File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/97-04-03.022, message 12

Date: Mon, 31 Mar 1997 23:07:35 GMT
Subject: M-I: Diamat, Stalin, Linguistics

In discussing Marxist philosphies, Carrol recalled a 
footnote by Timpanaro that Stalin's late work on linguistics
(1950) argued that not everything was explained within diamat.
Carrol also suggested that neither side is likely to have read 
it. Having tracked down my copy I can confirm that on my part.
But having now done so I think Carrol is right, and this is 
an interesting work on several counts.

a) written almost 40 years after his article on 
marxism and the national question, it deals with related
questions. It is a somwhat mellower Stalin, but still 
intolerant of doubt. It shows the same attention to detail
and grasp of complex arguments, but I would say still 
a tendency to classify, and to distinguish, rather than
look for the interaction between phenomena. 

b) it is clearly directed against dogmatism in applying
dialectical materialism, and could be considered alongside
his article written in the thirties on dialectical and 
historical materialism, to consider Stalin's contribution
or the opposite, to any mechanical features of what has
been called 'diamat'. 

c) it is an example of intervening in the area of science
against a particular writer (mainly it seems one N. Y. Marr
who was dominant in linguistic circles) but it is done
in the form of contributing to a debate in Pravda.

d) It may point to a tendency to use debate rather than 
administrative policy to handle such issues. This debate
would be an interesting area for someone to do research on.
Against the allegations made about Stalin over Lysenko, 
he seems to be more in the right on this debate. 

The text I have is the Beijing edition of 1972. It is not clear
why the Chinese published it. Perhaps because of the fact
that in terms of Stalin's range of writing it was anti-dogmatist.
Possibly they may have thought that the method of stimulating
a debate in the papers was a democratic method they wished to 
use more.

It consists of 50 octavo pages:

'Concerning Marxism in Linguistics'
'Concerning Certain Problems of Linguistics'
'Reply to Comrades' 

To give a flavour of the style, I quote from the last part of 
the last letter, which has the merit of dealing with a problem
of the merging or the subjugation of languages on a world scale,
which is relevant today. 

Since some subscribers are bound to view quoting any Stalin at all
as an endorsement of everything associated with Stalin's
name, rightly or wrongly, for my part I think I have made it
clear that the major problems with socialist legality should
be discussed but while Stalin's contribution to this should
be summed up, it is also wrong to attribute all serious problems
of the Soviet Union to him alone, and none of the achievements.

Anyway no doubt those uninterested or hostile, will already have 

Chris Burford


To Comrade A. Kholopov


 Your letter tacitly proceeds from two premises: from
the premise that it is permissible to quote the work
of this or that author *apart* from the historical
period of which the quotation treats, and secondly,
>from the premise that this or that conclusion or
formula of Marxism, derived as a result of studying
one of the periods of historical development,
holds good for all periods of development and 
therefore must remain *invariable*.

[Stalin then gives two major political examples:
about the possibility of victory of socialism in 
one country, and the need to strengthen 
rather than weaken the state organs in such a 
country, encircled by capitalist countries.]

 The same must be said of the two different formulas
on the question of language, taken from various
works of Stalin and cited by Comrade Kholopov in his

 Comrade Kholopov refers to Stalin's work 'Concerning
Marxism in Linguistics', where the conclusion is 
drawn that, as a result of the crossing, say, of two 
languages, one of them usually emerges victorious, while 
the other dies away, that, consequently, crossing does not 
produce some new, third language, but preserves one of 
the languages. He refer further to another conclusion,
taken from Stalin's report to the Sixteenth Congress
of the CPSU(B), where it is said that in the period of
the victory of socialism on a world scale, when 
socialism is consolidated and becomes part of every-day
life, national languages will inevitably merge into one
common language which, of course will be neither 
Great Russian nor German, but something new. 

Comparing these two formulas and seeing that, far from
coinciding, they exclude each other, Comrade 
Kholopov falls into despair. 'From your article,'
he writes in his letter, 'I understood that the crossing
of languages can *never* produce some new language, 
whereas prior to your article I was firmly convinced,
in conformity with your speech at the Sixteenth Congress
of the CPSU(B), that under *communism*, languages would merge
into one common language.'

 Evidently, having discovered a contradiction between these
two formulas and being deeply convinced that the contradiction
must be removed, Comrade Kholopov considers it necessary to 
get rid of one of these formulas as incorrect and to clutch
at the other as being correct for all periods and countries;
but which formula to clutch at - he does not know. The result
is something in the nature of a hopeless situation. Comrade
Kholopov does not even suspect that both formulas can be 
correct - each for its own time.

 That is always the case with textualists and Talmudists
who do not delve into the essence of the matter, quote
mechanically and irrespective of the historical conditions 
of which the quotations treat, and invariably find themselves
in a hopeless situation.

 Yet if one examines the essence of the matter, there are no 
grounds for considering the situation hopeless. The fact is that
Stalin's pamphlet 'Concerning Marxism in Linguistics', and 
Stalin's speech at the Sixteenth Party Congress, refer to two 
entirely different epochs, owing to which the formulas,
too, prove to be different.

 The formula given by Stalin in his pamphlet, in the part where 
it speaks of the crossing of languages, refers to the epoch *prior
to the victory of socialism* on a world scale, when the 
exploiting classes are the dominant power in the world; when 
national and colonial oppression remains in force; when, as yet,
there is no national equality of rights; when the crossing of 
languages takes place as a struggle for the domination of one
of the languages; when the conditions necessary for the 
peaceful and friendly co-operation of nations and languages
are as yet lacking; when it is not the co-operation and 
mutual enrichment of languages that are on the order of the day, 
but the assimilation of some and the victory of other languages.
It is clear that in such conditions there can be only victorious
and defeated languages. It is precisely these conditions
that Stalin's formula has in view when it says that the crossing,
say, of two languages, results not in the formation of a new
language, but in the victory of one of the languages and 
the defeat of the other.

 As regards the other formula by Stalin, taken from his
speech at the Sixteenth Party Congress, in the part that 
touches on the merging of languages into one common language,
it has in view another epoch, namely, the epoch *after the
victory of socialism* on a world scale, when world
imperialism no longer exists; when the exploiting 
classes are overthrown and national and colonial 
oppression is eradicated; when national isolation and
distrust among nations is replaced by mutual confidence
and rapprochement between nations; when national equality
has been put into practice; when the policy of suppressing and
assimilating languages is abolished; when the co-operation
of nationals has been established, and it is possible for 
national languages freely to enrich one another through 
their co-operation. It is clear that in these conditions
there can be no question of the suppression and defeat
of some languages, and the victory of others. 

Here we will shall have not two languages, one of which is 
to suffer defeat, while the other is to emerge from 
the struggle victorious, but hundreds of national 
languages, out of which, as a result of a prolonged economic,
political and cultural co-operation of nations, there will 
first appear most enriched unified zonal languages, and 
subsequently the zonal languages will merge into a single
international language, which of course will be neither 
German, nor Russian, nor English, but a new language that 
has absorbed the best elements of the national and zonal

 Consequently, the two different formulas correspond to 
two different epochs in the development of society, and 
precisely because they correspond to them, both formulas
are correct - each for its epoch.

 To demand that these formulas should not be at variance with 
each other, that they should not exclude each other is 
just as absurd as it would be to demand that the epoch of 
the domination of capitalism should not be at variance with
the epoch of the domination of socialism, that socialism
and capitalism should not exlude each other.

 The textualists and Talmudists regard Marxism and 
separate conclusions and formulas of Marxism as a 
collection of dogmas, which 'never' change, 
notwithstanding changes in the conditions of the
development of society. They believe that if they
learn these conclusions and formulas by heart and 
start citing them at random, they will be able to 
solve any problem, reckoning that the memorized
conclusions and formulas will serve them for all 
times and countries, for all occasions in life.
But this can be the conviction only of people
who see the letter of Marxism, but not its essence,
who learn by rote the texts of conclusions and 
formulas of Marxism, but do not understand their 

 Marxism is the science of the laws governing the 
development of nature and society, the science of the
revolution of the oppressed and exploited masses,
the science of the victory of socialism in all 
countries, the science of building communist society.

As a science, Marxism cannot stand still, it develops
and is perfected. In its development, Marxism cannot
but be enriched by new experience, new knowledge -
consequently some of its formulas and conclusions
cannot but change in the course of time, cannot but 
be replaced by new formulas and conclusions, 
corresponding to the new historical tasks. Marxism 
does not recognize invarable conclusions
and formulas, obligatory for all epochs and 
periods. Marxism is the enemy of all dogmatism."

published in Pravda August 2nd 1950.

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