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James Burnham & Max Shachtman

Intellectuals in Retreat


II: The Formal Program of the Anti-Stalinist Intellectuals

A CAREFUL SIFTING OF the large mass of evidence constituted by the writings of our subjects enables us to sum up what we have called their “formal” program under three main heads: (1) Against dialectical materialism; (2) Against one-party dictatorship; (3) Leninism is the source of Stalinism. A fourth point crops up so frequently that, though of a different order, it almost deserves a separate heading: Against the harsh tone of revolutionary polemics. Before turning to examine each of these four separately, we wish to make certain preliminary remarks.

In the first place, we are compelled to notice that, even with the addition of the leading items on the positive side of the formal program—for Freedom, Truth and Science—this is not much of a program; nor do we think that we are being unfair or arbitrary in reducing the formal program to these elements. Even if we should grant that our subjects are 100% correct in everything they have written on all and each of these matters, we do not find that we would be very far along the road toward solving the issues of war, fascism and insecurity. In fact we can’t see that we would even have left the starting post. The mountain of intellectual and nervous energy, to say nothing of the social labor of lumberjacks, paper manufacturers, linotype operators, printers, book salesmen and the rest, seems to have brought forth a pretty mouse-like theoretical offspring.

In the second place, we want to make clear that we regard none of these subjects as taboo: there are no theoretical Sacred Cows in our eyes, and we criticize no one merely for discussing no matter what subject. But there are a variety of ways in which discussion may be carried on. Simply to claim that “we seek the truth” is not enough. Even in the highly developed physical sciences, the concept of truth, the adoption or rejection of the whole method of inquiry, must be in the end related to purposes which the inquiry is designed to serve. How much more dangerously is this the case with such less developed fields as sociology, history and politics! Historical and political inquiries do not occur in a social vacuum; they are immediately and crucially related to the political ends and aims of individuals, parties and classes, and function actively as weapons in the political struggle.

For our part, we state explicitly that we undertake historical and political inquiries for the sake of our socialist aim. This does not in the least mean that therefore we “subordinate” truth, are willing to pervert it as a “means to our end”; on the contrary, our conception of the socialist ideal teaches us that the truth is a decisive means for realizing it, is indeed a part of it. But it does mean that we refuse to argue about truth in the “abstract”, that in discussing theoretical questions in history and politics we establish a context which includes reference to the ends and aims and purposes which the given discussion, argument or inquiry serves. Truth, or rather truths, a necessary means and part of the socialist ideal, is yet short of the Godhead; it too can serve reactionary and vicious aims.

This last statement may seem surprising or shocking to those who are hypnotized by abstractions. However, it is verified daily. For example, the Dies Committee, among many lies, has also disclosed a substantial percentage of truths. Are we then to hail its work as progressive, and follow the example of cheap renegades like J.B. Matthews and Sam Baron in aiding it? Naturally not. Its truths, partial of course and intertwined with lies, are the instrument of reaction—and it is the truths, not the lies, which make the instrument effective. We, along with everyone else who is not a traitor, denounce and attack the Dies Committee, expose its reactionary purpose, demand its dissolution. We do not, of course, deny to the masses that its truths are true; that, the function of the Stalinists, would be treachery of another kind. But we insist that those truths must be acquired in another way and made to serve other ends.

On a more grandiose scale, we may make the same observations about fascism. The critique of bourgeois parliamentary democracy given by the leading fascist theoreticians is for the most part true; and this is one of the sources of the strength of fascism as a movement. Is it any the more progressive on that account? What would we say to a fascist who complained: “Why do you keep attacking us? You yourselves agree with most of what we have to say about bourgeois democracy.”

We mention these things not to suggest that the “formal program” of our subjects may in fact be true, but because in the present article we are not so much concerned with the isolated question of the factual truth or falsity of their opinions as with their nature as a political phenomenon, with the political ends and aims which their present writings and actions are serving. We could hardly expect to cover adequately the problems of dialectical materialism, party dictatorship and the origins of Stalinism in a single article. But it is not at all necessary to do this in order to complete the task we have set ourselves.
 

A Question of Tone

OUR SUBJECTS ARE FREQUENT critics of the “bad tone” that they find in the political press of the working-class parties, including conspicuously that of our own party. Indeed, they find in our sharp tone so much to condemn that it can be done only by the sharpest tone on their part. As a rule they explain: “It is not what you say to which we object, but the way in which you say it. You simply drive people from you. You don’t understand psychology.” Stubbornly, perhaps, we are not able to take this explanation seriously. We believe that where questions of tone are raised in connection with political issues, it is ninety-nine times out of a hundred not the manner of saying but what is said that is being debated.

The “question of tone”—which we also readily grant to be an important question—is obviously enough not a literary or stylistic problem. There is that problem too, but it is nothing to argue over: it is a matter of talent and technical training so that style will communicate just what is intended. We, certainly, recognize our literary lacks, and strive to overcome them.

But no one is getting embittered or passioned over the literary difficulty. In politics and out, the more basic aspect of the issue of “tone” is subordinated to content. Roughly, in general, one uses a harsh tone to those against whom one feels enmity, a friendly tone to friends, bitterness toward traitors, conciliation toward those whom one regards as misled, and so on. This follows quite automatically for many persons; their attitudes, almost without giving it a thought, govern their tone. We wish to make perfectly clear that, in so far as we are technically able, we are ourselves quite deliberate and conscious in our “tone”; we regard tone also as a political instrument.

This does not mean that we are “just like the fascists and Stalinists” in the use of tone. Not in the least. The Stalinists and fascists use “tone” demagogically, to hide the truth and to obscure their aims: as when they call revolutionary militants “fascist spies, counter-revolutionaries, mad dogs,” or themselves “socialists”. We on the contrary employ tone to clarify the truth and our aims. When we write that Norman Thomas is a political colleague and defender of the butchers of the Barcelona workers, the phrase is no doubt harsh; but the harshness is that of literal truth. When we say that Stalin is a murderer, Roosevelt a warmonger, Hillman a reactionary labor bureaucrat, we mean exactly what we say. We do not think that politics is a polite parlor game; we understand it as the struggle for power, and a very rude and brutal struggle, for all that we might wish otherwise.

Now how is it with our subjects on the question of tone? True, they do not seem to be deliberate and conscious in their political use of tone; but their use of it is nonetheless political in spite of their blinders. We discover, for example, that in the history of American radical journalism, no one has written with sharper or harsher tone than they against the Stalinists. Consider Hook, Eastman, Stolberg, Lyons on the Stalinists and Stalinism; you could not match their invective from the pages of the Fourth Internationalist press.

Nor is their tone toward us exactly suitable for the drawing room. With what casualness they assure the world that on Kronstadt we are guilty of amalgams worthy of a Vishinsky (Serge and Macdonald), that in essence and origin we are identical with Stalinism (Hook, Eastman, Lyons, Harrison, Adamic, Counts) and even with fascism (Eastman in Liberty, Harrison in the New Leader), that, like all of Bolshevism, we are ever ready to lie as a means to our end, that our secret aim is to destroy all democracy and freedom for the sake of a clique dictatorship.

But, equally interesting, we find when we turn to recent writings of our subjects that deal with social-reformists or bourgeois liberals, the harsh, sharp, bitter tone quite disappears, and all is again sweetness and light. And, similarly, we find that we are never criticized by our subjects for “tone” when we attack the Stalinists, but only when we attack social reformists and bourgeois liberals. And this little asymmetry is just what we object to.

The New Leader is “so different” from the Daily Worker; it is so bright, informative, lively, readable, to be recommended and written for;—in spite of the fact that in its somewhat politer way it spreads nine-tenths of the identical filthy lies and black reactionary proposals that smell up the sheet of the Stalinists. Norman Thomas, “so different” from Earl Browder, even if a mite confused, must be treated with white gloves—in spite of the fact that he gives political support in Spain to the stranglers of the Revolution, international allegiance to the international organization that began its sell-outs and betrayals before the Third International came into existence and has changed since 1914 only to deepen its degeneration, in spite of the fact that in this country he proved his devotion to democracy by throwing out the revolutionists in his own party by dictatorial ukase, now is selling out what is left of his party to the Social-Democratic Federation, and for a generation has an unparallelled record of sowing disorientation on every major issue that has ever arisen here or anywhere else in the world. As for tone toward the bourgeois liberals, toward even “left” bourgeois liberals like Chamberlain and Adamic—what should a serious person have but contempt and hatred for them who spend their lives trying to persuade the workers of America to accept the blessings of US imperialism?

Very revealing, tone. Over a period, the tone of political journalism reveals not the literary finesse nor psychological insight of writers, but, with surprising accuracy—the political attitudes and directions.
 

Dialectical Materialism as Whipping Boy

EASTMAN, HOOK, WILSON, Lyons, Dewey, at some length, others on our list more sporadically, have set their lances against the “theology” of dialectical materialism. We do not propose here to discuss the general theory of dialectical materialism; that would require a book, not a single section of an article. We are now interested only in certain features of our subjects’ attack on dialectical materialism.

The two authors of the present article differ thoroughly on their estimate of the general theory of dialectical materialism, one of them accepting it and the other rejecting it. This has not prevented them from working for years within a single political organization toward mutually accepted objectives, nor has this required on the part of either of them any suppression of his theoretical opinions, in private or public. There is nothing anomalous in such a situation. Though theory is doubtless always in one way or another related to practise, the relation is not invariably direct or immediate; and as we have before had occasion to remark, human beings often act inconsistently. From the point of view of each of the authors there is in the other a certain such inconsistency between “philosophical theory” and political practise, which might on some occasion lead to decisive concrete political disagreement. But it does not now, nor has anyone yet demonstrated that agreement or disagreement on the more abstract doctrines of dialectical materialism necessarily affects today’s and tomorrow’s concrete political issues—and political parties, programs and struggles are based on such concrete issues. We all may hope that as we go along or when there is more leisure, agreement may also be reached on the more abstract questions. Meanwhile there is fascism and war and unemployment.

During 1907-08, Lenin was, as is well known, carrying on a philosophical dispute with the Machists and also a sharp political fight against the Mensheviks. Gorky inclined, on the philosophic questions, toward the Machists, and apparently considered that this might prevent him from making common political cause with Lenin against the Mensheviks on the concrete questions then at issue. On February 25, 1908, Lenin wrote to Gorky as follows:

I believe I must tell you my view quite openly. A certain scrap among the Bolsheviks in the question of philosophy I now consider quite unavoidable. But to split up on that account would be stupid, in my opinion. We have formed a bloc for the carrying through of a certain tactic in the Social-Democratic Labor party. This tactic we have been and are continuing to carry through without differences of opinion (the only difference of opinion occurred in connection with the boycott of the Third Duma), but firstly it never reached such a sharp point among us even to hint at a split; secondly, it did not correspond to the difference of opinion of the materialists and the Machists, for the Machist Bazarov, for example, was, like myself, against the boycott and wrote about it (a large feuilleton in the Proletarii [the journal then under Bolshevik direction]).

To obstruct the cause of the carrying through of the tactic of the revolutionary social democracy in the Labor party because of disputes over materialism or Machism, would be, in my opinion, an inexcusable stupidity. We must be at loggerheads over philosophy in such a way that the Proletarii and the Bolsheviks, as a faction of the party, are not affected by it. And that is entirely possible.

These wise, responsible and humane words are those, of course, of the real Lenin, not the sanctimonious Pope of the Stalinist fairy tales nor the one-party tyrant who is now being imaginatively constructed by Eastman, Hook and Harrison.

Shortly after the time of the above letter, interestingly enough, one of the Mensheviks declared in the Neue Zeit that the philosophical dispute was identical with the political dispute. Proletarii made the following editorial statement:

In this connection, the editorial board of Proletarii, as the ideological representative of the Bolshevik tendency, deems it necessary to present the following declaration: “In reality this philosophical dispute is not a factional dispute and, in the opinion of the editorial board, it should not be one; any attempt to represent these differences of opinion as factional is thoroughly erroneous. Among the members of both factions there are supporters of both philosophical tendencies.”


We wish to make, in the present circumstances, the following observations:

1. Let us assume that the entire attack of our subjects on dialectical materialism is correct. Dialectical materialism is “contrary to science,” an “idealistic metaphysics,” a “theology.” Then let us ask: So what? What follows, politically? To be even more concrete: From the destructive analysis of dialectical materialism by these critics, what conclusions may be derived as to changes in any section, paragraph, line or word of the Declaration of Principles of the Socialist Workers Party, the programmatic document upon which the Fourth Internationalist movement in this country is based, in its general conceptions identical with the Fourth Internationalist program throughout the world?

Not one of these critics, in spite of the many, many pages they have spent on the subject, has yet proposed any such specific changes. Even if they object to parts of our program, they have not pretended that their objection can be deduced from their attitude on dialectical materialism; but this is what it is incumbent upon them to show if they are justified in ascribing political importance to their formal theory, and if they excuse their failure to give unequivocal support to the Fourth International by appeal to their theory. Their inability to make any such deductions would go to prove, in fact, that politically their whole formal discussion of “Marxist philosophy” is operationally meaningless, since no political conclusions follow from it. But it is not, in actuality, politically meaningless. The lack of political content in the formal doctrine is precisely the indication that this doctrine—the attitude toward dialectical materialism—is not at all what is at issue; that the whole “philosophic discussion” is in practise a smokescreen for political positions which receive no explicit expression in the formal discussion proper, but must be analyzed out from other data.

2. The “theory of the inevitability of socialism” is the chief bugaboo in this critique of dialectical materialism. Eleven years ago, in his book, Marx and Lenin, Max Eastman began his attack on this theory chiefly with the contention that it led to passivity on the part of those who believed in it, because they could permit the revolution to take care of itself. The same point was made by Hook in Toward the Understanding of Karl Marx, and more recently by Wilson and others. Once again we discover that our anti-metaphysicians are rationalist and a priori in their method of analysis, this time with charmingly ironic results.

Entirely apart from what may be the purely logical relation between a theory of inevitability and passivity, what are the empirical psychological and historical facts? Lenin and Trotsky, believing in inevitability, made a revolution. The Fourth Internationalists today and yesterday and tomorrow, g. majority of whom doubtless believe in the theory of inevitability (if they are interested in the problem), spend their lives and energies in militant active political struggle. Eastman, who does not believe because it leads to passivity, announces his retirement for “deliberation”. Hook has withdrawn from direct party political activity. Wilson is so non-inevitable about politics that he advises writers not even to sign anything any more.

3. Let us assume that the belief in “the inevitability of socialism” is incorrect, that we should substitute the hypothesis that socialism is, to one or another extent, probable. Once more: what, directly and indirectly, is politically altered? But let us turn to other doctrines of our group. Having dismissed inevitability with a very airy gesture, they are now preaching, apparently—the impossibility of socialism (Eastman in his Harper’s article), and the inevitability of ... Thermidor (Stolberg in his Nation article on The Revolution Betrayed, Hook implicitly in his Southern Review article, Reflections on the Russian Revolution). If “the inevitability of socialism” is theology, then the “impossibility of socialism” and the “inevitability of Thermidor” are certainly no less theological. And, if we had to choose between theologies, we would say that the latter is surely the inferior brand: because the latter counsels the masses to despair and not to fight; and whatever the chances for socialism, we won’t get it unless the masses fight.

4. Our subjects put up in opposition to dialectical materialism as their code and method: empirical science or, some of them, scientific empiricism. Let us examine briefly their pretensions to scientific empiricism. (We have already dealt with Eastman’s utterly trivial conception and practises of what he naively imagines to be “science”—New International, June and August 1938.)

Is it not of some significance that from our entire list, only the politically insignificant Hacker and Lundberg have done any extensive original research to bring to light fresh historical and political data? (Hook’s original researches have been almost entirely work of literary scholarship.) The function of the others has been almost solely one of interpretation—a far from unimportant function, but hardly one by itself to justify major claims to status as empirical scientists. Indeed, it becomes even suspicious when we observe it to be a group characteristic; when we note that this present attempt to re-interpret early Bolshevism is being accomplished with virtually no new data.

Again: scientific hypotheses are tested by the predictions that are made on their basis. We do not of course expect predictions in history or in politics to be made with the specificity or precision of those in the physical sciences, but we would like to inquire: What predictions of any kind about politics and history have our self-vaunted empiricists made to test for us their theories? We have been unable to discover a single one. In fact, we state quite soberly that so far as we can see, everything concrete and specific they know about modern politics, every reasonably concrete prediction they have made, has been learned from Trotsky and the press of the Fourth Internationalist movement.

Trotsky and the Fourth Internationalists generally, on their side, test their theories daily by specific analyses and by verifiable predictions—not mere vague predictions about a “defeat” or “victory”, but careful predictions of the process and mechanism of what will happen; not merely in connection with large-scale historical crises, but likewise in the constant traffic of unions, parties, factions, Leagues. The predictions are occasionally in error, the time sequences are sometimes mis-stated; but by and large we can with not the slightest hesitation point to the past fifteen years as a triumphant reservoir of proof for the empirical superiority of our method of political analysis as against any other in the field. Our record, in small matters and great, is not even approximated by that of any other individual or group.

The truth is that in so far as our subjects are empiricists at all in politics and history, they are not scientific but vulgar empiricists. That is, they keep their political noses rubbing in the immediate fact and refuse or fear to state generalized hypotheses summing up the accumulated data of historical and political experience. This vulgar empiricism is, moreover, directly related to their specific political judgments and their political actions (which will be dealt with in detail in Part III). They “are not sure” how entry of the POUM into the Spanish bourgeois government will work out; and therefore they refuse to characterize it politically. The infamous sham Keep America Out of War Committee “might” turn into an effective instrument against war, so they hop into it (and after a burning, very shortly out again). “You can’t tell” just what the Social Democratic Federation will do in case of war—after all some members in it say they are against collective security; so they write for the New Leader. The revolution “might” lead to Thermidor everywhere; so we will be careful not to commit ourselves too thoroughly to the revolution.

5. Let us, finally, examine some empirical gems from our anti-theologians. And let no one imagine that these are arbitrarily selected. Their attacks on dialectical materialism end up with hymns to Freedom, Truth, Morality, and to empty abstract formulas that make the Platonic Ideas look like models of careful empirical observation.

In articles and speeches, Hook has recently adopted as his motto Lord Acton’s well-known aphorism: “Power breeds corruption; absolute power breeds absolute corruption;” and Hook draws many a conclusion from this “hypothesis”. At first hearing, this pretty phrase sounds dignifiedly profound, and an audience is usually impressed. Yet let us consider. To begin with, the form of the aphorism is nothing but our old friend “inevitability” once more. And whence comes this “absolute” for an empiricist who by profession recognizes nothing as absolute? But these might be dismissed as quibbling objections? Think, then, of the completely absurd content of the aphorism, however interpreted. Power does, of course, sometimes breed corruption—certain kinds of power directed toward certain types of end. But power also breeds, and is the only breeder, of just the opposite of corruption—other powers directed toward other ends. If we went back over history and eliminated all power in order to get rid of all corruption, we would also have to get rid of all history and put man back where he started from. Hook’s implicit advice to slaves, serfs, villeins would be: do not exercize power against your masters, because then you will be corrupted (they heard exactly the same advice at the time—from the priests). His implicit advice to workers today would have to be: do not use your trade union power against the bosses, because that will corrupt you; do not use political power to overthrow the bosses’ government and set up your own government, because that will lead only to the triumph of Thermidor. In concrete meaning, this “anti-power” preaching, which is now a feature of this whole school (the quotation from Acton is merely a minor symptom), is on the one hand empirically simply ridiculous, on the other politically reactionary. In sum, it, like the doctrine of “the inevitability of Thermidor”, is just a fancy way of putting the time-honored precept of class collaboration.

“Problems of being and of universal knowledge ... should be acknowledged to exist, but not solved by the device of pretending to know what is not known.” (Eastman in Harper’s) A juicy morsel for the semantic analysis of young empiricists.

Or let us listen to Eugene Lyons, at the close of his book, summing up the lessons of his mighty experiences, coming finally to grips with the problems of the day:

The “coming struggle”—and it is not coming, it is already here—is not between communism and fascism. It is the struggle for the moral and ethical ideals [the distinction between “moral ideals” and “ethical ideals” would be a little obscure in our minds if we didn’t understand that the whole business were reduplicating bombast] which have been renounced by both these movements. (Assignment in Utopia, p.622.)

I left Russia and Europe convinced that the immediate [sic] task for those who have the urge to participate consciously in the historic processes of their lifetime—is to defend the basic concepts of freedom, humaneness, intellectual integrity, respect for life ... [And then at last the abstractions get down on the ground:] They must be defended from Bolshevik onslaughts no less than fascist or capitalist onslaughts. (Ibid., p.623.)
 

Against “One-Party Dictatorships”

THE BROAD ATTACK on “one-party dictatorship”, in which nearly all of our subjects have participated, has reached a new climax in Hook’s article, Reflections on the Russian Revolution, published in the current (Winter 1938-39) issue of the Southern Review. A full discussion of this presumptuous essay will have to wait for another occasion. Now, as with the other doctrines, we are primarily interested in the political motivation of the attack taken as a whole.

It might be expected that these empiricists, who regard the question of “one-party dictatorship” as so crucial that, in Hook’s thesis, it is by itself the cause of the degeneration of the Russian Revolution, would at least bother to be wholly unambiguous as to what they meant by “one-party dictatorship”. This, however, is not the case. Do they mean a regime in which a single party administers the apparatus of government? Sometimes the context shows that this is what they mean—which would make the United States a one-party dictatorship. Or do they mean a regime in which all parties but one are illegal? Presumably this should be consistently their meaning, and we will interpret them in this sense.

They maintain: (a) that “one-party dictatorship” is an integral and essential part of Bolshevik theory as held by Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin alike; (b) that one-party dictatorship leads to dictatorship of a clique or individual over the party and thereby to brutal totalitarian Thermidor; (c) this is the causal explanation of the Russian Thermidor: “the explanation of the present political regime in Russia is to be found in its natural evolution from party dictatorship to dictatorship of the secretariat.”

It is interesting to observe how conclusion (b) is reached. It is not in the least by an empirical examination of the facts of the Russian Revolution or analogies from other historically similar events, but almost exclusively by a purely rational deduction from “the nature of dictatorship”—e.g., the nature of the concept of dictatorship; a deduction, that is, of a Hegelian, “theological” variety (cf., Southern Review article, pp. 452f). “... The dictatorship of a political party cannot for long be effective without its own internal organization becoming dictatorial”. Why not? “The necessity [sic] of controlling the mass of the population ... compels [sic] the party to assume a military, sometimes called a monolithic, structure.” In passing, what disingenuous sophistry so casually to identify “military” with “monolithic” structure—two altogether different conceptions. “But the dictatorship of the party cannot [sic] be effectively wielded ...” etc. “To conceal this division ... the ruling group in the party must [sic] regulate ...” etc. “Now in order to exercize the proper supervision the leading group must [sic] itself be unified. Dissidents are isolated, gagged into silence, exiled, deported, and shot.” Notice again—unity of the leading group so casually identified with exiling and shooting all dissidents. “The rule of the leading group must [sic] be fortified by a mythology ...” But this process, for our empiricist, is of course only probable? Pause, dear reader: “Historical variations may appear in some points [our italics] in this evolution ...”; but the iron law of the general pattern, the necessary inevitability of the degeneration rises supreme above all minor variations! This, and all these “musts” and “compels” and “necessities” from our oh-so-empirical anti-inevitabilityists!


Notes on Morality: It would be farcical to regard Hook’s article as a scientific treatise. It is actually a moral essay, attempting to fix moral responsibility, moral praise and blame. Taken in its entirety we declare quite bluntly: it is an ideological deception serving to direct moral onus against the Bolsheviks and to alibi the crimes of the Mensheviks, SRs, Kerensky, and indeed the imperialist interventionists themselves. In a brilliant polemic against Corliss Lamont, Hook once showed how support of a big-scale frameup led to one’s commission on one’s part of minor frameups. Something dangerously like this occurs in the Southern Review article. In citing a few details, we must keep in mind that Hook’s article was written for a magazine most of whose readers are not acquainted in detail with revolutionary history and conceptions.

1. As to the scientific pretensions, a single and major example: Hook maintains that the advances in Russian economy during the past 20 years prove nothing about the comparative possibilities of socialized as against capitalist economy, because we can come to different conclusions by shifting our standard of comparison. Historically speaking, he claims, it is equally significant to compare the present Russian economy with Russian economy 20 years ago; or with US economy today. And, says Hook, the US workers are much better off. (Therefore, any unsuspecting reader might naturally conclude, US economy is “better”, more worth defending, than Russian.) The point is not dissimilar to that made by the National Chamber of Commerce, which uses the argument to reconcile the US workers to eternal misery and insecurity (cf., news dispatch published December 28 in the general press).

What conceivable historical significance, to any but a purely Platonic or theological theory of history, could there be to a static comparison between the Russian standard of living today and its development during the past 20 years to the US standard of living today (incidentally, Hook of course omits any reference to the development of US economy during these 20 years, which has sent it back to the early years of the century)? Or to that of any of the advanced capitalist powers which got an early monopoly of the imperialist field? There is a far more suitable comparison which evaluates Russian economy in terms of what was the sole historical alternative in Russia of 1917-18 to workers’ power and socialized economy: namely reduction of Russia to a semi-colonial nation. The comparison, of course, is with China. Recognizing this, as any conscientious historian of any school must do, Hook’s facile generalizations go up at once in smoke. As a matter of fact, what Hook here and throughout the article is interested in is to display the moral heinousness of Stalin’s totalitarian regime, and his “science” comes in only for decorative effect.

2. Hook’s central thesis is that one-party dictatorship is the cause of the degeneration because it was “the only controllable factor.” What in the world does he or can he mean? If he is inquiring into questions of historical causation, how does he exempt himself from discovering what causal factors brought about restrictions and finally suppression of democracy, brought about the one-party dictatorship which he is presumably investigating? Surely it was not, like an act of God’s, self-caused. But Hook is prohibited from such an analysis, not by any scientific demands (which would lead to just that analysis) but by implicit but unrecognized political aims, since that analysis would not turn out so well for the objects of his present apologies, the SRs, Mensheviks and Kerensky.

But, apart from this, taking the perspective of 1917, in what specifiable sense was the extent of democracy more “controllable” than a dozen other factors? The seizure of power by the Bolsheviks and their subsequent agitation and actions certainly exercised a causal influence, which might have been a “controlling” influence, on revolutions elsewhere. Unfortunately, the workers’ movement in Germany turned out to be under the control of the social democrats and not of the Bolsheviks—a little item that is omitted from Hook’s Reflections. Hook will hardly tell us that successful revolutions in other nations would have had no important effects on the internal Russian conditions, including the political regime. [1]

The peace negotiations with Germany, the delay in formulating an industrial plan (so disastrous in its consequences), the Polish campaign, the agricultural policy, the policy of the CI in the Balkans or China, the adoption of a perspective of national Bolshevism or of world revolution, were all not less “controllable” in Hook’s sense than the alleged position on party dictatorship.

What Hook seems really to be holding against the Bolsheviks is that they didn’t exercize their “control” over their own actions to abdicate, and abandon the state power to the only possible alternative—restoration or imperialist reduction to semi-colonial status, so that Russia might have become another China. This, of course, they might have done; and had they done so, it is also true that there would have been no Stalinism.

3. Hook “proves” that “the Bolsheviks considered the dictatorship of the proletariat to be the dictatorship of the Communist party” in the sense that this involves also the complete suppression of democracy and the illegalization of both opposition parties and inner-party factions, by a process which is a neat little lesson in the mechanism of deception.

Item 1: His first two categories of evidence (out of five) are—the accusations of the opponents of Bolshevism! Giving important weight to such evidence, we could say that Hook is quite probably a Nazi-Japanese agent, and that Roosevelt is a Communist.

Item 2: The third category of evidence—“their oppressive treatment of other working-class organizations”—has not the slightest bearing on the question until we examine specifically what the basis for and circumstances of this treatment were. All States “oppress” those who seek to overthrow them.

Item 3: The fifth category: “Most important of all, as far as this specific point is concerned, the program of the Communist International, which left no room for doubt that the Communist parties or respective countries would liquidate at the first opportunity other working-class parties.” Triumphantly, he quotes, in a footnote, the relevant passage of the program. We hope that all readers take the trouble to glance at the footnote. The quotation says absolutely nothing about liquidating other working-class parties, nor could the smartest logician possibly deduce such a conclusion from it. The passage discusses several possible types of government, ending with one which the Communist party exclusively administers. Hook italicizes the following: “Only the workers’ government, consisting of Communists, can be the true embodiment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.” What in the world has this to do with liquidating anything or anybody? This simply embodies the theory and aim of every political party of any kind which is worth its weight in salt. Every serious political party, including the Republican and Democratic parties of the US, aims at the administration of State power and asserts that it alone can administer it properly in the interests of whomever it claims to represent.

For if Hook considers his perfectly commonplace quotation from the program of the Comintern’s 4th Congress in 1922 to be such crushing proof of his argument that totalitarianism is inherent in Bolshevism, what will he say about the following (equally commonplace) quotations?:

In a real Labour revolution, which breaks out where the workers as a class have captured political power, the Communist party, which constitutes a mere sect, will no longer play any part. Victory will fall to the Social Democratic party, which is wide enough to include all the class-conscious workers, and it will be its task to employ the political power thus acquired to carry out a socialistic transformation ...

... no socialist would prefer a coalition Government, if given the choice of a Socialist Government. Only the latter type of Government can pave the way to Socialism, and proceed energetically and systematically to the socialization of the capitalist process of production. (The Labour Revolution, pp.27, 52. Our emphasis.)

Who wrote these terribly totalitarian words, according to which the “real” proletarian revolution, and the transitional period during which the way to socialism is paved, can be directed “only” by a government consisting exclusively of members of a single party? Karl Kautsky, the theoretical Pope of international social democracy! Should not, then, the rights of paternity require the re-naming of at least five contemporaries with his patronymic, i.e., Vladimir I. Kautsky, Leon D. Kautsky, Joseph V. Kautsky, Benito Kautsky, Adolf Kautsky? For according to Hook’s argumentation, Kautsky is, as much as anybody, the ideological father of totalitarian Leninism, Trotskyism, Stalinism, Fascism and Nazism.

Item 4 (the payoff): To clinch his point finally, Hook ends with a quotation from—William Z. Foster in 1932! 1932, when the process of Stalinization was complete, is used as proof for Hook’s thesis that original (Lenin’s) Bolshevism held the theory and that therefore Lenin and Stalin are one in their attitude toward democracy! Needless to say, no word of warning is included by Hook for his uninstructed Southern Review readers.

Item 5: Perhaps the most decisive test for a scientist is his scrupulous inclusion of all negative evidence. In arguing for his thesis, Hook includes not one word of mention of the negative evidence well known to him and not to the bulk of those who will read the article. Not a word of State and Revolution, Lenin’s magnificent formulation of workers’ democracy, written on the very eve of October in order to explain to the masses not merely of Russia but of the world and for the future (as a guide if the Bolsheviks should that time fail in achieving their aims) the meaning of workers’ democracy. Not a word of Lenin’s constant struggle, from the first year of the revolution until his death, against the bureaucratization of the party and state apparatus. Not a word on the great discussions over Brest-Litovsk, the Polish campaign, trade union policy. Not a word to indicate to the reader that the Bolsheviks invited the Mensheviks and SRs to form the government jointly with them, and that the Mensheviks and right wing SRs, standing on the basis of the Constituent Assembly, declined of their own will. Not a word to recall that those of the left SRs who had not meanwhile fused with the Bolsheviks voluntarily and deliberately withdrew from the government because of their disagreement with the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, and publicly announced themselves against the Soviet state power. Not a word of the fact that in 1923 Trotsky began the struggle of the Opposition on the issue of workers’ democracy nor of the continuous struggle of the Opposition against Stalin’s anti-democracy from then onward. And of course not a word of the economic and military conditions nor the actions of the opposition parties in the early years which compelled the restrictions of democracy.

Democracy, also, like truth, is not an empty abstraction. Democracy is a part, an essential part, of the socialist ideal, but it alone is not the whole of socialism. And it must always be understood in a context, with its concrete historical content. Democracy for a beleaguered regime in the midst of civil war cannot mean the same thing as democracy for an established regime at peace and prosperous. What the Bolshevik aim and ideal is, on the question of the right of other parties to free functioning, is summed up for the masses and for the Hooks of the future by two resolutions of the Central Committee of the party passed shortly after the conquest of power:

The Central Committee declares that it is excluding nobody from the Second All-Russian Soviet Congress and is entirely ready, also now, to admit those who departed and to recognize a coalition with them inside the Soviets, that, consequently, the assertions that the Bolsheviks do not want to share the power with anybody are absolutely false. (Resolution on the Question of an Agreement with the Socialist Parties, Pravda, Nov. 15, 1917.)

In Russia the Soviet power has been conquered and the transfer of the government from the hands of one Soviet party into the hands of another Soviet party is possible without any revolution, by means of a simple decision of the Soviets, by means of simple reelection of the Soviets. (Declaration to All Party Members and to All the Toiling Classes of Russia, Pravda, Nov. 20, 1917.)

4. Another little bit of deception: Says Hook, to the Bolsheviks, “all who made the demand for democratically elected Soviets, including the heroic Kronstadt sailors, were regarded as counter-revolutionists.” Why is this a “deception”? To most of those who will read Hook’s article, having only general acquaintance with history, “heroic Kronstadt sailors” can only mean: those sailors who were the backbone of the revolution in 1917 and the first part of 1918. Now, Trotsky recalled that the Kronstadters of the days of the suppression of Kronstadt were not the same sailors as those of 1917-18; no one has contradicted his evidence on this point because everyone with any direct knowledge recognizes it as true. It may be argued that the neo-Kronstadtians were also “heroic” and that the suppression was incorrect ; but that is not at issue. The deception occurs through Hook’s hiding from his readers what he himself knows to be the case, and by sliding an emotive attitude directed toward one set of people in 1917 to an entirely different set in 1921. [2]

5. And another: “For every act of violence against Bolshevik leaders, there were hundreds committed against their political opponents ... All others [except those who agreed with them on specific points] were simply classified as bandits and subjected to a ruthless reign of terror.” Now notice: “It is quite true that some of the activities of the non-Bolshevik working-class parties exceeded the limits of Soviet legality, but it is even truer to say that the Bolsheviks themselves defined and changed these limits at will.” What would the average reader understand by these statements? So far as the facts alleged about the Bolsheviks go, Hook is stating merely the most irresponsible lies. But there is more than this. The Bolsheviks are murderers and slanderers. The non-Bolsheviks—“exceeded the limits of Soviet legality ...” That will call up, doubtless, pictures of an unlicensed speech, a meeting without a permit, agitation against some important military decree ... Now what did the non-Bolsheviks actually do? Mensheviks fought in the White Armies and worked directly with the imperialist interventionists; so also with the right SRs; the left SRs attempted the assassination of the leaders of the government, and publicly boasted about their armed struggle against the Soviet power, giving a political motivation. [3] Yes, just a touch beyond the limits of Soviet legality. Again the dominating political function of Hook’s moral charade comes to the surface: to direct moral indignation against Bolshevism, and to turn it away from the centrists and reformists.


What are the facts about “one-party dictatorship”? So far as the scientific problem of understanding the events in Russia goes, that is to be settled by sober investigation into the specific conditions which in Russia did in the end eventuate in the extermination of democracy, an investigation by no means yet completed, but which has been most fully made in the literature of the Fourth International. The “theory of one-party dictatorship” has nothing to do with what happened, because Bolshevism does not and did not hold such a theory; [4] to the extent that it may be suggested in some of the writings of Bolshevik leaders in the early ‘20’s, these were ad hoc generalizations from the specific Russian occurrences.

As, however, to the practise of one-party dictatorship, we must observe: (1) a difference of opinion is permissible; (2) no a priori conclusion can be reached; (3) in any case there is no necessary connection between one-party dictatorship and the evolution of Thermidor.

Let us consider: At the time of a revolution the line between parties is drawn not by complicated theories but by the barricades. A dual power arises, one power based on the old state apparatus, one on the Soviets or some similar class organizations of the workers and peasants. Fighting occurs upon the issue of which depends what power will be sovereign. It is sometimes hard to be sure about logical deductions, but it is simpler to tell one end of the rifle from the other. The parties who line up with their members’ rifles pointed at you are the enemy. In war, the enemy is by the fact of being an enemy “illegal.” Those who point their rifles in the same way you do are your comrades or at least your allies. If this includes other parties, then according to Bolshevik theory and practise such parties have equal rights with the Bolsheviks to democracy and legality.

Will there be parties other than the Bolsheviks pointing guns in the same direction—i.e., defending the same State? This cannot be settled by deduction, but only by practise. In Russia there were for a while, and then those parties were all legal; but the non-Bolshevik parties turned their guns around.

Consider what might have happened in Spain in connection with the Barcelona events. Let us assume that there had been a strong Bolshevik party also present, and that the workers had been successful in taking power. In Barcelona, the barricades drew the lines of legality. On one side were republicans, socialists and Stalinists; on the other the anarchists, POUM, and our assumed strong Bolshevik party. Now does Hook want to accord democratic rights to the republicans, socialists and Stalinists? But they have illegalized themselves by shooting in the wrong direction. Then it would seem that three parties—POUM, anarchists and Bolsheviks—would be legal, all basing themselves on the correct, the workers’ side of the barricades.

That might have happened, but our assumptions may be too artificial. If there had been a strong Bolshevik party, which had not made the fatal errors of the POUM and anarchists, had not entered or given political support to the government, it would perhaps more probably have drawn off during the preceding months all the most progressive and militant of the membership of the POUM and the anarchists (as in 1917 and 1918 the Bolsheviks did from the Mensheviks and SRs); the POUM and the anarchists would have had their proletarian ranks excised and would have remained as bureaucratic apparatuses. If that had been the case, then either at the time of the Barcelona events or subsequent to it, they might well have gone to the other side of the barricades—where in fact their truer interests would be. Then there would have been “one-party dictatorship”, only one legal party. But such a party would be under such circumstances the most democratic possible expression of the interests and will of the broadest strata of the masses, of workers’ and peasants’ democracy. Nor would there be the least necessary reason why their political monopoly would bring about suppression of inner-party democracy. The conditions of such a development as hypothetically outlined, in fact, might well tend toward a richer democracy than in a pre-revolutionary situation, granted a few good breaks. Later on, with the workers regime consolidated, with at all favorable circumstances internally and internationally, the one-party dictatorship might most naturally develop into many parties, the new parties (perhaps beginning as factions) arising on the basis of the new problems of the new economy and social structure.

These are not idle speculations, based on fancy. In Russia, immediately following the victory in the Civil War, tendencies at once appeared working toward the breakup of the Bolshevik party. These were expressed as faction struggles. The factions were, however, at least in embryo, separate political parties. They had different programs and different tactics. They carried their struggle to one or another extent outside of the framework of the party (in 1918, it will be remembered, the Bukharin faction functioned quite independently, with its own public press, officially endorsed by the Moscow region of the party). For a while we might say that the Bolshevik party was somewhat like the Trinity—“one substance and three persons”: it was from one point of view a coalition of three parties, the Stalin and Bukharin and Trotsky “parties”. In 1929, the SR Chernov, who, unlike Hook, was looking at realities and not forms, wrote an essay most significantly entitled: Russia’s Two Parties (i.e., the Stalin party and the Bukharin party).

How simply might such developments as these—granted other external developments (the success of the Chinese revolution, for example) or different internal circumstances (the advanced productive plant of the United States)—have issued in a number of freely competing parties. But even if this would not be the case, it would not prove that “one-party dictatorship” is necessarily incompatible with democracy. If we are interested not in juridical abstraction but in actualities, it is possible that the workers’ state will find in some cases that a one-party form is the most democratic political structure. Such a party would be in effect a coalition of many parties, a federated party; and full democratic expression might be given, publicly and freely, through it. (The Democratic party of the US is at this moment close to such a coalition party on a bourgeois foundation.)

But does the revolutionary party, the Bolshevik party, claim that only it can adequately represent the interests of the masses, administer the workers’ state effectively and through its leadership open the road for socialism? Does it aim to act as the “government party” and the sole such party? Certainly. And there is not the slightest incompatibility between such claims and such a purpose, and the fullest possible democracy short of the liquidation of the state—which is also part of the purpose of the revolutionary party.


Why all this fuss from our subjects about “one-party dictatorship”? If it were a “purely scientific question”, if it were actually only a study in historical causation, or the attempt to study and predict the political forms of the workers’ state, we may be sure that it would not be so passionate a point of dispute. There is such a fuss because behind the “purely scientific dispute” lurks as usual the political objective, because the scientific dispute is only the screen for the attack not on “the theory of one-party dictatorship” but on the practical objective of class dictatorship, of the workers’ state to be achieved by the overthrow of the bourgeois state, on the sole historical means available for carrying through the socialist transformation of society. This is not yet explicit in Hook, though suggested by the trend of his recent argumentation, but it rises plainly to the surface in those of his confréres who have outstripped him—in Eastman, Lyons, Harrison, and of course all of those included in our “Group II”. Let us, however, present it in the words of an old master at the “inevitable deduction”: “‘Class dictatorship’ necessarily means party dictatorship. Dictatorship by a party inevitably becomes dictatorship within the party—the dictatorship of a leader and his clique.” (Algernon Lee, New Leader, Feb. 6, 1937.)

And there is a second reason, which is betrayed most naively in Hook’s article, for the fuss. Near the end he points out, what is unquestionably true, that “every working-class party considers itself to be the vanguard not only of the class but of the new society it is striving to achieve” and that all parties are sometimes or at least might be mistaken. The incidence of his argument makes clear that the only sufficient explanation for his dragging in these two flat and obvious truths is to provide a justification for failing to make a firm choice among the political parties actually on the field, to give loyalty and allegiance unambiguously to one camp or the other. The justification is of course absurd. The first point is completely irrelevant: making a claim doesn’t prove a claim; Voliva claims his flat-earth theory is correct, but that doesn’t entitle us to make no choice between it and the theory of scientific astronomy and geography. Do we balance witch doctors against John Hopkins on the basis of their claims? The second point is equally unimportant since the problem is not one of infallibility but the general course of one party as compared with that of others. What Hook is trying to do is to spin himself a theory which would enable him to be “impartially” and paternally a “friend” equally of the Social Democratic Federation and of the Socialist Workers Party—after all, they both claim [5] to be the vanguard and both make mistakes. He is trying to give a rational basis to the dream of our group that we mentioned in part I: the dream of peace, freedom, release from responsibility.
 

Lenin is the Father of Stalin

THE FINAL MAJOR CONTENTION of our subjects, the remaining plank in their “formal program”, is that Leninism is the source of Stalinism. This theory has been put forward in one form or another by Lyons, Eastman, Hook (in the Southern Review article), Stolberg, Harrison, and by all in Group II except Lundberg (who hasn’t discussed the matter). Eastman, in his recent Liberty article carries the theory to its conclusion by stating that Leninism is the source not only of Stalinism but also of fascism.

Since this theory is based exclusively on the related theory about “one-party dictatorship”, it will not require extended additional discussion. We wish to make three points:

1. As in other instances but here more grossly, our subjects do not bother at all to define what the point is that they are trying to make. At times they seem to be saying no more than that Leninism in Russia preceded in time Stalinism. Granted. Or that a continuous state power underwent the transformation from Leninism to Stalinism. Obviously. Or that Leninist politics is the “cause” (whatever they mean by historical cause, which they do not state) not only in Russia but as a general law of the subsequent transformation to Stalinism. Or that Leninism “must” under any and all circumstances result in Stalinism—which is what, as a matter of fact, they all do say, these anti-inevitabilityists. Or that there were juridical features of the party and state structure under Lenin which Stalin was able to utilize for his own purposes, in consolidating his totalitarian power. Which last, again, is known to everyone.

The ambiguity here is not unimportant. Since many of these interpretations of their vaguely worded thesis are almost self-evidently true, they are able to carry over the favorable emotive attitude which a reader grants to a recognized truth, to their general central thesis that Leninism is simply a stage in a necessary process which must eventuate in Stalinist totalitarianism.

2. As with all the rest of their formal program, the reasoning of our subjects here is entirely formalistic, a priori: Leninism means by definition one-party dictatorship—which is besides its “essential” and causally crucial doctrine; one-party dictatorship by a necessary process leads to dictatorship of a clique or Führer and the murder of all opposition; Q.E.D. Simple enough.

Let us observe what our empiricists are doing. For the sake of their a priori syllogism they are simply throwing all the events of history into the scrap heap. For instance, by making the alleged theory of one-party dictatorship the quintessence of Leninism in the most approved scholastic manner, they are committed to the conclusion that all of Lenin’s concrete policies on the hundred and one questions of colonial revolt, trade unions, united front, war, the soviet organization of society, etc., etc., are mere subordinate “accidents” of no decisive importance.

Or, second, how explain that Stalin, in order to consolidate a totalitarian power, had to abandon all the policies of Lenin (cf. Eastman, The End of Socialism in Russia!), and murder all of Lenin’s colleagues.

Or again: In any conceivable sense that Leninism is the source of Stalinism it is at least as true that it is also the source of “Trotskyism”. But for fifteen years, on a Soviet and world scale, on every major economic and social and political question, the adherents of Trotskyism have been in diametric opposition to the adherents of Stalinism, an opposition expressed equally in program and in practical human struggle. Nevertheless, the theory of our subjects commits them to the view that Trotskyism and Stalinism are fundamentally twins—a view which each of them step by step approaches and which many (Lyons, Harrison, and Hook by implication in the next to last paragraph of the Southern Review article) already express openly—that the entire struggle is at bottom nothing but a sham, motivated only by the personal bureaucratic desire for posts—the outs wanting to be in, the ins wanting to stay in. This incredibly vulgar conclusion is the only possible logical consequence of their thesis—as they indeed increasingly recognize. Vulgar as it is, we have met the theory often before, from many other sources.

3. Several of the more prominent of our subjects, including Hook outstandingly, broke with Stalinism about five years ago primarily on the issue of “social-fascism”. Memory of this will serve as an ironic, even amusing, comment on the fact that their thesis of today commits them to the theory of communo-fascism. In the early stages of their present development, it might have been thought that the new theory was only that of “Stalino-fascism”, but today they have gone from Stalino-fascism to communo-fascism. There is no way for them to avoid this without abandoning their present theses. [6]

The theory of social-fascism was based on the theoretical premise summed up in Stalin’s famous aphorism to the effect that social democracy and fascism are not antipodes but twins. The third-period Stalinist tactics toward reformists and reformist organizations followed naturally from this premise. But this premise is exactly that now formulated by our subjects with respect first to Stalinism and now to communism in general. Isolating totalitarian dictatorship as the determinative feature, the “essence” of a social regime, they first identify Stalinism with fascism. (Already in this first step, Stalinism and fascism have been proved to be not antipodes but twins.) They then trace Stalinism back to Leninism as its root, source, or cause, and thus, since Trotskyism is also the child of Leninism, communism in its Leninist and Trotskyist form as well as in its Stalinist perversion is shown to be the twin of fascism. The implicit logic becomes fully expressed in Eastman’s Liberty article where he says quite bluntly that Leninism is the source both of Stalinism and of fascism:

To some it may seem almost fantastic to say that the communist parties are thus becoming fascist parties. Fascism originated, out of communism in exactly this way. Mussolini was a revolutionary socialist. He learned all he knew from the Bolsheviks ... Mussolini learned it from Lenin, Hitler learned it from Mussolini. In origin that is what fascism is.

Our empiricists once more reveal themselves to be moralistic Platonists under the skin. Leninism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, fascism, all “participate” in and derive their reality from the Platonic Idea of Dictatorship; and therefore they are all “essentially”, in the Realm of Being, “the same thing”. A lot of trouble is thereby saved. No more need for careful analysis of modes of economy, class relationships, social origins, concrete conflicting interests. All such matters are only a part of the World of Becoming, with no more than a secondary, shadow reality. All we require is a formal syllogism of two to reach Q.E.D.s.

The practical political consequences, if their theory is taken seriously, will, of course, have to be just the same as those of the theory of social-fascism except that the communist and Stalinist movements will be substituted for reformism. To begin with, for example, they must abandon altogether the defense of the Soviet Union; there is no possible justification in their present theory for the policy of defense of the Soviet Union. We suspect that Hook, Eastman and Lyons have been aware of this consequence for some time. So far as we know, none of them has yet declared himself publicly on the issue—which is so obviously raised by their writings of the last year. Whence this silence? Are not these the moralists who so diligently proclaim their devotion to Truth and so zealously attack the a-moralism of the Bolsheviks? Can it be part of their morality to hide or obscure the practical meaning of their theories from the masses?

We take this occasion, therefore, to demand from Hook, Eastman and Lyons unambiguous declarations on the question of defense of the Soviet Union from attack by Hitler or Japan—or for that matter by England—declarations motivated by the theories which they are now putting publicly forward.

But, of course, much more than this follows. It follows that one must be equally against both communism and fascism, against dictatorships whether of the left or of the right; it follows that communism and fascism are the Siamese twin main danger; it follows, in fact, as it did from the theory of ‘social-fascism, that a united front with any communist organization is as impermissible as a united front with a fascist organization. Of course, our subjects do not as yet draw out all of these conclusions, even in their own minds. But that is because they are as we have mentioned before irresponsible politicians; if they take their program seriously they will have to draw them in time, or else abandon their program. Toward the end of his Southern Review article, Hook writes as fellows: “They [political parties] may offer a program and leadership, but just as soon as they reach out for a monopoly of political power, education, and propaganda behind the back of representative political institutions of the producers and consumers [and this is just what Hook in the preceding section of his article claims to have proved that all communist parties whether Leninist, Trotskyist or Stalinist, do], it is time to build barricades against them.” (Our italics.) Hook will doubtless explain that he means the italicized phrase in a merely metaphorical sense—i.e., barricades of education and propaganda. But the particular metaphor chosen, as so often with metaphors, reveals more than the author consciously intends: for from Hook’s present theory, if taken seriously, the statement follows with entire literalness.
 

In Summary

IT IS TIME TO SUMMARIZE briefly certain general features of what we have called “the formal program”. It is, taken at its face value and as a whole: stale, abstract, negative, and preoccupied with the past.

1, Our subjects take great pride in believing that they are contributing something “fresh”, that they are “reevaluating in the light of new experiences”, that they “are not dogmatists who refuse to reexamine their ‘basic assumption’”, etc. What a pathetic self-deception! None of them has brought to light any new facts, given any new understanding of the present or future. As Freud put it once in a polemic: “They are now disputing things which they, themselves, formerly defended and what is more, this dispute is not based on new observations, which might have taught them something fresh, but rather on a different interpretation which makes them see things in a different light than before”. In this case, the “different interpretation” is different political aims which for justification require the violent re-arrangement of the past. New experience and events are “teaching” them and not the dogmatists? All that they say in their formal program can be found long, long ago in the pages of Kautsky and put far more brilliantly, consistently and openly.

2. The abstract and formal character of their program has already been demonstrated, and is besides sufficiently obvious. They are occupied with a realm distantly removed from hard, cold events: with “method”, with “nature dialectic”, the concept of the inevitability of socialism, the essential nature of one-party dictatorship ..., with Truth and Freedom and Morality in caps.

3. And entirely negative also: Against dialectical materialism, against one-party dictatorship, against Stalinism ... But what for? For Truth, for Freedom, for Morality ...

4. And, where actual events are referred to in a decisive manner, we discover that these are always events of the past: Kronstadt, how Kerensky was overthrown, the outlawing of party factions in 1920, the illegalization of the opposition parties ... What of the present, and the future?

These pervasive features of the “formal program” as developed by them all—stale, abstract, negative, concerned with the past—are sufficient indication by themselves that this formal program, taken at its face value, is not the actual political program of this group in the sense of that set of ideas and directives, explicit or implicit, which actually indicates the direction and aims of their intervention in the political arena. These features show us that the formal program functions not to express clearly and unembiguously the group’s political nature, but to veil and obscure its political nature. It is a flank movement, to direct attention away from the main strategic manoeuvre.

However, specific analysis of even the formal program has already disclosed the actual politics to which it is indirectly related: An attack on revolutionary Marxism, on Bolshevism, and a growing rapprochement with reformism of both social-democratic and bourgeois varieties. It is politics of a group tendency in motion from revolutionary Marxism toward reformism: that is, of a centrist tendency.

We shall now proceed to establish this same conclusion by reference in some detail to the concrete political acts of our subjects.

Footnotes

1. Even Benjamin Stolberg, though less trained in scientific method than Sidney Hook, does not go so far as to tell us that there would have been no effect. By no means. He writes: “It may be true that the pre-revolutionary backwardness of a country determines the degree of its Thermidorian savagery; that is only saying that the past of a culture patterns its future. But that does not mean that if a series of Octobers had rapidly occurred in Berlin and Paris and London, Thermidorean reactions could not have followed. On the contrary, the far more powerful counter-revolutionary forces in the West—so powerful that after all they were able to abort all social revolutions—could have been defeated, if at all, only by a revolutionary terror so strenuous and complex that it might have ended in an international Thermidor, less cruelly Byzantine, but far more hopeless than Stalinism.” (The Nation, April 10, 1937.) Conclusion? If you’re crazy enough to want a revolution at all, the only guarantee against its Thermidorean degeneration—and that a very shaky one—would be to start it in Andorra or Wake Island, and then fight like hell to keep it from spreading beyond the borders.

2. Sidney Hook in June, 1935 (Modern Monthly, p.218): “... the Kronstadt rebellion—an uprising of a local soviet representing a comparative handful of sailors against the entire Soviet regime ...”

3. Sidney Hook in October, 1934 (Modern Monthly, p.539): “It is well to remember that the Bolshevik party led the October Revolution in a coalition with the left Social Revolutionists who were later suppressed only when they took up arms against the Soviet state.” And speaking of morality, aren’t we moralists usually a little opener about the whys and wherefores of our changes in views—and in facts?

4. “While the Workers’ State will necessarily reserve to itself the indispensable right to take all requisite measures to deal with violence and armed attacks against the revolutionary regime, it will at the same time assure adequate civil rights to opposition through the allottment of press, radio, and assembly facilities in accordance with the real strength among the people of the opposition groups or parties.” From the Declaration of Principles of the Socialist Workers Party.

5. Yes, even the New Leader makes its claim, and in such bold and sweeping terms that Hook may be forced to include it in his next attack on one-party dictatorship: “Dangerous as all the economic trends are, they provide rich material for interpreting the new capitalism in terms of the basic aims of democratic socialism. The Social Democratic Federation is the only organization in this country with a program and philosophy that presents a solution of the problems implied by these startling changes.” (Issue of Dec. 24, 1938.) But perhaps they are saved by the next sentence: “Due to internal conflicts, its voice in these matters has not been heard.”

6. And, by the way, the original inventors of the theory of communo-fascism were who but our old friends the social democrats. When we—and our present subjects—attacked the Stalinists in 1930-33 for the theory of social-fascism and the failure to make a united front with the social democrats, that was not implicit approval of the social democrats. Knowing them well from the past, we were aware in advance that they held the theory of communo-fascism, were against any united front, and could only be forced into it.


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