What kind of organization and movement is the Communist Party?
We know that in the countries where Stalinism is in power, it is the "state party," the ruling institution of the regime, the instrument through which the bureaucracy holds together the reins of totalitarian power. But what is the Communist Party in countries where capitalism still rules and it is in opposition?
The CP, particularly in the latter countries, is widely looked on as a "working-class party," even by many anti-Stalinists, even though they may attack it as a workers' party with a wrong, or excessively "leftist," or suicidal policy. There have been radical movements that have even viewed it as a fundamentally reformist, pro-capitalist party, because of the various services that it has performed in certain periods for capitalist governments when these governments were allied with Russia.
In our view, both of these opposite opinions ore not only wide of the mark but miss the essence of the distinctively new character of the Stalinist movement.
It is true that the CPs have, in the course of their function as auxiliary agencies of the Russian foreign office, done their all to support capitalist regimes where this service has jibed with conjunctural interests of Moscow. But class instinct, plus experience has taught every bourgeois that the support of the Stalinist parties can be hired but not bought outright. The Stalinist parties in the capitalist countries are for lease, but not for sale.
So long as a given capitalist regime is the ally of Russia, the Stalinists are leased for service to that regime. They then appear to act as arch-patriots. They vie with the bourgeois parties in nationalism and chauvinism. They catch up with and outstrip the reactionary labor leaders in urging workers to accept the most onerous conditions of labor with docility. In general, they acted in that abominable manner which distinguished them from ordinary scoundrels in the U.S. and Britain during the period of the "Grand Alliance" in World War II.
Through Different Eyes
But this lend-leased servant is unreliable in two respects from the standpoint of the bourgeoisie. In the first place, in the very course of pretending to serve, he infiltrates and undermines the institutions of the bourgeoisie. And in the second place, the terms of the lease are not under the control of the bourgeoisie and can be altered or destroyed unilaterally by the Russian state, that is, by the real employers and owner of the Stalinist parties.
To the revolutionary socialist; the triumph of Stalinism means primarily and above all the crushing of the working class, the crushing of all proletarian and revolutionary movements, the triumph of a new totalitarian despotism. To us, accordingly, every increase in the strength of the Stalinists in the working-class movement means another step toward that triumph which is a catastrophe for the movement.
The standpoint of the bourgeois is necessarily different. The triumph of Stalinism means primarily and above all the crushing of the bourgeoisie and all its social power. That is his standpoint! That is why he can and does, with genuine concern and sincerity, regard Stalinism as the "same thing," at bottom, as Bolshevism, as the proletarian revolution, as socialism. From his standpoint, it makes no difference whatsoever whether he is expropriated by the authentic socialist revolution in Russia under Bolshevik leadership, which brought the working class to power—or he is expropriated by the reactionary Stalinist bureaucracy in Poland, Rumania and Czechoslovakia which has brought the working class into a totalitarian prison.
Not the "Left Wing"
To the working class, there is all the difference in the world between the two; to the bourgeoisie, there is none. That is why the bourgeoisie expresses a deep and honest class feeling when it characterizes Stalinism as "left" in substantially the same way that it once characterized the Bolshevik Revolution and its partisans. From its class standpoint, the designation is understandable, it makes good sense. Likewise understandable is the political attitude which corresponds to this designation.
But that designation (and what is far more important, the political attitude that corresponds to it) does not make good sense from the class standpoint of the proletariat. It is totally false from the standpoint of the fight for its immediate and its historical interests—the fight for socialism. In this fight, Stalinism is no less the enemy of the working class than capitalism and the bourgeoisie. Indeed, inside the working class and its movement, Stalinism is the greater and more dangerous of the two.
The Stalinists very cleverly exploit the attacks made upon them by the bourgeoisie to enlist the support of those workers and revolutionists who, while opposed in general to Stalinism, are not less, hostile toward the bourgeoisie. But it is an absurdity, where it is not suicidal, to react to every bourgeois attack or criticism of the Stalinists by rallying automatically to their support. Trotsky writes somewhere that any imbecile could become a revolutionary genius if proletarian policy required nothing more than learning what the bourgeoisie wants or does, and then simply doing the opposite. This very well applies, in the matter of the policy to follow toward Stalinism, to more than one anti-bourgeois imbecile (just as it applies, in the matter of the policy to follow toward the bourgeoisie, to more than one anti-Stalinist imbecile).
The first task, then, of all militants in the proletarian movement who understand the end of combatting Stalinism, is to rid themselves of all traces of the conception that Stalinism, in some way, in some degree, represents a "left wing." It is not a proletarian or socialist conception, despite the respectable (and fatal) status it enjoys in the proletarian and socialist movement. It is a bourgeois conception, well-suited to the bourgeoisie, its standpoint and its interests, but utterly disorienting the working class.
We will not have advanced far enough, however, if in abandoning the notion that Stalinism is in any sense an authentic part of the left wing of the working class, we adopt the notion that it belongs in the right wing.
The right wing of the labor movement, classically and contemporaneously, is its conservative wing, its reformist wing. It is that section of the working-class movement that stands closest to bourgeois democracy, that practises economic and political collaboration with the bourgeoisie, that confines itself to modest (increasingly modest) reforms of capitalism. That being the fundamental feature of the right wing, it should be clear that Stalinism is fundamentally different from any of the reformist currents and bureaucracies we know of in the labor movement.
None of the old designations - "right," "left," "centrist" - applies to Stalinism. Stalinism is a phenomenon sui generis, unique and without precedent in the working class. The fact that it is supported by tens of thousands of workers who are passionately devoted to the cause of socialism, who are ready to fight for it to their dying breath, is besides the point entirely. This fact is of importance only with regard to the forms of the agitation and propaganda work to be conducted among them. It does not decide the character of Stalinism itself. That is determined by the real program and the real leadership of the Stalinist movement, and not by the sentiments of those it dupes.
Alien to Working Class
What, then, is Stalinism? Our formula is not very compact, but it will have to stand until a more elegant one can be found:
Stalinism is a reactionary, totalitarian, anti-bourgeois and anti-proletarian current IN the labor movement but not OF the labor movement. It is the unforeseen but nonetheless real product of that advanced stage of the decay of capitalism in which the socialist proletariat itself has as yet failed to carry out the reconstruction of society on rational foundations. It is the social punishment inflicted on the bourgeoisie for living beyond its historical time and on the proletariat for not living up to its historical task. It is the new barbarism which the great Marxist teachers saw as the only possible alternative to socialism.
Stalinism is a current IN but not OF the working class and its movement, we repeat. The importance of the distinction is far-reaching. It demands emphasis not in spite of the prejudices and dogmas about Stalinism that exist in the revolutionary movement, but precisely because they exist. It underlines the unbridgability of the gulf between Stalinism and ALL sections of the labor movement. And by "ALL sections" is simply meant, without diplomacy or equivocation, 'all of them—from the left wing to the right wing.
Stalinism is not a working-class movement with a wrong, or even very bad, policy. It is alien to the working-class movement. Fundamentally (and that means: apart from the subjective intentions or hopes of so many Stalinist dupes) it represents the interests of a different class—the bureaucratic ruling class of the Russian Empire.
Twists and Turns
The Communist Parties first came into being as a quite different type of movement, in the upsurge of revolutionary struggle that followed the end of the First World War, especially under the impact of the Russian Revolution. In its early revolutionary years, the Communist International was the sole rallying center for all the workers who wished to have done with the timid, compromising and anti-revolutionary role of the "pink" social-democrats, who had discredited themselves by chauvinist support to their warring imperialist governments.
But in step with the Stalinist counter-revolution in Russia, which destroyed the conquests of the revolution, so also there took place a gutting of the Communist Parties which transformed them into agencies of the Russian counter-revolution.
The Communist Parties became, not left-socialist parties representing the interests of the working class in their countries, but totalitarianized tools of the reactionary social class climbing to power in Russia.
Their policies uniformly became erratic, subject to rapid oscillation between apparently contradictory positions. But they were not at all inexplicable. Each turn in policy was dictated by the momentary needs of the Stalinist regime in Moscow, above all by the needs of its foreign policy.
Nowhere was this made clearer than in Germany, where the Communist Party's hands were tied by its Stalinist policy in the face of the extermination of the organized working class by Hitlerism.
In the years before Hitler's seizure of power in 1933, the Stalinist regime feared its diplomatic isolation in world politics. It witnessed a growing rapprochement among the capitalist powers that had been at war in 1914-18 and it dreaded an attempt by them to settle their mutual antagonisms at the expense of Russia.
It assigned to the docile Stalinized Communist Parties of every country the task of manipulating the working class, pushing it into blind-alley struggles, not to achieve the genuine aims of the proletariat but merely to disrupt those of the capitalist enemies of Russia.
This was the notorious "Third Period" of Stalinism.
The Third Period
Its official ideology divided all the world of politics into two simple camps: the Communists, on the one side, and fascists on the other. Whoever and whatever opposed the CP was "fascist": social-fascists, left-social-fascists, trade-union fascists, Hitler-fascists, democratic-fascists. It was the duty of the Communist Parties uncompromisingly to lead the masses against every variety of "fascism" in this final period of struggle for the inevitable overthrow of capitalism and defeat of capitalist war.
But all its radical verbiage was a political facade decorating its real aims.
In Germany, conservative bourgeois regimes alternated in power, with the support or tolerance of the Social-Democratic Party, the majority party of the German working-class. With the crisis of 1929, the Nazi party began to grow in mass proportions. The stronger it grew, feeding upon the hopelessness and misery of the German middle classes, the more the Social-Democracy clung to its moderate bourgeois allies as the "'lesser evil." And the more Social-Democracy took responsibility for the regime, the stronger grew the Nazi party, capitalizing upon the resentment of the non-proletarian masses against the main-party of the working class.
The Communist Party increased in strength but far more slowly than the Nazis, whose vote increased by the millions and whose electoral representation rose to first rank until normal parliamentary life became utterly impossible and unstable governments died like a succession of May flies. The Nazis, whose program called openly for the setting up of a totalitarian state and the extermination of all workers' organizations, were on the threshold of power, power which they succeeded in grasping in 1933.
Method and Madness
The danger imperatively called for a unified program of defense of the existence of the labor movement, and for the preparation of serious struggle for the defense of democracy. But the Communist Party viewed the scene with political equanimity.
The Social-Democrats were fascists, their official line told them. In fact, they were worse than the Nazis, just as a concealed enemy is worse than an open one. The CP convinced its supporters that the socialists were the main enemy and consoled them with the thought that a Hitler victory would destroy Social-Democracy and thus wipe out the main barrier to "proletarian" victory. It repudiated and rejected the road of united-front struggle with the socialist party against fascism.
This was madness from the standpoint of the working class but totally comprehensible from the Stalinist view. Social-Democracy, like all reformist socialist parties of its day, hoped and prayed that capitalism would get back on its feet. Economic recovery would cut the ground from under Nazism and restore the conditions of normal day-to-day eking-out of gradual improvements whose sum total someday might be socialism. But German economic recovery, they estimated along with moderate bourgeois parties, was possible only if the victorious powers of World War I would grant prostrated Germany a far-reaching program of economic and political concessions. They hoped to reach just such an agreement with the Western powers.
But it was just such an alliance which the Stalinists were eager to disrupt. Social-Democracy had to be destroyed. Better a Hitler who might turn against the West. When he came to power, the CP prepared no resistance. After Hitler's victory, Stalin gingerly proffered the hand of agreement but Hitler then rebuffed it.
The "Third Period," of course, was duly executed in the United States too. The CP excoriated the New Deal "fascism" of Roosevelt, which was eternally preparing for war against Russia. It denounced the AFL as company-owned-fascism and organized its own tiny "revolutionary" unions to carry on the uncompromising struggle against 57 varieties of American "fascism."
From the People's Front—
But this was all dumped in 1935.
By that time, France, first among the Western powers, was becoming alarmed by the growing power of resurgent German imperialism, and Russia sought to reach an understanding with it. The Franco-Soviet pact of mutual military assistance against German attack was signed and Stalin announced that he "understood and approved" France's need for rearmament. No Communist Party required any less subtle hint.
The period of People's Front was fabricated. The "social-fascists" of yesterday were now transformed into great guardians of peace and democracy. The world was divided now into the camp of Peace-loving Powers allied with Russia, plus Peacelovers who favored such an alliance, and Nazi warmongers who opposed it.
Communist Parties which yesterday voted with scorn against any and all military budgets of "imperialism" now demanded with fanatical zeal that everyone grant military credits to the Peace-lovers. The answer to world problems was the "collective security" of all Peace-loving Powers (allied with Russia, of course) against Germany. And inside every nation, Communists were to join in a "People's Front" with those whom they had denounced as fascists the day before.
In the United States Roosevelt, yesterday a fascist, became the great leader of the Popular Front, and now his critics became "fascists." Yesterday, all for the "revolution"; now, as in France and Spain in 1936-7, where socialist workers rose in mass demonstrations or even civil war, the Communist Parties were zealous in suppressing them.
—To the Hitler-Stalin Pact
The socialist revolution must not be allowed to interfere with the "People's Front" of agreement with capitalists (even with fascists if possible) nor to irritate the Western capitalist allies of Russia. And the People's Front for "democracy" was so popular that thousands of Stalinist-influenced liberals overlooked the Moscow Trials which entrenched totalitarianism in Russia.
But the world of Peace-lovers, kind democrats and well-intentioned anti-fascists was shocked by the next turn of Stalinist policy. It was the announcement of the Hitler-Stalin Fact.
Faced by a now-powerful Germany, rearming and menacing, France and England tried to stave off attack by appeasement. At Munich, Czechoslovakia was turned over to German imperialism. For the Stalinists, this marked the end of collective security and People's Front. If the Western allies intended to make a deal with Hitler, Stalin would beat them to it.
In 1939, while CPs everywhere were stilt lyricizing the People's Front against fascism, Russia and Germany reached an agreement for the partition of Poland between them. Molotov, for the Stalinists, explained that now, "fascism is a matter of taste." The Stalinist Parties all fell in line.
It mattered not that they had just been appealing for a world-wide front of democratic powers against Germany. Russia and Germany were now friends; the war against Germany was denounced as an imperialist war for the benefit of capitalists: England and France were excoriated as warmongers for rejecting Hitler's early peace maneuvers that accompanied his shattering military victories. Months before, the workers had been instructed to restrain themselves lest they antagonize the bourgeois friends of Russia, but now was the time for "militant" strikes and demonstrations under the watchword of "Down with the imperialist war!"
But not for long. In 1941, Germany invaded Russia. The Stalinists abruptly found themselves in the camp of the warmongers. Warmongers? Not at all. It was time for a new turn.
Miraculously, the war of the Allied powers became transformed from a reactionary imperialist adventure into a great people's war for liberation at precisely that second when the armies of Hitler Germany crossed into Russian territory. Everything else soon followed.
The CPs became the most chauvinist of all fake patriots. They demanded that all unions pledge not to strike for any reason at any time. They called for the restoration of piecework in industries where it had been abolished only after years of union struggle. They expelled workers from unions under their control for not working fast enough.
They denounced the "March on Washington" movement for Negro rights as a disruption of national unity. They advised colonial peoples, subjects of Russia's allies, to abandon their struggle for national independence. And thus they persisted until the war came to an end.
With the defeat of Germany and Japan, the former allies parceled out control of the world among themselves, but their mutual antagonisms were irreconcilable. The cold war between the former allies began. Who is to dominate the world, capitalism or Stalinism? That was the issue that divided them and which could not be bridged. To a man, Stalinist parties the world over fitted their new line to the new needs of Russian policy.
Not one turn in Communist Party policy can be explained as an attempt to carry out a pro-working-class program. Every turn, on the other hand, has been clearly motivated by one unchanging objective: to serve the needs of the reactionary ruling class that holds power in Russia.
Our Mortal Enemy
The world Communist Parties have functioned as agents of Russian foreign policy because they are the movements of the class that holds power in Russia. But they are not simply agents of Russian Stalinism.
Communist Party leaders and bureaucrats in each country pursue the Russian line not merely because they are eager to strengthen Russian Stalinism. By advancing the interests of the ruling class which has its seat in the Kremlin, they hope to further their own pretensions to becoming a ruling class in the Stalinist image.
The Stalinist social system is no longer confined to Russia. Within the Stalinist empire and within the Stalinist world, native CP groups strive to further their own aspirations along Stalinist lines, to rule and exploit the masses of their own nation with the same methods and with the same social system as proved so effective in Russia. These impulses toward national Stalinism are irrepressible.
In Yugoslavia, the national Communist Party was driven to break with Russia and declare its independence of Russian Stalinism while maintaining its own dictatorial regime, basically totalitarian and Stalinist in the most scientific sense of the term. In the East European satellites, where such dreams of independence have never been crowned with success, they can be kept in check by the Russian masters only by intermittent purges within the Stalinist movement itself, mixed with concessions.
Stalinism is a world-wide movement to overthrow the capitalist system by replacing it with a new social system of exploitation, replacing the old ruling capitalist class with a new totalitarian bureaucracy. Socialism and Stalinism are mortal enemies.
"Communist Party leaders and bureaucrats in each country pursue the Russian line not merely because they are eager to strengthen Russian Stalinism. By advancing the interests of the ruling class which has its seat in the Kremlin, they hope to further their own pretensions to becoming a ruling class in the Stalinist image."
This was always the biggest problem with "Shachtmanite" Trotskyism. It makes a certain sense when analyzing, say, Mao's Chinese Communist Party. But as an analysis of, say, the CPGB or the CPUSA or the PCF or the PCI, it fails. It says, essentially, that these parties were in no sense working-class. But sociologically, of course they were. They were primarily made up of workers. Of course, Stalinism was "alien to the working class movement" IDEOLOGICALLY in that it promoted a brand of "socialism" that oppressed the workers of the USSR and similar societies. But Bernsteinian and post-Bernstein Social Democracy was ALSO "alien to the working class movement" in that it opposed workers' revolution and supported capitalism!
Earl Browder or Palmiro Togliatti or Maurice Thorez as members of a "bureaucratic collectivist class" in waiting? Sorry, I don't buy it. They were labor bureaucrats and that's about it. (Really, think about how about this take on Stalinist parties in the West would play out today. Should I regard the Greek Communist Party as not part of the workers' movement?)
BTW, this take on the Western CPs certainly didn't predict Eurocommunism. Did the Western CPs suddenly become working-class parties -- social-democratic ones, in practice -- upon breaking with Moscow? If so, how is it that such parties could change their class character -- from "bureaucratic collectivist" to proletarian -- just by a change in political orientation? Sounds rather like Maoist idealism to me.
USRed seems to me to be right. In the West European resistance movements during and just after WW2, the trouble with the CPs wasn't that they were intent on seizing power and imposing bureaucratic collectivism, it was that they were popular frontist. (That's certainly true in France. I think there might have been a slightly different dynamic in Italy. But even there - was there really a possibility of the CP seizing power and crushing the working class?)
Further, I'm not sure how this squares with the Workers' Party's generally pretty sound and non-sectarian approach to the resistance movements. Many of the core militants in those movements - obviously not all - were members of the CP; to a real extent the French Resistance was dominated by the CP. If the CPs were only bureaucratic collectivist ruling classes in waiting, how could you support the Resistance? The answer's simple: they weren't.
I think US Red and Clive are too dismissive of the distinction that the WP made between traditional reformist parties and their purported Stalinist counterparts. Both were considered ideological representatives of respective ruling classes, capitalist and bureaucratic collectivist respectively, within the labor movement. But with one singular difference. The traditional reformist parties, while functioning to buttress the capitalist order, nevertheless, maintained their power by upholding the organizational independence of working class institutions from the capitalist state. Their power was rooted in that independence, which they jealously preserved. The reformist parties were able to mediate the class struggle precisely because they had an independent base of power.
But they were therefore also vulnerable to pressures of the working class or easily unveiled before the working class in the course of struggle. The WP-ISL therefore and under certain conditions could consistently demand that a reformist party take power, in order that it might be exposed as incapable of executing its mandate to overthrow the capitalist system, and by that exposure contribute to the development of the revolutionary party and ferment.
The CPs were considered, correctly I believe, to be the totalitarian police agents of Moscow and therefore in practice all but immune from such similar pressures from below. Such parties appear to the masses, only to the extent that it served the political needs of the Kremlin, as opponents of capitalism. Where, in Eastern Europe, CPs took power with the full backing of the Red Army, the facile similarity between the role of reformists and Stalinists within the labor movement quickly dissolved. It was inconceivable that any totalitarian party, or CP trade union hack, would act or advocate to preserve the organizational independence of the trade union movement from the Stalinist state. They neither sought nor conquered any independent base of power, and what power they had they surrendered willingly and without struggle.
Where the difference that Clive alludes to became manifest was not in the WP’s critical orientation towards the French resistance despite its Stalinist leadership, but rather with respect to the post-war call for an SP-CGT government. The prospects of a government in which the CP would be the dominant force due to its trade union control could hardly be seen as conducive to revolutionary agitation. How could the WP believe, based on the immediate post-War experience, that a CP dominated French government, in contrast to traditional reformists, would be anything but a hazard multiplier against revolutionary operations; one that would have placed Trotskyist and other revolutionaries under increased peril? Certainly revolutionaries would have been exposed to a pincer of opposition between a yet unvanquished French capitalist state and a rising CP able to spread its hold over the French labor movement through the instrumentality of limited state power.
That is why the WP, justifiably in my opinion, backed itself away from its initial call for such a government and advocated instead an independent struggle against capitalism and Stalinism; and not against reformism as if the SP and CP were simply different stripes of the same political danger.
I don't entirely follow the distinction you're making, Barry. Sure, when it comes to particular governmental slogans, different considerations come into play. I'm not sure, but maybe it was right to be very, very cautious about calling for the CP (in whatever form of words) to come to power - though, as I said, the general problem in Western Europe wasn't that they were fighting for power and then likely to crush the working class, but - crudely - that they were more than happy to hand power over to de Gaulle, etc
But the fundamental character of the Resistance was that it was led by Stalinists (or more precisely by an alliance between Stalinists and bourgeois nationalists - some of them very right wing - within which the Stalinists were, on the whole, dominant up until the liberation of Paris). If the WP were right - as they surely were - to support the Resistance (critically, of course) - and as I understand it, in this they stood out from mainstream Canonite Trotskyism which was sectarian towards the resistance movements - this raises some questions, surely, over their general approach towards Stalinist movements, or at least questions regarding some of them.
You're right about Eastern Europe, obviously - though surely the point there was that real power was in the hands of the Soviet bureaucracy through the Red Army, and the CPs were pretty much, really, irrelevant.
The CP in France was still Stalinist (albeit with huge numbers of raw recruits whose basic impulse was anti-Nazi). And I'm not saying there aren't vital differences between the Stalinist parties and the social democracies. I just suspect the differences are harder to pin down and codify. And I think you're not acknowledging the problem the Resistance poses for the WP position.
Barry writes: "The prospects of a government in which the CP would be the dominant force due to its trade union control could hardly be seen as conducive to revolutionary agitation. How could the WP believe, based on the immediate post-War experience, that a CP dominated French government, in contrast to traditional reformists, would be anything but a hazard multiplier against revolutionary operations; one that would have placed Trotskyist and other revolutionaries under increased peril? Certainly revolutionaries would have been exposed to a pincer of opposition between a yet unvanquished French capitalist state and a rising CP able to spread its hold over the French labor movement through the instrumentality of limited state power."
I find that last sentence confusing. "The instrumentality of limited state power"? Eh?
If the PCF had formed a government with the SFIO, even as the dominant force, yes, things would've been bad for real Marxists -- as they already were. Trotskyists already faced physical threats from PCF/CGT thugs, right? So, yes, that threat might've been multiplied. Would this have made the PCF leadership different from the SPD leadership responsible for the deaths of Luxemburg and Liebknecht? Not very. Again, labor bureaucrats of one stripe, labor bureaucrats of another...if the post-1914 SPD was still a workers' party, of a horrible variety, so was the PCF of Thorez, Duclos and Frachon, I think.
The main question, as I understand it: would the PCF have been ABLE to turn France into a Stalinist state? Of course not. The PCF would've been governing a capitalist state, with its capitalist armed forces, which by no means would have allowed for the bureaucratic collectivization (if you will) of France. So even if the PCF -- which, as Clive notes, was still in Pop Front mode -- had been genuinely interested in "Stalinizing" France, it would've been impossible.
I doubt that a pure PCF-SFIO government would've been very different from the Tripartite government that did exist in 1945-47 with the Popular Republican Movement (MRP). (Perhaps a more comprehensive welfare state would've resulted, who knows.)