The crisis of Stalinism has opened the way for a regroupment and reunification of the socialist movement, especially in the United States.
For almost a quarter of a century, American radicalism, and even liberalism, was predominantly under the leadership or influence of Stalinism, whether it appeared under the name of the Communist Party or the Communist Political Association (as it was renamed for a short time). During this period, the Stalinists succeeded not only in overcoming the stagnation and factional exhaustion of the twenties, but in establishing themselves as the largest, most influential and most important political movement proclaiming the goal of socialism since the high point reached by the traditional American Socialist Party at the time the country entered the First World War.
The Communist Party became an authentic mass movement. Tens of thousands of workers who became socialists joined its ranks or consistently followed its political leadership. Negroes, both workers and intellectuals, joined or supported it in greater number than ever before in the history of the American radical movement. It became the predominant force among intellectuals; among students responding to the appeal of progressive social ideas; among professional people attracted to its aims and struggles.
In the trade unions, especially in the CIO, the Communist Party acquired positions of leadership and power it could
only dream of in its early days; for if it is true that it was "used" by such non-socialist labor leaders as John L. Lewis, Philip Murray and Sidney Hillman, it is no less true that it took ample advantage for its own progress of the use to which they put it.
For a time, the Communist Party even succeeded in extending its influence – the full dimensions of which future revelations alone will measure – in important sections of the Democratic Party, a feat as unrivalled as it was dubious for a movement calling itself socialist.
In the same period, running roughly from the early days of the crisis that ushered in the thirties to the beginning of the
cold war, the Communist Party also succeeded in reducing to virtual impotence, or thwarting the further development of, all other radical groups.
It is true that the formerly paralyzed Socialist Party also acquired new strength and a more radical aspect for a little while. New, young, more aggressive elements by the thousands swelled its ranks, despite a factional conflict which
led to the splitting off of the right wing of the party. But this promising growth came to a short end.
The Socialist Party was drained off in several directions. Its new leadership, the "Militant", group, was not only incapable of stemming the drain – it contributed to it in almost every possible way. One part of the party membership and leadership was absorbed into the vast machinery of the New Deal, where it quickly forgot its socialism and hoped
everybody else would, too. Another part lost itself, and its ideals and politics, in the ranks of the trade-union officialdom.
Still another part compromised itself with Stalinism. Another element, remaining true to its socialist convictions, joined with the Trotskyists who had entered the Socialist Party in 1936 and stayed with them in the subsequent split which further disarrayed the SP without giving a significant impetus to the again independent Trotskyist movement.
Despair, deepened by defections of many remaining, members-into the political void, cut the Socialist Party to ineffectuality. The main wave of radicalism continued to flow into the channels of the Communist Party.
As for the Trotskyist movement, the only other socialist group of consequence to challenge Stalinism in the country, it never really succeeded in advancing beyond the stage of a propagandist organization, in spite of more than one encouraging phase in its development. The sectarian tendencies and other vices inherent in the life of all propagandist groups – which threatened to desiccate it when its distinguishing theories become dogmas that separate and alienate it from living movements and, struggles – gradually gained the upper hand in its midst.
It dealt itself a cruel blow when it expelled half its membership upon the outbreak of the Second World War because the expelled refused to defend Russia. Its ranks thereafter were repeatedly decimated by other expulsions and splits.
In consolation for a declining membership and influence, it substituted a messianic doctrine that it was innerly and
irrevocably endowed with, predestined leadership of the American working class.
And when, in addition to this, it consecrated the new dogma that Stalinism is part – a counter-revolutionary and bureaucratic part, but nevertheless a part – of the camp of socialist revolution, a least from the River Spree to the Sea of Japan, it succeeded at once in unutterably muddling its remaining ranks, in shutting itself off from the labor movement and from all socialists, and in excluding the possibility of influencing dissident Stalinists.
We organised first into the Worker Party and now into the Independent Socialist league, have not, in the seventeen years of our independent existence, been free, and could not be free, of the vicissitudes and even vices that assail propagandist groups like our own. But we have more and more consciously sought not only to examine and re-examine our past as objectively as we could but to gain the greatest possible awareness of own problems and our role.
We have stood all along, as we stand today, for such a program and such a political course for the socialist movement all over the world as would identify it unmistakably with a socialist alternative to outlived capitalism and a democratic alternative to the spurious "socialism" of totalitarian Stalinism, not as two marked-off and separated conceptions but as a harmonious whole applied concretely to different conditions.
BRIDGE TO THE FUTURE
Ours is the position of Third Camp socialists, of independent socialists who find it no less disastrous to the interests
of the working classes to support capitalism in the struggle against Stalinism than to support Stalinism in the struggle against capitalism; ours is the position of consistent and uncompromising democratic socialism.
But between our own adoption of this conception and its adoption by a broad and influential socialist movement, to say
nothing of the very broadest masses of the workers, there is a great gap. It cannot be bridged by imagining that it does
not exist, or that it can be wished away by self-agitation or by decree or by disdainful ultimatums to all those who are
unprepared to see eye-to-eye-with us on every theoretical or political question.
We have understood for some time that we are not, certainly not yet, the socialist movement (as distinguished from a socialist propaganda group), and that is the principal reason why we ceased some time ago even to call ourselves a party.
But we have been confidently convinced for a long time that just as an independent political party formed by the present organization! of the workers, the trade unions, will be impelled naturally and logically by forces of the class struggle, which do not need to be invented any more than they can be forever repressed, to adopt socialist aims and methods no matter how primitive and non-socialist such a party may be at the start – so an authentic and broad socialist movement, no matter how moderate its program and leadership may be at the start, no matter what its disagreements with our own views, will be impelled by the same mighty and inexorable forces to accept these, views – unless events prove them, to us as well, to be erroneous and untenable – not by moons of low maneuvers, factional chicanery or manipulations, but of free, loyal, comradely and democratic interchange of opinion.
We have also understood that both from the standpoint of the development of a declaration of political independence of the American working class – the formation of a Labor Party or what may turn out to be the particular American equivalent to it – and of the development of an influential movement that serves as the socialist wing of the inclusive political party of the workers, it is first of all imperative to divorce the concepts of Stalinism and socialism in the minds of the American people.
THE CURSE OF STALINISM
All the means of influencing thought at the disposal of the American capitalist class, and on the other side, the by-no-means trifling propagandist means of Stalinism, have cooperated to this extent: both have sought, with tremendous success in the past, to identify Stalinism with socialism and socialism with Stalinism.
It is this identification that has cost the socialist movement its heaviest losses, above all in this country, and that has been one of the greatest barriers, if not the greatest barrier, to its progress. For to place the responsibility for our weakness upon the "prosperity" is one-sided, false, and highly misleading. The "prosperity" undoubtedly accounts for the fact that the socialist movement in this country is not as powerful as it is, let us say, in Great Britain. It cannot and does not account for its utter fragmentation and political impotence.
That condition is explained primarily by the fact that socialism, the socialist movement, was identified for decades with
Stalinism, and that Stalinism has been identified for the past few years (that is almost precisely since the beginning of the disastrous decline of the Communist Party as the overwhelmingly dominant "socialist" movement in this country) with the worst totalitarian despotism, with the crudest denial of democratic rights, of any modern country on earth.
And if there is one view, among all those we hold, that we consider as unfailingly demonstrated, it is this: an authentic socialist movement cannot and will not and should not be developed in this country until it has freed itself completely, both in reality and in the minds of the people of this country, from the incubus of Stalinism and from all attachment to it.
THE NEW DAY
It is in connection with this very point, quintessential in our view, that the crisis in Stalinism is at last playing a decisive
part, and opening up great new possibilities.
Since the death of Stalin, which was a remarkable personal symbolisation of the end of an era, a succession of sensational revelations has ripped to dirty shreds the monstrous myth of Stalinist "socialism."
For all practical political purposes, that myth, as well as the suffocating web of falsifications that composed it, is ended
and cannot be popularized again.
Nothing that Khrushchev disclosed was new to us and to many like us. But that is a fact of minor importance. Nothing that the Russian army did in the bloody crushing of the fight for socialist freedom of an entire people in Hungary, or that Stalinist propaganda did in defaming it, was unexpected by us who long ago knew the brutally reactionary and imperialist character of the bureaucracy that rules the "socialist" state of Russia. That too is of small moment. Of immense importance is that the crisis in Stalinism climaxed by the odious butchery in Hungary has had a shattering effect upon the Communist Parties and those who support or follow them, and nowhere has this effect been more devastating than in the United States, which is where we are after all most immediately and directly concerned.
The Communist Party survived, with surprisingly little difficulty, the crisis of the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939. Many turned their backs upon it in horrified disgust, but it retained its main strength and even advanced beyond it later in the war. This was not due simply to the fact that Russia presently became the victim of a Nazi attack and the ally of the United States, but above all to the continued prevalence of the myth that Stalinist Russia represented a socialist society or at any rate represented some sort of socialist progress, from which the pact with Hitler was a momentary abberation imposed by its fear of an.attack bv England, France and, of course, Finland.
The present crisis is of another kind and has other consequences. It has broken the Communist Party in this country beyond repair. It has broken its past monopoly of leadership over the American radical, socialist and liberal movement. So far as the eye can see to the end of the political horizon, it has broken any possibility of reconstituting this leadership.
CP IS FINISHED
To a greater and more important respect (at least relatively) than in any other party of the Communist movement, it has created in the American Communist Party and its periphery new trends and even open factional divisions which represent a genuine, though in our opinion limited, endeavor to face problems which are to them newly disclosed. Not the least of these problems is that of an independent reunited socialist movement, not within the framework of the Communist Party itself, as the still unregenerated Stalinist leaders think, but outside of it.
These endeavors, as is indicated above, are in our opinion not only arbitrarily limited but even misleading, particularly to those most directly involved. To think that the Communist Party in this country has been so devastated because of "ultra-left'' mistakes in the past is as far from the mark, indeed as completely irrelevant, as to think that "right opportunist" mistakes were the cause. The CP survived a ton of such mistakes, and if they were all or even mainly what was involved, the CP's problems would be pretty much trivial ones, to be resolved in an almost routine way.
Or even to think that its disasters are due to the wretched and reactionary witch-hunt of the government against it is no less than completely misleading. It is a true case of mistaking effect for cause. A radical party does not always or
even often thrive on police persecution, to be sure. But to invoke the police persecution as an explanation for the isolation and odium in which the Communist Party is gripped today is to be blind to the obvious and easily demonstrable fact that the appeals for defense and protection against the persecution have fallen on so many deaf ears in the labor and democratic public almost entirely because the CP is universally identified with a regime that is not only the "enemy of the country" but is the arch-representative of the totalitarian enslavement and gruesome repression of countless millions of people in the name, of all things, of socialism and democracy.
And it is especially the minority in the Communist. Party, which is seeking in its own way to deal with this problem, that is most gravely mistaken if it believes that it can place upon the same level the mistakes of other radical groups (and we have all made our share of mistakes, including bad mistakes) with what it designates as the "mistakes" of its comrades at the head of the Stalinist regimes.
What was spoken from the mouth of Khrushchev in his appalling revelations and from the mouth of his tank cannons in Budapest were not mistakes – they were crimes, inexcusable and unforgivable, which it is downright grotesque to equate with mistakes or even false political views that are so well known to exist in other radical political currents.
Nobody stands so much in the way of the contribution that thinking and rethinking militants of the Communist Party can make to the reconstitution of a united and effective socialist movement in this country as those who still fail to make unambiguously and forthrightly clear the view that totalitarianism is not and cannot be the road to socialism, that socialists cannot and must not be apologists for totalitarianism in any way, that socialism is not some abstract economic order that must first be established without democracy, but is rather the living, constantly unfolding social realization of democracy.
We, who were not at all born with this view firmly and clearly in our minds, hold to it all the more firmly and clearly once we have acquired it and been fortified in our insistence upon it by all that has happened in the recent decades. We ask no more of anyone else. But we ask also for no less.
TO FILL THE VACUUM
Whatever the course of further development of those who have remained with the Communist Party, the outstandingly important fact is that its irretrievable decline as leader and spokesman of American radicalism, or American socialism, has left a veritably vast vacuum in this country. It can and must be filled.
We for our part do not have any illusions as to the ease or speed with which that can be done. The radical movement is fragmented and exceptionally weak – weaker than it has been organizationally at least at any time since the turn of the century.
It will acquire its real strength and once again become a. political movement – which, unlike a propagandist group or
sect, can call upon hundreds of thousands and even millions of workers to follow it in political action and have them heed the call – when the American working classes, represented above all by the huge trade-union movement and the remarkable mass movement of the Negro people, experience a new upsurge of radical thought and activity.
But there is no need to wait with twiddling thumbs until that magic hour strikes. The highly important work of
preparing for that time by the maximum concentration of all those who already, now, are interested in building the foundations for a serious socialist movement is the task that confronts us all. And the task is realizable now because one of the most important limiting conditions of the past period has been effectively removed.
It is not an easy task, it goes without saying. There are almost as many complications and difficulties as there are
There is a great number and variety of socialist groups, and an even greater number of unaffiliated socialist individuals. Many of them have inhabited the past so long, and fought the old wars so often, that they have developed a comfort and inertia of old usage from which it is difficult (and in some cases it would be a pity) to detach them.
SIDETRACK: TAKE CARE
There is also, and perhaps this is more important than any other single factor, the hope on the part of many that a new movement can be constituted out of some of the existing groups and unattached individuals which would not be associated with the Communist Party, it is true, but which would nevertheless proclaim itself, openly or more prudently, a part of the "socialist camp" - that innocent but spurious euphemism for the regimes of Stalinist totalitarianism.
If such a movement were ever to materialize, it would and could be nothing but a refurbished Stalinist or pro-Stalinist formation. It would not contribute to the development of an authentic socialist movement in this country, capable of winning strength in the working classes or deserving it would, on the contrary, sidetrack such a movement, at least for a time.
Where such a view is put forth on the grounds that a socialist movement in this country must be sympathetic to the peoples of the "socialist camp," it is almost fantastic. All our sympathy and solidarity is with these peoples, and it is precisely that which makes any solidarity or sympathy with the regimes that oppress them intolerable for a socialist movement. It is hard to say what Hungary showed if it did not show that!
A socialist unification in this country which does not from the very start proclaim itself as a democratic socialist movement, will never become a significant movement And for the benefit of scholars, pedants and hair-splitters, we are ready to offer as a "provisionally" acceptable definition of a democratic socialist movement, one which is decidedly as staunch and forthright in its demand for and support of democratic rights for the people of the "socialist camp" as in its demands and support of democratic rights in the camp of capitalist rule.
Any socialist, including those who regard totalitarian Russia as some kind of socialist or working-class regime, who has not learned from the crisis of Stalinism that this is the irreducible minimum for collaboration of socialists who differ on other theoretical and political questions, has by this failure deprived himself of the contribution he could otherwise make to reuniting and rebuilding the socialist movement.
ROAD TO UNITY
The Independent Socialist League, and here it is joined by the Young Socialist league, is ready and eager to make its contribution to the union and reconstruction of socialism, to utilise the new opportunities to the utmost.
We do not for a moment hold the position that the reunion of the socialist movement of this country, after so many years of the different groups and currents confronting and debating so vehemently their conflicting views on theoretical, political and even historical questions, can be achieved by demanding of everyone else, no matter how politely, that they all accept our views, or a discreetly worded version of our views, as a pre-condition for unity; such a position
would be preposterous.
Differences of opinion on controversial questions, including differences on matters of theory, are a downright necessity in a socialist movement, with due regard for the time and place for them and the responsibility toward the movement as a whole. The demand for conformity in advance on all questions, even on important ones, is as intolerable for a real socialist movement as the demand for "confessions" and breast-beating – both are a form of socialist existence best left to the exclusive attributes of Stalinism.
Clearly defined positions on the essential question of democratic socialism for all the world, as indicated above, and democratic rights for all the members of the party, these are the only necessary limitations for the reunification of the socialist movement, if not for an eternity then at least for the entire next period that we can visualize.
For the reasons we have set forth in other articles in our press and from the public platform, we regard the traditional organisation of American socialism, the Socialist Party, as distinguished, despite its present weakness, from all the other socialist groups. The Socialist Party can be regarded as the already-existent framework for the union of all democratic socialists.
It is possible to build it up, not as the arena for new schisms to add to those that have fragmented socialism in this country, but as the socialist pole of attraction for all workers, Negro and white, all intellectuals, students and professional people who share the aims of socialism, and see no way of achieving it except through the organized action of a genuine movement.
The pole of attraction of yesterday's radical movement was organized Stalinism. What is new is that it is now discredited beyond hope. What is new is that it is now possible to think realistically in terms of building a new pole of attraction which will not be a discredit to socialism.
The Socialist Party can play a decisive part in doing the job. Its responsibilities in this are exceeded only by its opportunities. The boldness and imagination it requires to seize the opportunities will be exceeded, we are convinced, by the yielded fruit.
For ourselves, who are in enthusiastic earnest about the possibilities for a new beginning, and who therefore spurn all pettifogging maneuvers in the name of a good cause, we are fully conscious of our own responsibilities. The United States has been the great and unfortunate exception long enough. We here can begin again the building of a movement that can stand shoulder-high with the socialist movements of the rest of the world. We face the prospect with confidence in success.