From New International, Vol. XIV No. 1, January 1948, pp. 24–26.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
A new political species has come into existence in our own day.
The existence of different species of plants and animals was recognized long before scientific analysis decided upon the differentiating characteristics which classified them. Since then, however, science has decided that the onion belongs to the very same family as the lily, but that the Douglas fir tree is not truly a fir tree at all; and the common name bellflower is used not for one genus but seven different ones.
As Dwight Macdonald likes to say: things are no longer as simple as they were in the good old days, when a bellflower was simply a bellflower – and a socialist was simply a socialist.
Today there are not only seven quite distinct “bellflowers” but perhaps a larger variety of “socialists,” and understandably both raw workers and raw intellectuals are confused. Yet science thinks it has clarified something when bellflower is distinguished from bellflower, socialist (genus Bolshevik) is distinguished from socialist (genus Menshevik) and the socialist family is distinguished from the Stalinist family.
The newness of the new political species, which we here call the neo-Stalinist, forced itself upon attention before its differentiating marks could be isolated. Perhaps it is still too early to pigeonhole it accurately. But at least a few notes are in order at this point:
We are here discussing the Stalinists, not in Russia where they hold power, but in the capitalist countries. And here – to be sure, step by step with the degeneration of Stalinist Russia – a change has been noticeable for more than a decade.
It took visible shape with the notorious Popular-Front line of 1935 and the influx of Stalinized liberals into the Communist Party organizations and peripheries. We begin to notice that, in arguing with a Stalinist member or sympathizer, more and more often it was no longer possible to “score a point” by proving that Stalinist policy was in contradiction with good Marxism or even Leninism:
“So a Popular-Front government is nothing but the old-fashioned reformist coalition government? Well, what was wrong with the coalition governments – except that there were no communists in them?”
“Lenin said we cannot support imperialist governments in their wars? Well, that was before a socialist state existed in the world.”
Naturally, these were not the usual official answers, and we ascribed them (not without justice) to the ignorance and lack of tradition of CP neophytes still wet behind the ears with liberalism. But the development of this sea-change in the Stalinist ranks did not end with the abandonment of Popular-Frontism in 1939; it spread from the peripheries to the cadres of the CP; and it took ever cruder forms.
We cite a later-born symptomatic response:
“No, there’s no democracy in Russia. Why should there be? You can’t trust uneducated workers to know what’s good for them.”
Since this is not the sort of thing to he found written in official Stalinist organs, one must find out for oneself the astonishing and increasing frequency with which this is encountered from Stalinist sympathizers. A very important fact: not from Stalinist worker-sympathizers, almost only from intellectual and petty-bourgeois sympathizers.
But even this is not the full-flowered form. If it were, one should not yet, perhaps, speak of a new political species. We are concerned with a further phenomenon: the existence of Stalinist sympathizers who do not even consider themselves socialists of any kind – who are not for socialism!
Now this should not be confused with our belief that Stalinism is not really socialism, or that Stalinism and socialism have nothing in common. The point is that, while this has been our belief for a long time, the typical Stalinist is a Stalinist because his belief is opposite. Not so the neo-Stalinist.
This non-socialism – even anti-socialism – of the neo-Stalinist may take more than one form. Henry Wallace and Dr. Frederick Schumann in America, the Dean of Canterbury in England, all deny that they are for introducing socialism into their own country or into any other country. But, as Wallace puts it, the “Russian system” is the form of “economic democracy” which seems to make Russians happy: it’s all right for them and “we can learn a lot” from it.
Does this mean then that (for example) a Schumann, while not for socialism in America, is a “kind of socialist” because he is for socialism in Russia? Perish the thought. Schumann is not the type of naive Stalinist sympathizer who thinks that all Russian workers spend half the year in health resorts and sanitariums.
What attracts him about Russia is not illusions about its effectuation of socialist ideals, which are as alien to him as they are to Stalin, but it is a feeling of new possibilities inherent in a completely statified economy which is not burdened by concern for the masses nor slowed up by pandering to them – “new possibilities,” naturally, for the élite, not for the rabble.
This is indeed what sent even Eric Johnston and the ultra-reactionary Eddie Rickenbacker back from Russia burbling with enthusiasm over “what we can learn from Russia.” To drop into our own language for a moment: what attracts them about Russia is not its “socialist” façade but its bureaucratic-collectivist realities.
Ex-Ambassador Joseph Davies made it explicit in Mission to Moscow: the Russian Revolution of Lenin and Trotsky-is dead; Russia is moving in “our” direction (and he did not mean moving toward the de-nationalization of industry); and the new Russia above all has nothing in common with Trotsky’s old-fashioned ideas about socialist revolution.
To be sure, Johnston and Rickenbacker did not become pro-Russian in orientation; but Davies lived to raise his voice in defense of Russian spies caught red-handed rifling atomic secrets in Canada – a strange note from a patriotic American immortalized by Warner Brothers!
There is a second form, not essentially different – that of the type who blandly speaks of Russia as “totalitarian socialism” and supports it as such. After all, just another kind of socialism, you see, and everybody knows there are so many kinds of socialism! Of course one hopes that the American people will prove intelligent enough to merit some kind of democratic socialism, but meanwhile one accepts half a loaf. The people never know what’s good for them, as we have already heard.
And exactly what is “totalitarian socialism”? We have become familiar with it: it is a society where the state owns the means of production and a totalitarian bureaucracy “owns” the state and oppresses the people under a police r£-gitne. It is the same thing which the Socialist Workers Party (Cannonites) wryly calls a “degenerated workers’ state.” It is what we call bureaucratic Collectivism – to use shop talk again.
Is this type also “another kind of socialist”? Then Stalin is too, it goes without saying. But it is no part of the purpose of these notes to demonstrate that “totalitarian socialism” exists in the same limbo as red blackbirds, liquid ice and honest ward-heelers.
The point is once again that we are dealing with a political ideology which, in rejecting capitalism, looks not toward a socialist reorganization of society but toward bureaucratic collectivism – which accepts the complete statification of the means of production and the abolition of capitalist property relations, but consciously rejects the decisive role of the working class and proletarian democracy.
This is the new political species – the neo-Stalinist type.
What are the social roots of this neo-Stalinism?
We begin by rejecting the notion that ii is a personal or individual aberration, to be explained merely by this one’s senility, that one’s cracked pot, or the other one’s careerism. This may have to be argued, but not here and now.
We suggest that the two book reviews immediately following [1*] cast an interesting light on this question: the one by J.M. Fenwick does this explicitly, and the analysis of Bernard Shaw by Howe converges toward the same point. But Shaw was not a Stalinist? Precisely for that reason.
For now that we have done emphasizing that neo-Stalinism is a new political phenomenon, it is necessary to make clear that it is a new plant from old roots. I think it is biologically correct to say that a plant which has migrated from one climate and soil to an entirely different environment can develop into an entirely different species in time – but whether correct or no, this analogy expresses what has happened in the political sphere. What are the old roots?
For a starting point in analyzing this new phenomenon we go back first, beyond Shaw’s time, to the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels. Indeed – to Section III (often referred to as the “obsolete” section) of the work whose hundredth anniversary is observed this year. This is the section which analyzes the various “kinds of socialism” existing in 1848. By the time the Second International was founded, all of these movements were already dead.
The first “kind of socialism” we find analyzed there is... “reactionary socialism.” The red blackbird again! Why reactionary? Because these movements, which spoke in the name of socialism, had their roots in classes alien to the proletariat.
One of the subdivisions under Reactionary Socialism is petty-bourgeois socialism. Already in the Manifesto Marx and Engels explained: “The industrial and political supremacy of the bourgeoisie threatens it (the petty bourgeoisie) with certain destruction; on the one hand, from the concentration of capital; on the other, from the rise of a revolutionary proletariat.”
In this social situation, the radical petty bourgeois rejected capitalism, attacked it. and “dissected with great acuteness the contradiction in the conditions of the modern proletariat.” Here are Bernard Shaw’s ancestors. But they equally rejected the working class, which was the social force which pressed them from the other side. For them too (as the Manifesto says later of the Utopian socialists), “Only from the point of view of being the most suffering class does the proletariat exist for them” – or, if not as the most suffering class, at least as fellow-sufferers.
Where then did they point, if neither to the capitalist class nor the proletariat? In 1848 Marx noted that this breed of socialist looked back with nostalgia to “the old property relations and the old society” – which at that time meant the society of the Middle Ages.
In our day Wallace still combines his pro-Russianism with sighs for the good old horse-and-buggy days of small enterprise, before monopoly. But a scientist like Harlow Shapley is too technology-minded and a Schumann is too sophisticated for this sort of nonsense. For them rejection of both capitalism and the proletariat leads straight to the embrace of Stalinism, as representative of a social system in which they think they can hope for a new social role for the middle-class intelligentsia. This is (mostly was) likewise the social appeal of a movement like Technocracy.
But in 1848, these petty-bourgeois socialists who yearned to escape from being crushed to death or futility between the upper and nether millstones of capital and labor – into whose embrace did they fall? We have seen that Marx noted their eyes were turned back to the old feudal social relations. And looking in that direction we find another “kind of socialism,” which the Manifesto indeed analyzes first of all – feudal socialism.
In order to arouse sympathy the aristocracy were obliged to lose sight, apparently, of their own interests and to formulate their indictment against the bourgeoisie in the interest of the exploited working class alone. Thus the aristocracy took their revenge by singing lampoons on their new master, and whispering in his ears sinister prophesies of coming catastrophe.
In this way arose feudal socialism: half lamentation, half lampoon; half echo of the past, half menace of the future; at times, by its bitter, witty and incisive criticism, striking the bourgeoisie to the very heart’s core, but always ludicrous in its effect, through total incapacity to comprehend the march of modern history.
The aristocracy, in order to rally the people to save them, waved the proletarian alms-bag in front of a banner.  But the people, so often as it joined them, saw on their hindquarters the old feudal coat of arms, and deserted with loud and irreverent laughter.
Here, at the beginnings of capitalism, we find a rival ruling class camouflaging its interests under a synthetic working-class movement in order to carry on its own class struggle, using the proletariat as a base of operations and petty-bourgeois ideologists as lieutenants.
Today, at the other end of capitalism’s life, in the days of its degeneration, we see another rival ruling class using the same methods. In the capitalist countries Stalin’s agents also “formulate their indictment against the bourgeoisie in the interest of the exploited working class alone.” Half echo of the past, half menace of the future!
The Manifesto dissects a social type which at that time gravitated toward aristocratic reaction and today can gravitate toward Stalinist reaction. It is the same type which, in the middle age of capitalism, took the form of the extreme right-wing reformist socialist and produced the Shaws, Webbs, Noskes, Karl Renners and Martynovs.
I have deliberately listed here only a few stalwarts of the Second International who lived on into the period of fascism and Stalinism. At the risk of being accused of stacking the cards, I wish to point out that all of the above-mentioned capitulated to one of these two symmetrical forms of totalitarianism, given half a reasonable opportunity and incentive (Shaw, as Howe points out, to both).
Not accidentally – as we Marxists love to say (to the disgust of people who prefer a little elbow room for historical improvisation). For the basic political character of these reformists was fixed in a deep-rooted distrust of mass upsurge from below, fear of the million-headed mass in motion, and lack of belief in the social capacity of the working class.
They placed their faith in bourgeois democracy. That is much more difficult to do nowadays and getting harder all the time.
If a bookkeeper like Sidney Webb could froth at Lenin but beam primly over Stalin; if an intellectual snob like Shaw could grow rapturous over the charlatan Duce; if Noske could prefer capitulation to Hitler even to the mild pangs of emigration; if Renner could get blue in the face when the Vienna masses in the streets shouted “Dictatorship of the proletariat! Soviet power!” in 1918, but act as Stalin’s quisling in Austria at a later date – then it is only because the alternatives were to throw in their lot with the revolutionary working class or else forget about serious politics. And these were men whose brain neurons developed around the ideas of socialism and Marxism. How much easier the process is for men like Wallace and Schumann and – God be willing – the Dean of Canterbury!
The people we have been discussing are, then, a political (not simply a psychological) tendency. But they do not constitute a social stratum.
It would be absurd to speak of them as, say, an embryonic bureaucratic-collectivist class.  The Voltaires and Diderots were ideological heralds of capitalism but were not the embryonic bourgeoisie.
Indeed, one cannot speak of an embryonic bureaucratic-collectivist class at all by mere analogy with the birth-processes of capitalism. As a private-property-owning class, the capitalists could assume a definite social identity long before they even bid for state power. But by its very nature, a bureaucratic-collectivist class can exist as a definite class only under its own social system. For individually the members of this class own no means of production, and collectively they own the means of production only through control of a state which does so. Insofar as the elements which may later germinate into this class incubate under capitalism, they exist in a social system where they do not as yet have any special and uniform relation to the process of production.
The ideologists of neo-Stalinism are merely the tendrils shot ahead by the phenomena – fascism and Stalinism – which “outline the social and political form of a neo-barbarism” (Trotsky). We have taken a look at the coat of arms on their hindquarters, as Marx recommended, but it is too early to desert with loud laughter. What is still needed is the doubled fist.
1. This sentence, as well as the first paragraph of this passage, should be read aloud to anyone – including: any “kind of Trotskyist” – who continues to claim that the Communist Party is a working-class party in spite of all for the reason that it directs its appeal to the working class or that it uses the working class as a base of operations – i.e., “waves the proletarian alms-bag in front of a banner.” According to this notion of some of our contemporaries (Cannon, Johnson), the reactionary-feudal movement of which Marx speaks was also a “kind of working-class party” in its day.
2. J.M. Fenwick, in his review of Carlson’s biography (below), speaks of the neo-Stalinist type as “bureaucratic-collectivist man.” I do not think this should be interpreted in the sense I am criticizing here.
1*. This is a reference to the book reviews James M. Fenwick, Carlson: “Homo Stalinensis”, and Irving Howe, Bernard Shaw’s Anti-Capitalism, which were published in the same issue of New International.
Last updated on 26 December 2015