The Socialist Fight Against Capitalism is the Positive Answer to Stalinism

Submitted by AWL on 14 October, 2013 - 3:51

In the United States today, it takes very little intelligence and no courage at all to be "against Stalinism." Outside of the tiny American Stalinist movement and the narrow little circle of its non-party apologists, everyone is against it.

Cynical ward-heelers, running for some petty local office, seek votes on the ground that they know how to "fight Communism." Tens of billions of dollars are appropriated for the armed forces in the name of "fighting Communism." Both major political parties seek to gain control of the machinery of the American government by claiming that each knows how to "fight Communism" better than the other. The whole of American foreign policy, no matter which party is in power, is oriented around the objective of "fighting Communism."

Not only is "everyone" for fighting Stalinism, but just about every public policy, however far-fetched it may appear to be, seeks justification on the grounds that through it the struggle against Stalinism can be carried on most effectively. People who favor giving milk to school children at public expense are apt to claim that this will keep them from becoming "Communists." Those who oppose free milk programs claim that government "intervention" in this field is one step on the road to "statism." and hence to "Communism." The government has poured billions of dollars into the creation of the H-bomb on the grounds that this weapon is needed to "stop Communism."

Most liberals (to say nothing of all witch-hunting reactionaries and most conservatives) agree that members of Stalinist organizations should be kept out of jobs as teachers (regardless of how competent they may be in their subjects) as a way of "fighting Communism." And the United States has entered a military alliance with such reactionary police regimes as Franco's Spain and Chiang Kai-shek's Formosa on the ground that this is necessary in order to defeat Stalinism. It would take too much space even to attempt to list all the things which have been advocated and done in the name of "fighting Communism." Here in the United States, two methods have been most widely and persistently employed.

Witch-hunting Methods

One of them has been to identify, or "root out” individual Stalinists, or people suspected of being Stalinists or of associating with Stalinists, and then get them fired from their jobs or persecuted in other ways. The other method has been to put the known leaders of the Communist Party on trial linger the Smith Act, and to send them to jail. (The nature of the struggle against Stalinism conducted by the American government in the field of world politics is discussed in another part of this special issue.) It cannot be denied that both these methods have dealt heavy blows to the small Stalinist movement in this country. Many people have undoubtedly been driven from its ranks by fear of all kinds of legal and illegal reprisals, and some who might otherwise have joined them have been scared away for the same reasons.

The American Communist Party, which at one time had between sixty and one hundred thousand members, and several hundred thousand sympathizers or members of front organizations, has now been reduced to between ten and twenty thousand members of the CP, and an extremely narrow band of innocents who are helping them to one degree or another.

So, one might say, the methods used to fight Stalinism in this country hove "worked" pretty well. The trouble is that they have worked so well that they have killed off, or are threatening to kill off, far more than the little Stalinist movement here. It is very much like burning down a house to get rid of the rats in the cellar. It would get rid of the rats all right, but what house has been burned down? What institutions, rights or privileges of the American people have been shrunk, withered and blistered by the methods used in the struggle against Stalinism?

The whole, political atmosphere in the country has been poisoned by the methods of the witch-hunt. Under the guise of "fighting Stalinism" every progressive institution and idea has come under attack. Today, hundreds of thousands - yes, millions - of people are afraid to read not only Stalinist but also socialist and liberal periodicals and newspapers. Teachers are afraid to discuss vital social issues like race equality, socialized medicine, public housing, social control of our vital national resources, and the like. People are afraid to sign petitions for the redress of grievances, or to put
minority parties on the ballot. People are afraid to join organizations for fear that it may later turn out that some Stalinist or alleged Stalinist may also be a member, and that they may have to answer some day for this "association" with such a person.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been turned into a political police tending toward the model of the old Czarist Okhrana. FBI agents are sent into all kinds of liberal and radical organizations and into the trade unions to keep an eye on what people are doing there. People who belong to such organizations, or who have dropped out of them for personal reasons, are badgered by the FBI to turn informers, to report the conversations and activities of their associates. Every right-wing reactionary and every crackpot organization is given free license to spy on and ''root out" Stalinists, liberals and socialists in all spheres of public life. As a result, people are blacklisted from their chosen occupations on the basis of the flimsiest, evidence, or no evidence at all. They have no legal recourse by which to establish their "innocence," as no formal or legal action has been taken against them. The house of civil liberties in this country has not been burned down yet, but the flames are licking at the walls.

Just a "Conspiracy"?

Not long ago we witnessed the spectacle of a former Democratic president of the United States being accused by a Republican attorney general of having consciously promoted Stalinist agents to high posts in the government. The "accused," however, was the same man who, as president, had instituted the so-called federal loyalty program under which his own attorney general had been instructed to prepare and issue a "list of subversive organizations," for guidance to government officials in deciding who should be fired from or kept out of public jobs. This list had been drawn up without hearings, without notification to the organizations listed, and without any method provided by which they could legally contest their listing and prove themselves innocent of whatever charges the attorney general may have against them.

But, it may be argued, what is wrong in all this is not the purpose, or even the method used. What is wrong is that bad or irresponsible men have got hold of the machinery of "anti-Communism" and are abusing their powers. After all, Stalinism is a "conspiracy," and must be dealt with accordingly. We must see to it that only honest and well-meaning people are put into positions of power, for we know that all methods and institutions can be abused or misused by bad men.

Hard Core and the Dupes

This description of Stalinism flatly as a "conspiracy" states that once it is accepted as the dominant or most important characteristic, let alone as the totality of Stalinism, every abuse of civil liberties, every repression, every attack on socialists and liberals and trade unionists under the guise of "fighting Communism," can be justified, at least in principle. For it is evident that if what we are fighting is a vast, invisible, all-enveloping and all-penetrating conspiracy, then everyone is suspect insofar as such a conspiracy may be expected to put on a million disguises, and among them even the mask of its own most outspoken enemies. The truth of the matter is that conspiracy, espionage, infiltration is just one aspect of Stalinism, and a minor one at that. Stalinism is a world political and social movement which attracts millions of people to its banners on the basis of its political program. It is also a world movement which has won power in Russia and China, and has imposed the rule of the new Stalinist ruling class it has created on the peoples of the satellite countries.

It is true that its apparatus of espionage and infiltration in countries it does not control is greatly aided by its nature as a social movement. But at the same time, it becomes a serious, a dangerous social and political force only where it has come to power, or where millions of men and women accept its leadership and join its organizations because they are convinced that these offer them the best chance of gaining freedom, democracy and a decent standard of living for themselves. The hard core of the Stalinist parties, to be sure, know that their movement is neither free nor democratic. They are quite willing to use every kind of political skullduggery to confess, exhaust and defeat those who stand in their way. They will espouse popular causes today, betray them tomorrow, and champion them again the day after. They will betray and destroy their most loyal adherents, and even whole sections of their movement if this serves the purpose of their real masters in Russia. But their success, their hope of victory in any one country or in the world at large, lies in their ability to convince masses of people that they, rather than their enemies, are the real representatives of humanity's aspirations for freedom, democracy, peace, and an end to human exploitation and degradation.

The Capitalist Mind

It is precisely this most important aspect of the world Stalinist movement which leaves its capitalist opponents so helpless before it. Many of them recognize it, dimly, but they cannot make the necessary connection between this recognition and their actual, concrete struggle against Stalinism. In speeches and books many a liberal opponent of Stalinism has pointed out that it gains support because the workers and peasants in Europe and Asia are sick of a social and economic system which provides vast riches for a few and leaves the great majority in terrible poverty and degradation. They urge and plead with the American government to do something to alleviate these conditions. They are for an expanded "Point Four" program, for technical and economic aid to backward economies and the like. But the capitalists in this country, who exercise a dominating weight in our national affairs, can see no real profit to be made from such measures. They feel much closer to the capitalists abroad than to the common people who are oppressed by them. Here at home they place their own private interests as businessmen above the interests of national policy, or rather, they shape national policy to conform to their own interests. They will not even permit the minor measure of lowering American tariffs so as to ease the economic situation of other countries, let alone accept high taxes to finance vast economic "give-away" programs abroad.
Right here at home, they know that the armament boom has done more to quiet the workers, and to reduce the appeal, of Stalinism as well as of all other anti-capitalist theories and movements, than anything else. But they recognize that their own system has a fatal tendency towards depressions and crises and unemployment. They know, also, that such developments will give rise to social discontent and that the Stalinists will seek to take advantage of it to once more attract masses of people.

Police-State Trend

But as the CAUSE for such discontent lies at the root of their system, they cannot do anything about it. Hence they turn naturally and inevitably to methods of police repression as THE answer to Stalinism, THE way to combat it.
The capitalists all over the world have a built-in political peculiarity. This is the fact that they tend to prefer democracy as a method of social rule for themselves, but also that they are willing to abandon or destroy it if there is a serious danger that the masses of the people will put an end to their rule, their social system, even by the most democratic methods imaginable. They have demonstrated this amply in their suppression of democratic movements for colonial freedom, in their support of the Nazis in Germany and Fascists in Italy, and many other ways.

Hence, for them it is quite natural to turn to basically anti-democratic methods in righting Stalinism. They seek justification for this in the fact that the Stalinists themselves are totalitarians and crush all democracy wherever they come to power. And some very prominent liberals in this country have provided a slick and all too specious argument for them by isolating the conspiratorial aspect of Stalinism and serving it up as its major and most important characteristic. Of course, these liberals hope that in suppressing the Stalinist movement by police measures, no one else will be affected. They urge the government to maintain careful legal safeguards while moving against the Stalinists. They are horrified when liberals, democratic socialists, and other dissidents arc lumped together with the Stalinists on the government's "subversive list," or when obviously harmless people are fired from their jobs because they were Stalinists at one time, or because they continued to "associate" with their fathers or wives who were Stalinists.

But their horror at the "abuses" of the witch-hunt does not absolve them of responsibility for giving it theoretical justification, and for developing no alternative theory and practice for fighting Stalinism. Even a superficial understanding of the real social forces at work in our country should have warned them that once police repression of a political movement has been accepted as the method by which to fight it, this method will be extended by those who now have the real political power in their hands against all critics of their socio-economic system.

It Worked

We Independent Socialists approach the struggle against Stalinism from a completely different point of view. We have long been aware of its employment of infiltration, deception, lying and murder to achieve its ends, for these methods were first used against us and our comrades in all countries where the Stalinists sought to gain control of the Communist, socialist and labor movements as their stepping-stone to total political power. We and our comrades were fighting the Stalinists in the labor, student and other popular movements at a time when many of the present self-anointed "saviors from Communism" were in close political and military alliance with them.

But we must start with the understanding that none of these despicable methods would do the Stalinists any good if they did not also have a social program, a social appeal which brings millions of deluded but honest people into their camp. Thus the basic strategy of any progressive, democratic struggle against Stalinism must be not to "root out" and suppress individual Stalinists by police methods, but to expose their political program as the utter deception it is, and above all, to offer the masses a better political program in its place and fight for it determinedly.

One of the most striking examples of the effectiveness of this method was the fight waged by the Reuther caucus in the United Automobile Workers (CIO) from 1945 to 1947. At the beginning of this period, the union was run by a group of officers who were strongly under Stalinist influence. The Communist Party fraction was the most cohesive and well-organized group in the union. For some time its policies were backed by many respected public spokesmen, and even by Philip Murray, the anti-Stalinist leader of the CIO. The Reuther caucus was a loose coalition of anti-Stalinist union militants ranging from pure-and-simple trade-unionists to Independent Socialists. But the fundamental strategy of the then Reuther group was based on the idea that it had a better, more militant, more aggressive program for the union and the welfare of its members than did the Stalinists. Here is an author's summary of that fight:

"It [the Reuther group] had gambled on the idea that the Communist Party could be defeated in a trade union not by repression but by exposure; not by turning to reaction but by more consistent and aggressive militancy; not-by shouting 'red' but by showing the totalitarian strings to which the CP danced: not by high-echelon maneuvering but by going to the rank and file to debate issues. And it had won."—Howe and Widick, UAW and Walter Reuther.

"Anti-Communism" Is no Program

The most important lesson of this experience was not simply that the Stalinists in the CIO-UAW were reduced to an insignificant powerless and discredited remnant, that has been done in other unions by simply intimidating or throwing out every Stalinist or suspected Stalinist from the organization (of course, the rest of the membership was cowed and intimidated along with the Stalinists, and in such unions democracy itself was wiped out along with the CP). The real achievement of the Reuther group was that during the time when it was fighting the Stalinists democracy, rank-and-file participation and the social and political education of the membership reached an all-time high in the union.

Hundreds of similar examples could be presented from the experiences of all kinds of movements and organizations. But in each of them the one essential element was this: the opponents of Stalinism were not just "anti-Communists." They had a social program which attracted the most militant, democratic and conscious people away from the Stalinists and to their own ranks. They deprived the Stalinists of their most powerful source of attraction, the appearance of being the ones who are most willing to struggle against the social evils which the mass of the people are against.

The experience of the British Labor Party is another example on a national scale. The end of the war left Britain exhausted and worn out economically. The workers in Britain are just as fed up with the inefficiency, social injustice and inequality of capitalism as are those in France or Italy. But in Britain the Labor Party took its mission seriously. It
was quite willing to strike at the vitals of British capitalism if this was needed to serve the interests of the workers and the mass of the people. In 1945 its mood was aggressive and militant, and its program was a flat declaration of the intention to nationalize immediately such industries as it thought needed it most. In office, it carried out much of its program, despite the hatred and abuse the Tories and the capitalists in general heaped upon it. With such a movement leading the workers, the Stalinists could find no social soil in which to get a real foothold. They could not
conceal their subservience to Russia and Russian imperialist interests under a cloak of militancy in behalf of the workers. As long as the Labor Party continues to represent the basic interests of the common people of Britain, the Stalinists will remain a tiny isolated political sect.

Learning the Lessons

In the first section of this article we have shown the damage done to democracy in our country by those who seek to repress Stalinism rather than to fight it politically. In the second section we have sought to demonstrate, by argument and example, that Stalinism can be fought successfully by those who offer a superior social program. The choice between these methods, however, is not simply a matter of convenience (one is better than the other). In foreign affairs, it can mean the choice between a devastating and hopeless World War III on the one hand, and the defeat of Stalinism by undermining its social support all over the world on the other.

The issue of how to fight Stalinism is a central issue of our times, and the fate of civilization as we know it may well hinge on how many people learn the right answers soon enough, and how vigorously they act on them once they have learned them. And here it must be emphasized that it is not just a question of how many individuals learn these lessons, but how the social classes absorb and react to them. For one thing is certain. The capitalist class in this country is incapable of learning the lesson, no matter how clearly it is presented and no matter how many disasters its government’s policies bring about. For implicit in understanding the answer of how to defeat Stalinism by democratic means, how to wage the struggle against it by means which will enlist the mass of the peoples all over the world, is an understanding that capitalism has played out its role in history and now, in one way or another, must step off the stage and make way for another social system.

All over the world it is the poor, the exploited, the downtrodden workers and colonial masses who rally to the banners of Stalinism. In the end, this movement betrays them into a slavery which is even worse, if possible, than that from which they want to escape. But their determination to put an end to foreign colonial rule, to age-old systems of exploitation which have lost any elements of progress they may once have had - this urge is irrepressible and irresistible. And no one who seeks to maintain this system can win their confidence and support. So, here in America too we turn to the labor movement, the workers, the students, the "'common people." The armament boom has satisfied their most pressing immediate needs, and few of them today believe that our economic system needs to be replaced
by a different one.

Democracy Can Win

But the disasters, one after another, which befall the foreign policy of their government, and the raging attack on civil liberties at home pressed with great determination by the most reactionary, labor-hating, anti-popular section of the Republican Party will make them stop and think here also. For the attack which has been directed primarily at the Stalinists is really meant, in the long run, for them. The labor movement needs democracy if it is to maintain itself and broaden its gains. Without it, its status will be reduced to a "labor front", Hitler-model. The students and teachers need freedom to learn, teach and think - without it their aspirations and functions will be reduced to repeating accepted formulas and shibboleths empty of meaning and devoid of the potentiality of progress. So the "little people" of the country need democracy, the right to organize themselves on behalf of their own interests against the overpowering strength of the great corporations and of the growing bureaucratized strength of the government itself.

If they struggle for this democracy, and if they use the methods of democracy in their struggle, they will be able to take the American Stalinist movement in their stride. And if they struggle for democracy, not only for themselves, but for their brothers in all lands, they will have sounded the death-knell of Stalinism on a world scale.

Thus, the basic strategy for defeating Stalinism is the struggle for democracy—political, social and economic. And to mean anything, that struggle must start here, at home, against those who are undermining democracy, even though they do it in the name of fighting Stalinism.

We of Labor Action and the Independent Socialist League believe that the struggle for democracy in our time is inseparable from the struggle for socialism. It is to this struggle that we have dedicated all our efforts. To participate most effectively in the struggle against Stalinism, join our fight for socialism and democracy!