Ted Grant

The case of Wolfgang Harich

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

The deep-seated disease that rots the regimes in Eastern Europe and Russia is once again revealed by the ten years' imprisonment of Harich. In an unconsciously humorous way-if the circumstances were not so tragic-Democratic German Report (the Stalinist journal) indicates that not only in Hungary and Russia, but throughout the Soviet zone, the Stalinists have returned openly to some of the monstrous methods of Stalin-which in fact they had never really abandoned.

"A number of witnesses for prosecution and defence were examined by the court. Three of the witnesses-the editors Gustav Just and Heinz Zoeger, and the radio commentator Richard Wolf-were arrested in court after giving evidence, under ‘urgent suspicion of participation in the conspiracy inimical to the state.'

"German Report is unable to present a first-hand report of the trial since no facilities were extended for foreign journalists to attend the trial. The nearest relatives of the accused were unable to attend the trial." (Democratic German Report, March 15th, 1957, p. 39.)

An opposition develops

However, the significance of the Harich events is not the reaction of the authorities, but the development of opposition within the ranks of the Socialist Unity Party, as in other parties in the satellites. It is a reflection on East German soil of the ferment in Hungary and Poland.

Harich, and a number of other functionaries of the Socialist Unity Party, through their own experience have come to understand that there is no way forward for the masses or the economy on a Stalinist basis. According to Democratic German Report, quoting the indictment:

"Harich had made the plan to issue a series of appeals, in which the members of the Socialist Unity Party should be called upon to turn their backs on the Party leadership; the Soviet Government and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union should be appealed to adopt a position of neutrality or to support a reorganisation of the government of the German Democratic Republic. Other appeals were planned calling for the formation of ‘workers' and soldiers' Councils,' and the population should support these councils against the organs of the State Security and the People's Army." (p. 40)

The "crime" of workers' councils

So to call for workers' councils or factory committees becomes a crime in the alleged countries of socialism! The bureaucracy has degenerated so far from the conceptions of Lenin that they can publish this without even noticing its significance.

The statement of Harich as published in The Observer (March 17th) shows two things: on the one hand, the inevitable development of opposition as the result of the system of repression and bureaucratic privilege, and, on the other, the frightful confusion that Stalinism has sown even among the best elements that remain within the ranks of the Stalinist parties.

From the reports of the trial, and Harich's document itself, we have the-at first sight-incredible position of Harich appealing from the minions of Khrushchev in Germany to the masters in Moscow. It is an appeal against the little devils directed to the Chief Devil himself!

At the same time, we see the disastrous results, the ideological confusion and decay sown by Stalinism, in Harich's search for a special "German road to socialism."

Trotsky had predicted the inevitable nationalist degeneration of the Communist Parties, which we see taking place both inside and outside the Soviet bloc. This is reflected in the ideas of even such oppositional currents as Harich's.

Points of confusion

However, all these aberrations will be sorted out in the struggle against totalitarian Stalinism. Harich's confusion of mind is best indicated by the fact that he considers that socialism has been built in the Soviet Union. He is, of course, correct in supporting the U.S.S.R. as a workers' state, but the Stalinist abominations of Khruschevism are proof in themselves that it has not yet reached the position of socialism. Harich supports the ideas of Trotsky, though he grasps the degeneration of Soviet society only in a confused way.

It is unfortunately clear that he has not read Trotsky's later works: he is not even familiar with the circumstances under which the struggle between Trotsky and Stalin was originally waged. He believes the lie, assiduously disseminated by the Stalinists, that Trotsky opposed the industrialisation of the U.S.S.R. advocated by Stalin.

The situation was exactly the reverse. Stalin opposed the Five Year Plans when they were put forward by Trotsky as part of the Platform of the Opposition. In fact, this was one of the reasons given for the expulsion of the Trotskyists in 1927. Later, Stalin adopted this programme in a caricatured form.

The real issues in the struggle of 1923-7 were workers' democracy versus bureaucratic privilege, and internationalism versus nationalism. The crisis in the Soviet Union and its satellites is a vindication of the position taken by Trotsky. Victor Serge, in his book From Lenin to Stalin, wrote that if the works of Trotsky were published in the Soviet Union the bureaucracy could not maintain itself in power for 24 hours.

The events are a demonstration of the truth of this fact. However, the lack of a clear historical and social analysis results in the throwing back of the movement ideologically, as well as in every other way. A lot of Harich's ideas still show the marks of the Stalinist school. A whole generation has been retarded in its theoretical development through the isolation of the Trotskyist vanguard.

Reformist illusions

This leads to tremendous dangers for the development of the Opposition (and not only in Germany). Harich, having courageously broken with Stalinism, has developed many illusions in reformism. He even conceives of the social democracy of Western Europe carrying through the transition to socialism.

He believes that this social democracy can achieve the unity of Germany peacefully and without a tremendous struggle; that, on the one hand, the capitalists will accept this position without resistance, and that on the other hand the bureaucrats in Eastern Germany will not fight for their privileges. The attempt to "convert" big business would have the same effect as his disastrous "appeal" to the bureaucracy.

The illusions in Stalinism in this respect are illustrated by his references to the eighth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, and their measures in relation to organisation. This did not prevent the Chinese C.P. from supporting the murder of the Hungarian revolution or itself being a thoroughly Stalinised Party.

Mixed with some very healthy ideas are some Stalinist ones. He puts forward these demands: No more privileges for leading functionaries, workers' councils, the raising of the standard of living, democratic centralism correctly applied, abolition of the secret police, dismissal of Stalinists from the Party.

Relics of Stalinism

At the same time, he speaks of elections on a single list system, which is the essence of totalitarianism. Instead of the rule of the workers' councils, he puts his faith in the rule of Parliament. Even on the question of achieving unity, he does not see that the dynamic overthrow of the regime in Eastern Germany and the installation of workers' democracy would be the greatest blow that could be struck against West German capitalism; it would undermine its power completely.

We are certain that, given the time, the ideas of Wolfgang Harich would have become clarified, and that he would have adopted a consistent Leninist position. He understood, for example, the significance of the 20th Congress. "The 20th Party Congress was an attempt to anticipate threatening revolution from below by revision from above, and to keep control in the hands of the apparatus. It could not succeed in practice because the existence of the apparatus is itself the chief obstacle to revision."

As a characterisation of the situation, nothing need be added. Through his own experience, Harich had come to understand the contradiction between the Stalinist apparatus methods and the economic base. A plan of production, if it is to use to the maximum the possibilities latent within the nationalised economy, must have the full participation and democratic control of the masses.

Stalinism is in a blind alley; that it will be overthrown is proved by the events in Russia, Poland, Hungary-and now by the case of Wolfgang Harich.