Ted Grant

The Crisis in British Communism

Source: Workers’ International Review, vol. 1 no. 2 (April-May 1957)
Transcription: Francesco 2009
Proofread: Fred 2009
Markup: Niklas 2009
Note: Ted Grant wrote under the pseudonym of Eric Grey

For the first time for many years at least the semblance of a discussion is taking place at the Communist Party Congress and in the pre-Congress period. This is not at all at the volition of the leadership, but is caused largely by international events having their reflection within the ranks of the Communist Party. But it is only necessary to analyse the resolutions presented at the Party Congress to see how far the Communist Party still remains from the principles, methods, organisation and policy of revolutionary Marxism.

Any perplexed rank-and-file militant has only to ask himself why all the Communist Parties in the world have made the same “mistake” in relation to developments in the Soviet Union and the Peoples’ Democracies and the policies in relation to them. It might be accepted that this or that leader, that this or that party, might honestly have been mistaken in relation to these events. But when all the leaders and all the Parties, unanimously repeat the same errors, the same lies, the same distortions, the same falsifications, then clearly, from a Marxist point of view, something more than a mistake is involved. It is a question of a current, a trend, a tendency.

Were they deceived?

When faced with a similar betrayal on the part of the Second International, which had trampled on all the principles of socialism in the First World War, Lenin explained this very clearly.

We see a similar process here. If it is argued that the leadership of the Communist Party in Britain, as in other countries, has made a mistake—a mere detail, to confuse democracy with totalitarianism, socialism with autocracy, then would it not require a thorough going and honest analysis of the policy of the party nationally and internationally for the last few decades? Is it possible to take seriously the claim that all the leaders in all the parties were deceived for decades without knowing what was going on? If it is said they did not believe the capitalist press, why did the leaders of all the Communist Parties in all the countries deliberately falsify and lie about the criticisms made by those who were true to the teachings of Marx and Lenin? This in all the main countries of the world? Why did people like Rothstein, Campbell, Dutt, Page Arnot consciously falsify and distort the history of the Russian revolution, the history of their own party and the policies of the past? This cynical distortion of the past became a profession on the part of the leaders of the Communist Party.

Theory is indispensable

A honest party leadership which remained true to the principles of Marxism would have made a thorough going analysis of the history of their own party and of the great international events of the past, in order to educate the membership and make certain that never again should such mistakes be repeated. Apart from a flexible and democratic organisation, apart from the questions of programme and policy, there is the question—an indispensable necessity for a revolutionary party—of raising the theoretical level and understanding of the membership. That would be some sort of safeguard against “mistakes” of such a character occurring again.

In analysing these “mistakes” of Stalin, John Gollan says: “While some may complain that critics were too severely handled—clearly, while a few critics were being harshly dealt with, there did not appear to have been any indiscriminate and hurried elimination of the opposition basis among the people.” Thus the monstrous abominations of Stalinism which disgrace the very ideas of socialism, the deportation of entire peoples, the murder of tens of thousands of oppositional communists, the frame-up and ghastly forced confessions of innocent people, the systematic dissemination of anti-Semitism, the terror against the working class, are all dismissed as “errors,” but as Cliff Rowe says (World News, 16th March, 1957), “Marxism is not murder, hypocrisy and victimisation.”

The Draft Political resolution before Congress says: “Building upon the achievements of the Soviet people, and on what was positive in Stalin’s work, but at the same time exposing and rectifying Stalin’s errors, the 20th Congress was of fundamental importance for the development of the whole Communist movement.” “Errors” of Stalin are spoken of as if it was a question of secondary mistakes in policy instead of the fundamental principles of Marxism and socialism which were being defiled and violated. So far as the “positive” features of the work of the Stalinist regime are concerned, and by this is meant the tremendous development of the forces of production in the Soviet Union, these arise from the advantages of the abolition of private property, from State ownership and the plan.

The Stalinist regime in reality has been a fetter on the expansion of industry which developed despite the arbitrary rule of the Bureaucracy. By the Purge of 1936-39 production was reduced almost to a standstill. In 1938 production of steel was 18 million tons. In 1940 production of steel was [still] 18 million tons. That was one of the results of Stalin’s leadership.

The bureaucracy was and is a terrible drag on the development of Soviet Russia. In all fields of Soviet life the dead hand of bureaucratism is holding up the full benefits which could be achieved by the abolition of capitalism.

An example of this, and it could be multiplied by tens of thousands, is given by Khrushchev himself. It is of a Ministry sending scrap metal 2,000 miles to a place sending similar metal the same distance in the opposite direction. What is more—and this Khrushchev does not say, is that enterprising managers must bribe their way to the provision of essential materials. It is significant that the Communist Party in this country has neither published nor analysed this 20,000-word speech.

However, despite all their efforts and their panic, the bureaucracy cannot solve this problem. The latest effort, the so-called decentralisation will not correct these abuses; it is merely transferring the problem from Peter to Paul. The bureaucracy will do anything to find a solution except the only certain one—de-bureaucratise itself. The masses will have to do that. And that is why a political revolution on the lines of that in Hungary is inevitable in Russia. For the full development of the productive forces it requires the democratic control of the masses, otherwise bureaucratic excess and tyranny are inevitable.

Lenin’s teachings on “mistakes”

Lenin trained and educated the cadres of the Bolshevik Party on a thorough analysis of the great events of the epoch, of the Revolution of 1905, the Paris Commune, of Imperialism and the lessons of the First World War: of the betrayal of reformism.

Over and over again Lenin hammered home the lesson that mistakes developed consistently cannot arise arbitrarily. That ideas and methods do not drop from the skies, but when put forward and reflected by whole strata of a party claiming to represent the workers, must have a common origin and a material base. The “mistakes” of Khrushchev and Stalin, like the “mistakes” of MacDonald and Gaitskell, of Kautsky and Sir Tom Williamson, arise from their social role and function.

The one tendency is the representative of the bureaucracy within the working class under the conditions of imperialism, the other is the representative of the bureaucracy which has seized power and runs the State in the interests of the millions of officials and no longer in the interests of the working people.

If the leadership of the Communist Party were really sincere in claiming that it has learned from the mistakes they have only to pose the question to themselves—what were the principles on which Lenin built the Soviet State in 1917? What are the principles of socialism put forward as the guiding ideas of Marxism by Marx and Engels? All the leaders of the Communist Party, in all countries, cannot be politically illiterate. Most of them have read the works of Marx and Lenin. Therefore they understand that these ideas have nothing in common with the regimes established in Eastern Europe.

The fact that everywhere it is the same story, everywhere the same excuses, the same bland assurances are trotted out in the self-same phraseology is a proof of the fact that there is an organic connection between the policies they pursue and the regime in Moscow. From being instruments to establish world socialism they have become an agency of the foreign policy of the bureaucracy in Russia. Their material interests as functionaries and officials have become linked up with the interests and fate of the bureaucracy in Moscow. It is not a question of lack of knowledge, of misunderstanding but of material interests of the bureaucracy.

Technocrats and workers

Lenin, in the early years of the Soviet regime, had referred to the differentiation between technicians and workers as a capitalist difference, as a survival of capitalism which they should get rid of as speedily as possible. Instead of this and the concomitant withering away of the state which Lenin foresaw as an organic part of the development of the transition to socialism, the opposite process is taking place.

On these and related questions the theoreticians of the Communist Party are silent!

The C.P. leaders turn to the policies of Moscow, like the drunkard to his liquor. Their protestations of error are as valid. “I swore, but was I sober when I swore?” The intoxication of Stalinism continues to be the mainspring of the policy of the Communist Party leadership. While admitting the crimes of Stalin and Rakosi, the leadership continues to pursue the same method of Stalinist slander and lies when dealing with the movement of the Hungarian people. Yesterday as faithful lackeys of the Stalinist bureaucracy, they declared Tito, Slansky, Rajk and Gomulka to be Fascist and imperialist agents1, just as before that they had declared the old Bolsheviks who carried through the revolution to be agents of Hitler. Even after the 20th Congress, through the Daily Worker, they slandered the uprising of the Polish workers in Poznan2 as the work of “Fascist” and “imperialist spies” and “diversionists.” This lie, like the lies about Tito and Rajk, they have had to swallow at the behest of their masters. However, with calculated cynicism, this does not prevent them from smearing the movement of the Hungarian masses with the same methods.

What happened in Hungary

Their explanation of the situation in Hungary is false to the core:

“Peaceful demonstrations of the people were exploited for the purpose of armed action by counter-revolutionary and fascist elements linked with western imperialist agencies, whose aim was to restore capitalism and landlordism and take Hungary into the imperialist camp. This challenge was met by the formation of the Kadar government, which, with the requested aid of the Soviet forces, defeated the counter-revolution, preserving the gains of the Hungarian people and safeguarding world peace.”

The Hungarian revolution was the acid test of socialist policy. The masses wanted socialist democracy, even according to the reports of the Daily Worker itself, before the “line” was changed with the second Russian intervention. If the Kadar government really represented the masses and not the counter-revolution in Stalinist form, it would have based itself on the soviets or workers’ committees, as Lenin did in 1917. But instead of this, with the assistance of Russian bayonets, the workers’, soldiers’ and students’ councils were forcibly dissolved. In their place has come the puppet government which uses the same revolting methods of Rakosi and Stalin, in an endeavour by crude terror to maintain the rule of the apparatus. It has even been foreshadowed that new show trials on the lines of those of Stalinism in its bestial phase will once again be staged in Budapest as a warning and a threat to the masses. In their political programme the Stalinist leadership in Britain, with solemn mien, and not even the trace of a smile, declaim righteously that they stand for the rights of free speech, press and association, for the right to strike and all the other hard-won rights of the working class which the British workers have wrested, even under capitalism. One decent act is worth a ton of propaganda. How can we take them seriously when they declare that they have learned from their mistakes. They beat their breasts and pretend to bewail the “violation of socialist legality” by Rakosi and Stalin, but they are hiding and concealing the crimes of Kadar. Arrest without trial, the death penalty for striking, deportations, police terror, and all the familiar features of Stalinist misrule.

The contrast between words and deeds is a proof of the fact that the Stalinist leadership remains a Stalinist leadership.

Nationalism and internationalism

“Stalin defended the unity of the Party against factional disruption after the death of Lenin, and conducted a victorious fight for the principles of Marxism-Leninism, against tendencies that would have destroyed the party in the Soviet Union. He carried forward Lenin’s policy of socialist industrialisation and collective agriculture with determination, because he believed in the possibilities of building socialism in one country…Stalin stood for and defended the basic principles of socialism.”

The leadership of the Communist Parties, not only in Britain but throughout the world try and separate the policy of Stalin in his later years from the policy of Stalin up to 1934. In reality, Stalin destroyed the party. And it was the theory of socialism in one country which laid the basis for the criminal degeneration of Stalinism. It laid the basis for the oppression internally of the peoples of the Soviet Union with the worst form of Great Russian chauvinism. It laid the basis for the oppression of the peoples of Eastern Europe which was one of the factors leading to the uprising of the Polish and Hungarian people. What basic principle of socialism did Stalin stand for when he seriously considered, according to Khrushchev, the deportation of the entire population of the Ukraine, fifty million men, women and children? All that deterred him was not the basic principles of socialism, but that he regretfully arrived at the conclusion that he had no place to put them, and that it would have been too big an operation.

The tragic blunders and mistakes of the Communist Parties throughout the world can in the last analysis be traced to this so-called theory. Lenin’s policy was based on internationalism, not from the point of view of sentiment, but from the organic interdependence of the entire world. In the period since Lenin wrote, the technical development of the world has further underlined the interdependence of the world economically, socially, politically. Marxists have always explained that the historical function of capitalism was the development of the productive forces so that the material basis of communism could be created. The creation of national states was an indispensable part of this process. But now the whole situation in Europe and the world shows that the development of the productive forces has gone beyond the framework of the private ownership of the means of production on the one side and the reactionary national states on the other.

Great-nation chauvinism

One of the things that shows the reactionary character of Stalinism was the failure to organise the federation of Balkan States organically linked with the Soviet Union. With an international division of labour the standards could have been increased in all these countries together with Russia, similarly in relation to China. Stalinism could not do this because it would require the conscious participation and control of the plan through workers’ councils, consumers’ committees, and other means of ensuring the participation of the entire people in the construction of socialism. Instead we have the national states remaining as puppet regimes to be exploited and oppressed in the interests of the Russian bureaucracy.

The propaganda of the “Communist” Parties for years has been on nationalist lines. Now they have rediscovered the virtues of internationalism: “the common struggle against imperialism and for socialism demands the strengthening of working-class internationalism, with the Soviet Union as its centre.” This is a disguised way of declaring the fealty and dependence of the Communist Parties on the Russian bureaucracy. Support for the Soviet Union, of course, is one thing, or rather, support for the basic achievements of the October Revolution, and support for the traitors who have taken control over that revolution is another.

How spurious is the internationalism of the Communist Party and the rottenness of its whole programme and policies is shown by the fact that nowhere is the real basis of internationalism explained nor is it consistently developed in the propaganda to the masses.

Nation state a fetter

This at a time when the capitalist class itself is compelled to admit that the national state has become a terrible obstacle for the development of the productive forces. One of the advantages of the Soviet Union and of America is the extent of the area which is united under a single economy. This explains the tremendous development even under capitalism of the productive forces in the United States. Today industry and agriculture are cramped and confined within the narrow national boundaries of European capitalism. Germany, France, England, Italy, Holland and the other countries of Europe are not wide enough boundaries for the full utilisation of productive forces. The existence of these national states means enormous waste and duplication of productive resources, of markets, of transport customs restrictions and so on.

The “Communist” pretence to be the vanguard of the working class is shown in its true light by the fact that even Churchill, Mollet, Adenauer and the other capitalist politicians of Europe are compelled to recognise the archaic character of these boundaries, and the fantastic character of these nation states in the modern world, where the development of capitalism itself has produced atomic energy, jet aircraft, and all the modern interconnections between the industry and agriculture of all of them. They endeavour convulsively to find some sort of solution within the framework of capitalism by the European common market and the Schumann Plan, an area of free trade, etc. These attempts must fail under capitalism because of the national interests of the different capitalist classes.

The workers must take power

But this whole situation gives a splendid opportunity to a really revolutionary party, to really revolutionary organisations of the working class, to explain the problems to the workers of Europe, and show the indissoluble connection between the interests of the working class of the different countries. The problems of Britain cannot be solved by the workers taking power in Britain alone. It requires the unity of the working class of all Europe.

For a Marxist party such a situation would have been utilised to drive home the lesson of the need to struggle for a socialist Britain united within a Socialist United States of Europe.

Here, too, the nationalist degeneration of the Communist Parties and the fact that even formally they are not connected in an international organisation can be traced to the theory of socialism in a single country. In the early years, at least the formal appearance of internationalism could be maintained. But once the degeneration had proceeded to a certain pitch the Stalinists could dispense even with this formality. The Communist Parties of the world could remain as tools, even without the formality of a once in seven years trip to Moscow, to rubber-stamp decisions already arrived at. And the previous work of Stalinism has so confused the rank and file that they can abandon the internationalist programme of Communism without any protests whatsoever. And yet, the whole essence of the Marxist programme beginning with Marx himself, lays stress on the international character of socialism and the socialist revolution not because of pious sentiment, but because of the organic economic social and political interconnections of the modern world. Two world wars and the events of the last few decades have demonstrated beyond the possibility of refutation that the needs and interests of the workers of all lands are indissolubly united.

The United Socialist States of Europe

It is not an accident that in a narrow nationalist way the problems of the colonies which, of course, are inextricably linked with the fate of the metropolitan countries should be featured, but not a word as to the fact that from every point of view the fate of Britain is linked with the fate of Europe.

The resolution complains about the question of Stalinism and anti-Stalinism being raised within the Communist Parties, but this is precisely the issue. The Khrushchev revelations, the Hungarian Revolution and the mass movement in Poland have all shaken the Communist Parties of the world as they have not been shaken for decades. The long period when the successes of industrial reconstruction in the Soviet Union and the victories in Eastern Europe and China could be used to camouflage the real nature of Stalinism both at home and abroad is drawing to a close. The complete shake up within the Communist Party in Britain is an indication that it will not be possible to muffle the doubts and questioning among the sincere Communist rank and file by hysterical shrieks and threats on the part of the leadership as in the past. The hypnosis of Stalinism has been broken. New events in this country and abroad will open their eyes even more. Yesterday the Hungarian insurrection, today the trial of Harich, tomorrow perhaps the trial of Nagy in the usual frame-up way in Hungary, the day after that new events in Moscow.

Lively discussion forced

The leadership has been compelled for the first time for decades to have some sort of discussion in the party. But even so, it is not a truly democratic discussion that would be required by a revolutionary party trying to educate cadres to play their part in the creation of a revolutionary leadership. The Communist Party pretends to base itself on democratic centralism. But even today the discussion is proceeding on the basis of “bureaucratic centralism.” Not at all in the way in which Lenin conceived a discussion should be organised. The only group in the party which has the possibility of reaching the entire membership in an organised way is the Stalinist clique or faction which controls the party. No other tendency or organised grouping is allowed. Peter Fryer3 was not allowed to speak to any other branch in the country except his own on the question of Hungary. How, then, could the members be informed or be enabled to make an objective estimate of the dispute? When blocked at every turn and not allowed to make any statements to reach the party members he was compelled to make statements outside of the party organisations, he was expelled.

It is true that factions of themselves are not a good thing, but when there are fundamental differences of opinion, while the party is discussing the problems, they are the only way in which the organisation can function in a really democratic fashion. Otherwise the machine will be able to bring its weight to bear and inevitably gain the victory. Political differences are not solved by atomising the opposition. In a Marxist organisation the idea of a discussion is to raise the level of the membership so that they understand the basic problems, the fundamentals of Marxism, more clearly. A discussion can be made the most valuable means of educating the membership. It is not entirely by chance that even the principle of democratic centralism because of its caricature by the Communist Party, has been challenged by the opposition. That is because of the complete violation, not only of democratic centralism, but even of the formal democracy of a social-democratic party, by the Communist Party leadership.

On all questions of theory, which is not an abstract thing, but an indispensable means of educating the Party for the revolution, the Communist Party has ceased to be a Marxist party. The opposition must mobilise all its forces at this congress for a decisive showdown.


1 In 1949 conflict between Stalin and Tito provoked a series of purges in the Stalinist parties throughout Eastern Europe. Several top figures were involved. In Hungary former minister of the interior Laszlo Rajk was tried and executed in 1949, followed by Trajco Kostov from the Bulgarian CP politburo. In Poland party leader Gomulka was arrested in 1951. In November 1952 Rudolf Slansky and nine other party leaders of the Czechoslovakian CP were tried and executed.

2 In Poznan, in June 1956 workers rose in protest against declining living conditions. Riots with the security forces broke out and several protesters were killed. Soon, however, the party hierarchy had to give concessions before the movement went out of control. Wages were raised by 50% and economic and political change was promised.

3 Peter Fryer (1927-2006), journalist of the British Daily Worker since 1948; in 1956 he was sent to Hungary as a reporter to cover the Hungarian uprising. His dispatches were either heavily censored or suppressed. He left the paper and wrote a book about the uprising (Hungarian Tragedy, 1956). As a result of his opposition views Fryer was expelled from the Communist Party.