal­in was just start­ing to launch his first wave of polit­i­cal purges and he was plot­ting to assas­si­nate his main polit­i­cal rival Sergei Kirov.

As the inter­view unfolds, you can imag­ine Wells grow­ing increas­ing­ly frus­trat­ed by Stalin’s nar­row, dog­mat­ic view of the world. The Sovi­et leader, as Wells lat­er wrote in his auto­bi­og­ra­phy, “has lit­tle of the quick uptake of Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt and none of the sub­tle­ty and tenac­i­ty of Lenin. … His was not a free impul­sive brain nor a sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly orga­nized brain; it was a trained Lenin­ist-Marx­ist brain.”

At sev­er­al points in the inter­view Wells chal­lenges Stal­in: “I object to this sim­pli­fied clas­si­fi­ca­tion of mankind into poor and rich,” the author fumes.

And when Stal­in doesn’t agree with Wells that the Cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem was on its last legs, the author actu­al­ly chides him for not being rev­o­lu­tion­ary enough. “It seems to me that I am more to the Left than you, Mr. Stal­in; I think the old sys­tem is near­er to its end than you think.” Now that’s chutz­pah.

In the end, the inter­view presents a duel­ing ver­sion of the future of the left. Wells believed, in essence, that the Cap­i­tal­ist world only need­ed to be reformed, albeit dras­ti­cal­ly, to achieve eco­nom­ic jus­tice. And Stal­in argued that Cap­i­tal­ism had to be torn down com­plete­ly before any oth­er reform could take place.

In spite of their dif­fer­ences, Wells left the inter­view with a pos­i­tive impres­sion of the Sovi­et leader. “I have nev­er met a man more fair, can­did, and hon­est,” he wrote.

Wells died in 1946 before the worst of Stalin’s crimes became known to the out­side world. Stal­in died in 1953.  Fol­low­ing a stroke, his body remained on the floor in a pool of urine for hours before a doc­tor was called. His min­ions were ter­ri­fied that he might wake up and order their exe­cu­tion.

You can read the entire inter­view between H.G. Wells and Stal­in on The New States­men’s web­site here.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Joseph Stal­in, a Life­long Edi­tor, Wield­ed a Big, Blue, Dan­ger­ous Pen­cil

How to Spot a Com­mu­nist Using Lit­er­ary Crit­i­cism: A 1955 Man­u­al from the U.S. Mil­i­tary

Leon Trot­sky: Love, Death and Exile in Mex­i­co

Learn Russ­ian from our List of Free Lan­guage Lessons

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow.

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Comments (15)
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  • Keith McToaster says:

    Stal­in’s corpse did not remain on the floor for days. Mem­bers of his fam­i­ly, house­hold staff, doc­tors, and mem­bers of the Polit­buro includ­ing Beria were there to wit­ness his final moments. Slop­py.

  • Tom says:

    ‘Stalin’s corpse did not remain on the floor for days.’
    That was nev­er stat­ed.

  • claudio says:

    Any­way, few tyrans have a good death.

  • Linda Schell says:

    Why would some argue that “per­haps” Stal­in killed more peo­ple than Hitler? I have read fig­ures of Stal­in’s atrosi­ties that range from twen­ty to twen­ty-eight mil­lion of his own peo­ple.

  • Linda Schell says:

    Why would some argue that “per­haps” Stal­in killed more peo­ple than Hitler? I have read fig­ures of Stal­in’s atrosi­ties that range as high as twen­ty mil­lion of his own peo­ple.

  • Linda Schell says:

    Cor­rec­tion to my first post. The first post is for the Russ­ian lives lost in World War II

  • cheesefunnel says:

    In the 20/20 of hind­sight, the views of peo­ple like Wells look impos­si­bly naive, if not down­right igno­rant, one finds it dif­fi­cult to believe that Wells (and many oth­ers) knew noth­ing of the chaos and geno­cide sweep­ing the USSR under Stal­in.

  • Todd says:

    I think it’s pret­ty fun­ny that Stal­in end­ed up being the one who was right and Wells the one who was wrong. Also, can any­one cite hard fig­ures on the num­ber of peo­ple killed in Stal­in’s “geno­cides”? Because I’ve nev­er found any­thing beyond vague, sweep­ing accu­sa­tions with no data back­ing them up.

  • Vlad says:

    The doc­u­ments are being uncov­ered now and the num­ber is get­ting more and more pre­cise. As of now, accord­ing to var­i­ous doc­u­ments from sovi­et archives the total num­ber of death due to repres­sions is around 700 000. That is for a peri­od of 1930 to 1960s. This num­ber includes polit­i­cal­ly repressed peo­ple, crim­i­nals, war crim­i­nals and peo­ple who col­lab­o­rat­ed with Hitler and were pun­ished after the war.
    There are a lot of accu­sa­tions of tens of mil­lions of repressed, but there are no fac­tu­al data to back any of it up. Stal­in was a con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure who did a lot of good and bad for USSR and it’s peo­ple. Talk­ing to the peo­ple who lived in his time and were actu­al­ly there to wit­ness how it was to live in USSR with Stal­in in pow­er, almost all those peo­ple praise that peri­od of time and say that he was a great leader. I think, in part, Stal­in can be com­pared to Napoleon of France, except with much less acts of aggres­sion against oth­er coun­tries.

  • L.P. says:

    Stal­in proved to be more per­cep­tive even than such an intel­lec­tu­al giant like H. G. Wells.

  • Z says:

    What a pathet­ic pile of rav­ing anti-com­mu­nist garbage in the intro.
    Imag­ine liv­ing your life believ­ing this gross dis­tor­tion you spout is fact.

  • Ru-pi-tơ says:

    Typ­i­cal anti-com­mu­nist com­ment !! Any­way many “Amer­i­cans” are pret­ty stu­pid when they can’t find North Korea on the map, don’t ask them for more com­pli­cat­ed pol­i­tics.

  • Hahqq says:

    Typ­i­cal anti-com­mu­nist com­ment !! Any­way many “Amer­i­cans” are pret­ty stu­pid when they can’t find North Korea on the map, don’t ask them for more com­pli­cat­ed pol­i­tics.

  • Carlos Tena says:

    Plac­ing Russ­ian com­mu­nism and Naz­i­fas­cism on the same moral plane, to the extent that both would be total
    Who­ev­er insists on this equa­tion may con­sid­er him­self a demo­c­rat, but in truth and deep in his heart he is actu­al­ly already a fas­cist, and of course he will only fight fas­cism in an appar­ent and hyp­o­crit­i­cal way, while leav­ing all his hatred for com­mu­nism. (Thomas Mann)

  • tvoja stara says:

    dear chuck. There are lit­er­al­ly more inter­views than hair on my stu­pid head with peo­ple who lived in USSR when Stal­in was gen.sec. etc. Theres this thing called youtube.com, you tube.
    You can also come ask elder­ly your­self or my grand­par­ents.

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