Labor Action special May 1954: What is Stalinism?

The Russian Stalinist Social System

Submitted by AWL on 14 October, 2013 - 3:55

IT is impossible to discuss any important political problem of our time, let alone take a part in resolving it, without a clear understanding of what Stalinism really signifies.

It is just as impossible to get such an understanding from the writings and speeches of capitalists, their statesmen, politicians, hangers-on, apologists, or any other beneficiaries of their rule. They are quite capable of describing the notorious vices of Stalinism. Its true social significance, however, escapes them, and so also therefore does the simple secret of combating it effectively.

Add new comment

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.

Add new comment

The Nature of the Communist Parties

Submitted by AWL on 14 October, 2013 - 2:36

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?

Comments

Submitted by USRed on Tue, 15/10/2013 - 23:40

"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.

Submitted by Clive on Wed, 16/10/2013 - 19:56

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.

Submitted by Barry Finger on Wed, 16/10/2013 - 22:00

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.

Submitted by Clive on Wed, 16/10/2013 - 23:53

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.

Submitted by USRed on Thu, 17/10/2013 - 06:02

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.)

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.