Who Said “Who? Whom?” Lenin, Trotsky, or Stalin?
I’ve long argued that the underlying trend in the modern world is the long downfall from the belief in objective principles for determining winners and losers to the subjective belief that all that matters is that there are Good Guys and Bad Guys (increasingly whomever hasn’t yet engaged in Flight from White: i.e., currently cishet white males, but no doubt in the future the phrase will be even longer) and that the Good Guys must win, by hook or by crook.
Back in the old days, the Marxists made complicated efforts to prove that they were the Good Guys according to their conception of an objective science of history, but once their Good Guyness was proven to their satisfaction, their being the Subjects of History entitled them to perpetrate upon the Bad Guy Objects of History whatever transitive verbs they felt like.
Lenin is supposed to have stated at the second All-Russian Congress of Political Education Departments, on 17 October 1921,
Весь вопрос — кто кого опередит?
“The whole question is — who will overtake whom?”
In 1925 Trotsky reminded listeners that Lenin was speaking of socialism vs. capitalism:
the historical question was formulated by Lenin in two pronouns – “who whom?”
During the mid-1920s, Stalin successfully argued that Trotsky’s anti-peasant radicalism was too dangerous, but as soon as he had defeated Trotsky, Stalin appropriated Trotsky’s disastrous program of collectivizing agriculture, which led to the famine in the Ukraine in the early 1930s. From The Cambridge History of Russia:
“Stalin presented the mass collectivisation of 1929-30 as the triumphal outcome of Lenin’s kto-kogo scenario. Kto-kogo acquired its aura of hard-line coercion from Stalin’s use of it during this period: ‘we live by the formula of Lenin – kto-kovo: will we knock them, the capitalists, flat and give them (as Lenin expresses it) the final, decisive battle, or will they knock us flat?’ Yet Stalin’s claim to embody the original spirit of kto-kogo contains some paradoxes. Lenin and the Bolshevik leaders who picked up on his phrase had used kto-kogo to justify an economic competition with the Nepmen who dominated trade activities – a competition that would result in new forms of agricultural production only after an extremely high level of industrial technology was available. Stalin used kto-kogo to justify a policy of mass coercion against peasant kulaks to implant collective farms long before industry reached a high level.”
So, it was Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin, with Stalin stripping away the semi-euphemistic facade to make clear the underlying meaning.