John Liang

Paranoia, Yes; But Still a Genius

(Summer 1957)

From International Socialist Review, Vol.18 No.3, Summer 1957, pp.100-101.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Khrushchev Report and the Crisis in the American Left
by Hershel D. Meyer
Independence Publishers, Brooklyn, New York 1956, 111 pp. $1.

This brochure may be described as a lawyer’s brief. The author’s ostensible purpose is to analyze and explain the Khrushchev revelations at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist party of the Soviet Union. His real aim is to provide a defense for the present leaders of the Soviet bureaucracy who stand accused as accomplices of the late Stalin in the commission of some of the most horrendous crimes of our age – and to provide, by extension, a defense of the Stalinist leadership of the American Communist party, which endorsed and applauded these crimes.

Meyer lets the reader infer that he considers himself a Marxist. He then proceeds to suspend basic Marxist law in a trickster effort to show that the “excesses” of the Stalin regime possessed no historico-materialist foundation but were the product, if you please, of a historical “accident” – Stalin’s paranoia! Following is the key passage:

“For these cruel perversions of justice, there could not have been and was not any historical necessity. On the contrary, socialist development required, as Stalin himself repeatedly insisted, the most careful differentiation between friend and foe, scrupulous observance of revolutionary justice and legality as well as the fullest expression of the people’s creativity and inventiveness. Socialist development certainly did not require the extermination of innocent people or the depletion of the party of its best leaders. These crimes are related to an historical accident – Stalin’s paranoia – a factor outside the realm of politics and economics or what is commonly referred to as objective historical circumstances.”

One can readily agree that Stalin’s crimes were not essential to socialist development. An honest Marxist, however, would immediately ask himself what or whose interests were served by these crimes. If Stalin was indeed a paranoid maniac, as seems likely, is it not incumbent upon a Marxist to ascertain why such a character stood at the head of the Soviet state, not for a year, but for a quarter of a century? Instead, in the interests of anonymous but well-known clients, Meyer resorts to the pitiful subterfuge of the “historical accident.”

Trotsky explained the matter with crystal clarity when he said that Stalin personified the rule of the reactionary bureaucratic ruling caste that seized power in the Soviet Union during the ebb tide of the revolution, expressing its interests with a ruthless consistency. The enthronement of bureaucratic privilege required the destruction of the Bolshevik party, the liquidation of the Soviets and the trade unions, and the physical extirpation of Lenin’s Central Committee. This latter was the key to the whole operation, for with the authentic voices of Bolshevism silenced, none remained to challenge the usurpers.

Was Stalin just a paranoiac “accident” or did he serve a historical purpose, albeit a reactionary one? The record itself gives the answer. Who but a paranoid fiend could have ordered and supervised the frame-up and murder of Lenin’s illustrious comrades – Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Radek, Rakovsky and the others – on the fantastic charges that they had conspired with the German and Japanese imperialists to overthrow the Soviet Union? It was precisely because there was no basis in fact for the silencing of these men that Stalin resorted to the fraudulent method of the frame-up. At all costs these men, who could be counted on to fight for revolutionary internationalism as opposed to Stalin’s theory of “socialism in one country.” had to be silenced. In silencing them, Stalin performed an enormous service for the Soviet bureaucracy.

Meyer goes on to speak of Stalin’s “popularity” with the people. A majority of them, he says, accepted Stalin’s crimes (“draconian measures”) as “necessary for the security and defense of their socialist homeland.” It could just as falsely be said that the Italian people “accepted” Mussolini, that the Germans “accepted” Hitler, or the Spanish people, Franco. In a totalitarian dictatorship the people have almost no means of expressing anything but acceptance of the existing order. The bureaucratic rabble that really backs the rulers, that throngs the public squares to applaud the dictators on gala occasions, because it is the beneficiary of their rule – this, definitely, is not the people.

If, however, the Soviet people “accepted” Stalinism, must we not excuse the Stalinist leaders in this country for doing likewise? “Marxists at that time,” says Meyer, “could not believe Stalin capable of ordering the executions of innocent people, for they could not conceive of themselves committing such crimes.” How, then, did it happen that the Trotskyists were able to evaluate the Moscow trials as frame-ups (which Meyer is now forced to admit that they were) while his clients were praising them as models of proletarian justice? Did Meyer ever hear of the Dewey Commission and its report on the Moscow trials? Why did it take Meyer’s “Marxists” 20 years to discover that the trials of 1937-38 were frame-ups? What kind of “Marxism” do Meyer and his friends live by? Why can’t they come clean? Why does Meyer, even today, not dare mention Trotsky, the pre-eminent Bolshevik leader, and close companion of Lenin, and the fact that he was killed by Stalin’s hired assassin?

The more one confronts the “reasoning” of this Stalinist hack the more revolting he appears. He tells us that “murder committed under the deluded but firm conviction that it serves to prevent the murder of millions in war, and to preserve social gains, cannot be measured by the same moral yardstick as murder committed in order to launch a war or to prevent social change.” This would make the paranoid Stalin superior to the paranoid Hitler. Stalin defended the parasitic interests of the Soviet bureaucracy. Hitler defended the equally parasitic interests of the German bourgeoisie. Meyer would establish a qualitative distinction between the two. Might we suggest that he re-examine his own moral concepts?

Meyer not only has not liberated himself from the double-dealing and evasiveness of the Stalinist school of politics. He has not even freed himself from the influence of the “cult of the personality” that Khrushchev, tongue in cheek, denounced at the Twentieth Congress. Hence he is able to write:

“Stalin rose to eminence by virtue of his brilliant intellect. His writings attest his capacity for illuminating highly complex problems. He was a man of immense historical foresight. Every speech and article revealed his profound mastery of the application of Marxism-Leninism to practical problems of building socialism. The logic, simplicity and almost mathematical precision of his polemical writings, dispelling doubt and confusion, evoked almost universal admiration.”

In other words, a leader-genius, Meyer might ask himself why the first thing to be toppled by angry workers in Budapest during last year’s uprising in Hungary was the immense statue of Stalin. This, we might add, was just a foretaste of what will happen in the Soviet Union when the working people of that country settle scores with their bureaucratic oppressors.

But let us proceed. Khrushchev, as one of Stalin’s principal hatchet men, was well aware of what his chief was up to. He and Stalin were both part of the system of bureaucratic violence. Critics of Stalinism, following the revelations at the Twentieth Congress, very properly asked: Why did Khrushchev and Co., knowing, as they did, that Stalin was a paranoid maniac, knowing that he was a frame-up artist, knowing that he was hurting the Soviet Union and sullying the name of socialism – why, why did they not seek his removal?

Lawyer Meyer springs to their defense with the assertion that “only unprincipled adventurers could have undertaken such a gamble.” Why? Because capitalist counter-revolution was waiting to move in. By the same reasoning, workers should never try to cleanse their unions of crooked, grafting officials because the employers might seize on such an internal crisis to try and smash the unions.

The simple fact is that Khrushchev and Co. kept silent because they were part and parcel of Stalin’s terror machine and because they were, among many others, the beneficiaries of Stalin’s rule. That they were affrighted by Stalin’s ruthlessness and feared for their own hides is undoubtedly true. That, too, explains their acquiescence. Such are the heroes for whom Meyer has drawn his brief!

On every page of Meyer’s book there is a falsehood, a half-truth, an evasion of the real issue. Even the title of the book is false, for what Meyer calls the “crisis in the American Left” is in reality the crisis within the American Communist party. Ever since the Khrushchev revelations, members have been leaving the Communist party in droves. The party leadership is split between the old-line Stalinists led by Foster (whose particular lawyer Meyer appears to be) and the opposing right-wing Gates faction. Meyer’s booklet, a weird, unscientific apologia written in the best tradition of Stalinist evasion and double talk, can only repel genuine rank-and-file Communists who are seeking the truth about their party and its policies.


Last updated on 30.3.2005