Walter Held

The Course of Herr Brandler

(April/May 1938)

Walter Held, The Course of Herr Brandler, two parts, New International, April 1938, pp.119-121 & May 1938, pp.146-149.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

I. Brandler-Thalheimer Yesterday and Today

UNTIL 1937 BRANDLER-THALHEIMER defended the dictatorship of Stalin on questions of Russian domestic policy. In the spring of 1931 they gave Pravda a statement in which they took a strong position against the Opposition and counseled surrender to Stalin. In January 1935 Brandler-Thalheimer accepted the Stalinist version of the murder of Kiroff and in September 1936 they even descended to a defense of the trial of Zinoviev. And this was not all. As clever Marxists Brandler-Thalheimer even recalled the fact that they had predicted the lamentable end of the “Trotskyite-Zinovievite” Opposition. In their statement of September 16 they wrote:

“The pitiful end of the Trotsky-Zinoviev Opposition is the best confirmation imaginable of the point of view which we have always represented; namely, that the Opposition within the Soviet Union has no justifiable basis and must be fought. In these questions the policy of Stalin has been more progressive than that of his opponents, in these questions the Stalinist leadership has ... proved to be correct in all finality.” (Our emphasis.)

On the other hand, the present pamphlet [1] dated July 27, 1937 contains the realization that “Stalin has subordinated the party to a bureaucratic regime which finally resulted in a reign of terror” and the “removal of Stalin and his circle from the leadership of the C.P.S.U. and thereby also from the leadership of the Soviet state” is stated as one of the first necessities.

The reader of the quotations juxtaposed above will say, to err is human and why should not Brandler-Thalheimer possess this human failing. To be sure, for a long time, perhaps all too long, they have been blind. Let us rejoice all the more if the latest events in the Soviet Union – the Piatakov trial, the shooting of the most talented leaders of the Red Army and the ensuing mass executions – have opened their eyes and they at last recognize their mistake. The reader, however, is mistaken if he thinks that Brandler-Thalheimer were ever in error. On the contrary, both declare with genuine bureaucratic complaisance, “The CPG(O) and the ICL(O) are not compelled to change their previous fundamental conception.” Thus Brandler owes us proof that Stalin and his regime have changed overnight, that until yesterday it was progressive, but today suddenly became reactionary; that the trial of Zinoviev was justified, but the trial of Piatakov was a counter-revolutionary crime. But Brandler-Thalheimer are careful not to make any such attempt. The accusations against Trotsky which yesterday were declared “understandable, natural and logical” are today “fabricated”, “absurd”, “products of G.P.U. imagination”. The criticism of Stalin who they yesterday said had been correct in all finality today goes back to 1924. The Stalin cult, the prostitution of Marxist theory, the breakneck tempos of the first five year plan, the terrible inner party regime with it moral terror, with its forced declarations of remorse which preceded the false confessions – all this is today subject of criticism by Brandler-Thalheimer. If nothing of their fundamental conceptions has changed, then they knew all along that these things have nothing in common with socialist politics. If in spite of this they stated that the policy of Stalin was correct and that of the Opposition, which in contrast with Brandler criticised all of these things when they were actual, was wrong, then for purely opportunist reasons, possibly in the hope of a compromise with Stalin, they were guilty of deception. What else then can Brandler’s fundamental conception be but that in theory any deception is permissible? Actually, on the basis of the present pamphlet, it will be shown that Brandler has not broken with this basic conception. His polemic against Trotsky seethes with distortions, imputations and outright falsehoods. Let no one believe that we are harping on these things so tenaciously because of petty stubbornness. The morals of a revolutionist are illuminated in his attitude toward theory. As Max Horkheimer who otherwise agrees with us so little has put it, indifference toward the idea in theory leads to cynicism in practise. In the Stalin who in the spring of 1924 declared that Lenin considered the international revolution to be the necessary pre-condition for socialism and who already in the fall of the same year imputed to Lenin the opposite idea of socialism in one country, in this Stalin there existed already the murderer of his comrades. The bitter experiences of Stalinist and Bernsteinian revisionism have taught us to deal mercilessly with all theoretical quacks and patent medicine men ... That is the reason why we want to subject the latest product of Brandlerian ideas to a thoroughgoing criticism.


II. On the Origin of the Bureaucracy

On page 15 of Brandler’s pamphlet we read:

“It is not as Trotsky, quite unhistorically, has stated; that under Lenin the Soviet state began with a fully developed soviet democracy, whereas under Stalin soviet democracy was completely throttled and replaced by a total bureaucratization of the Soviet state. That is not in accord with historical facts. That means making historical development dependent upon the good or bad personal will of the leaders. Naturally, the good side is represented by Lenin-Trotsky, the bad side, the principle of evil, of bureaucratism, by Stalin. To be sure, the development in the one or the other direction was also connected with the personal qualities of the leadership, but the relationship is the opposite of the way in which Trotsky presents the case. The objective factors are primary.”

We who think we know something of Trotsky’s work can find no place where he has attempted to explain the origin of the bureaucratic regime as the result of Stalin’s bad personal qualities. Even if Brandler did not consider it necessary to enlighten us with a quotation, he might at least have given us a reference to literature. Otherwise Brandler must permit us to maintain our interpretation that Trotsky is the only one who has given us an objective, materialistic explanation for the rise of the bureaucracy. Actually, Brandler-Thalheimer know that. For on page 55, they accuse Trotsky of the opposite; namely, that he overestimates the significance of the objective factors in Stalin’s rise. In other words, on page 15 they simply falsified a little in order to take a crack at Trotsky. Let us, however, listen to the opposite accusation word for word:

“To the question of why it was possible for Stalin to subjugate the party to his personal rule Trotsky has answered that this was inevitable because of the failure of the revolution in capitalist countries. This point of view of Trotsky’s which declares the Stalin regime to be an inevitable product of history corresponds to Trotsky’s total conception of the impossibility of a real development toward socialism in the Soviet Union so long as it is isolated. To be sure there are objective causes ...”

In the same philistine, boring, pedantic style the objective causes are now made primary, now made secondary; now Trotsky is accused of exaggerating the subjective factors, now he is accused of exaggerating the objective ones. Let us examine the latter statement. Trotsky maintains that the Stalin regime is an inevitable product of history because he traces its origin to the failure of world revolution. Therefore the failure of world revolution was inevitable? Where does Trotsky say that? On the contrary, did not the Bolshevik party of the October victory and the Communist International of the early years proceed from the inevitability of world revolution? In actual fact, the objective situation in the early post-war years was exceptionally favorable in a number of capitalist countries and above all in Germany. Only the lack of theoretical and political maturity in the Comintern and above all in the leadership of the German Communist Party under Brandler-Thalheimer prevented the utilization of the favorable situation. Because Brandler-Thalheimer replaced Bolshevik policy by Menshevik policy in the revolutionary year 1923 the defeat of the German proletariat became “inevitable”; that is, the inevitable result of a policy which Brandler and Thalheimer could have avoided. If it is a fact that the historic defeat of the German revolution in 1923 marked the end of a revolutionary period and led to a stabilization of world reaction – which in its turn helped Thermidorian reaction into power in the Soviet Union, the rise of which was still further abetted by the economic and cultural backwardness of Soviet Russia and the destruction of means of production by the world war and the civil war- then one must seek one of the chief causes of this fateful development in the insufficient theoretical and political maturity of Brandler-Thalheimer. It is, therefore, not only “understandable, but also logical and natural” that Brandler-Thalheimer attempt to divest themselves of this fateful responsibility and as well as for the “theory of socialism in one country” which was a direct result of the German defeat and the origin of which is unthinkable without this defeat, as well as Stalin’s domestic policy which rests on this theory. It is just as “logical and natural” that in their present, extremely tardy attempt to break with Stalin they involve themselves in completely undialectical, simply hair-raising contradictions.

What are the reasons that Brandler himself advances for the rise of the bureaucracy? On page 16 of the pamphlet under discussion he mentions three objective tendencies for the growth of bureaucratism, all of which in reality can be reduced to a common denominator: the economic and cultural backwardness of Russia. As is known, Lenin and Trotsky pointed this out time and again since 1917. Russia’s backwardness existed during Lenin’s time as well as during Stalin’s. Therefore, to clarify the question of the transition from the Lenin to the Stalin regime, which is the only question that interests us in this connection, it is not at all sufficient. But instead of explaining this transition in historical-materialistic fashion, Brandler bestows upon us the following platitudes:

“The party and its leadership can give way to these objective tendencies (strengthening the bureaucracy) or it can oppose them. Under the leadership of Lenin it opposed them, under Stalin’s leadership it gave way to them.”

Why, how, for what reason? You put the question to me, I put it to you. On page 16 Brandler-Thalheimer give us as their own wisdom that which they falsely ascribed to Trotsky and call unhistorical. “The good Lenin struggled against this, the bad Stalin gave in.” In other words, an explanation which is insufficient for Trotsky is good enough for Brandler-Thalheimer. Here, perhaps, they are really right. This “idea”, that the bureaucratization of the party is a personal, voluntary act on the part of Stalin impresses them so much that they “develop” it further on pages 54-56. There we read:

“The answer to the question, why Stalin could seize the leadership of the party is much simpler.

“In the general questions of socialist construction he stood for a correct line against his inner-party opponents. For this reason not only the clique of his personal adherents and friends followed him, but also the mass of the party members. The average member of the party accepted the bureaucratization of party life for the sake of Stalin’s line of socialist construction. The average party member was inclined to think that inner-party relations were not so important. Socialism is more important than the inner-party regime, especially as the leaders of the opposition against Stalin had also promoted or at least not energetically struggled against bureaucratic methods as long as they were in power. This attitude of the party members ... was wrong,” etc.

Prior to this they said that Stalin had fulfilled the testament of Lenin in his “politics as a whole” excluding only the question of the bureaucracy. Here he had “subjected the party to a bureaucratic regime which was continuously extended until it finally developed into a reign of terror”.

Once again, what they imputed to Trotsky on page 15 in order to take a crack at him, is their own ultima ratio. For if Stalin’s policy was correct as against that of his opponents and if in general politics he fulfilled the testament of Lenin, what other explanation for the abolition of inner-party democracy by Stalin can there be but Stalin’s “evil” nature? The petty bourgeois philosophy of Brandlerian philosophy here reaches its highest level or, more correctly, its lowest. What an awful conception: Stalin himself chooses his methods, the terrible repressions in the Soviet Union are the result of one of his moods added to which this mood is able to influence history so much because Stalin’s policy was “correct”. History, however, does not follow such a meaningless course. For a Marxist policy and method are indivisible concepts, the latter follows of necessity from the former. If Stalin’s policy in the years subsequent to 1923 was “correct”, what reason would he have for terrorizing the party, falsifying the discussion, expelling the opposition and abolishing internal democracy.

If his policy was “correct”, i.e., in the interest of the proletariat and the poor peasants, then he would have no lack of arguments against the opposition, he would not have to be afraid of a struggle against it before the party masses. And if, as Brandler maintains, the membership followed Stalin, why was it necessary to expel the opposition, send it abroad and into the provinces, exile it to Siberia and finally execute it? Not to mention the fact that the members who apparently followed Stalin, the old Bolshevik, proletarian cadres, were gradually expelled from the party, exiled, thrown into prison and executed. It must also be asked, which “general policy” of Stalin’s was really correct: that of 1923-1928, that of 1928-1934 or the present one? Was the “tortoise march toward socialism” of 1923-1928 just as correct as the “jump over Lake Constance” of 1928-1934? One could just as well maintain that the alliance with the arch-reactionary leadership of the British trade unions was just as correct as the R.L.U.I. policy and that the latter was just as correct as the present day “People’s Front” policy with the capitalists. In the period of 1923-1928 Stalin was allied with Rykov and Bukharin and together with them he poked fun at the “super-industrialism” of Trotsky. On page 54 of their pamphlet Brandler-Thalheimer criticize Bukharin and Rykov for denying the necessity of general industrialization and collectivization. Until 1928 Stalin shared Bukharin’s point of view on these questions. If the policy of Bukharin was false, how could Stalin’s be correct? If it was incorrect, i.e., if it did not correspond to the interests of the workers and poor peasants, then it must have corresponded to other interests, interests of strata opposed to the proletariat or more correctly, steadily becoming opposed to it.

We stated that policy and method were not two hard and fast antinomies now running parallel, now crossing each other, but were inseparable components of the same thing, a subject-predicate relationship. Lenin represented the interests of the working masses. By this his method was determined. His goal had to be the education of the masses for the execution of political functions, for the control of the state apparatus, etc. For the state to die away all had to participate in its functions. The subject-object relationship between the state apparatus and the subject had to disappear. For all of these reasons there could not be any other method for the proletarian politician Lenin than democratic ones in the life of the party. If, on the other hand, Stalin freed himself more and more from the control of the masses, excluding them more and more from the execution of political functions and degrading them to objects of his police rule, he did this because he represented a social stratum whose interests more and more ran counter to those of the masses. These were the interests of the new state apparatus and of the new bureaucracy.

During the general economic insecurity of the post-revolutionary years it was an immeasurable advantage to belong to the apparatus. Even if the income of officials was by no means as grandiose as it is today, nevertheless a certain amount of economic security was concomitant with membership in the apparatus. Parallel with the N.E.P. and the increase in the production of commodities, the apparatus began to loosen itself from the masses. It is clear that in this apparatus the tendency to stabilize its situation would grow. Lenin’s demand that the masses should have the right to recall officials and functionaries daily and hourly in case of malfeasance of office, that everyone in his turn should assume the function of a state official – this demand must more and more have appeared to the new officials as a direct threat to their still relatively modest privileges. Fearing a fall back into the masses, their appetite rose to further privileges. Stalin became spokesman and representative of this new privileged caste. It is obvious that this group whose interests stood opposed to those of the proletariat and to the demands of the proletariat as formulated in Marxist theory could not fight for their interests with democratic methods. It was compelled to rid itself of the masses. For this reason the type of rule embodied in the personal dictatorship corresponded best of all to their interests. The ambitions and the policy of Stalin were identical with the ambitions of this privileged caste. Stalin’s policy was the “correct” policy precisely for the bureaucracy, which, therefore, supported him and chose him as dictator. The bureaucracy made him the supreme arbiter and administrator, but also the captive of its interests. Stalin and the bureaucracy turned against the masses to whom they owed their rise. For this very reason Stalin was compelled to falsify and finally abolish discussion, slander opponents, increase police terror to the greatest limit possible and take to the methods of a Caesar Borgia. Even if Stalin was predestined for this role because of his limitless political ambition which was the outcome of a more than defective political, theoretical and cultural training, his methods are the result of the objective contradictions of Soviet society which has produced the bureaucratic type of Stalin in not one but some ten thousand examples.

According to Brandler-Thalheimer, however, bureaucratic methods do not flow from the privileges of the bureaucracy which defends them tooth and nail, but, on the contrary, bureaucratic methods are the subject and the privileges at best the predicate. Where the methods originate remains a mystery. Apparently in the evil nature of the bureaucrats. As a cure Brandler does not recommend a reduction of the differentiation in income, but reestablishment of Communist morals! He himself seems to feel that thereby he dangerously approaches Christian preachers of morality, who preach the brotherhood of poor and rich without desiring to remove the contradictions themselves. He tries to pull himself out of his predicament on the basis of the fact that from the point of view of production there is no exploitation in the Soviet Union. As is well known, that is exactly the argument of the bureaucracy itself. For the worker, however, the point of view of consumption, so despised by the learned wiseacres with full stomachs, is decisive. To be sure, as Marx explained to the Lassalleans, the worker will never receive the full return on his labor. A part of the product of labor, even under socialism, will be used for reproduction on a higher level, for the renewal of the apparatus, for children and the aged, for administration, etc. In the transition period, as long as value and money accounting are adhered to, the worker still produces surplus value which is used in various ways. Decisive as to whether society is moving toward socialism is the tendency of the process itself. The question is, are the differences disappearing more and more, is the standard of living of the people as a whole rising. In the Soviet Union, however, the opposite process is taking place. A privileged caste, the bureaucracy appropriates a steadily increasing portion of the surplus value of society, thus in this roundabout fashion exploiting the workers. It builds palaces for itself, keeps servants, rides in luxurious automobiles while the mass of the workers remain in misery. In the Soviet Union, too, being determines consciousness; bureaucratic being determines bureaucratic consciousness and bureaucratic methods. To break the power of the bureaucracy it is necessary to abolish their privileges. He who wants to remove the contradiction between bureaucratic and proletarian being only in the realm of consciousness without demanding its abolition in reality must acquiesce in the comparison with a hypocritical Christian preacher of morals.

Today, quite suddenly, Brandler-Thalheimer remember Lenin’s last articles which were all directed against the danger of bureaucratism and against Stalin as the personification of this danger.


The New Constitution, the One-Party System and the Question of the New Party

Brandler-Thalheimer would not be Brandler-Thalheimer if they did not hail and defend the new Constitution of the Soviet Union, a swindle which appropriately takes its place alongside of the scandal-trials. Just as they defend Stalin’s theory of socialism in one country against Stalin’s practise of it, they demand the realization of Stalin’s Constitution against Stalin. If Stalinism represents bureaucracy in the labor movement, then Brandler-Thalheimer are its bureaucretinistic shadow. As regards the criticism of Stalin’s Constitution itself, we can rest content to refer to the particular chapter in Trotsky’s Revolution Betrayed.

Even if we took the Constitution seriously and literally, it does not signify a step forward from the Leninist Constitution to classless society, but rather a step backward. It replaces the workers’ right of direct participation in the soviets by the abstractions and fictions of bourgeois constitutions. Lenin called the soviets “working organs” in contrast to the parliamentary chatter-chambers of the bourgeois democracies. Where Lenin wanted to solve the contradiction between law-making and administration in the framework of the soviets by giving both functions more and more directly to the masses themselves, Stalin solves the contradiction in the framework of the “total state”; that is, as completely as possible against the people. The same bureaucrats who administer the laws meet in “parliament” to make them.

Under Stalin, therefore, the participation of the people in making the laws is considerably less than in bourgeois democracies and exactly as great as under fascism – that is, equal to zero. That is the real content of Stalin’s Constitution. All of the formulas taken from the Leninist Declaration of Rights of the Toiling People are only imitations, decorations, sand in the eyes of the people. The Stalin Constitution is nothing but the deceptive cloak of the Bonapartistic dictatorship. The masses who will rise against this dictatorship will also cast aside this deceptive cloak and reintroduce in its stead the Leninist Constitution in accordance with its spirit as well as its letter.

In the socialist Declaration of Rights of the workers and peasants in Lenin’s Constitution there is nothing about establishing the organizational monopoly of the communist party. This, however, is a component part of the Bonapartistic constitution, an expression of the hierarchy of party secretaries who aim to perpetuate constitutionally their “organizational monopoly” as well as their “right of inheritance”. Nowhere did Lenin raise the “organizational monopoly” of the communist party to a principle. In the first months after the revolution the Bolsheviks were in a coalition with the Left Social Revolutionists. In 1918 Lenin was considering legalizing the Menshevik opposition of the Martov tendency in the soviets.

Only the long-drawn-out civil war and the resultant extreme criticalness of the internal situation prevented the realization of this plan and made the suppression of all parties a bitter necessity. At the end of the civil war the Bolsheviks enjoyed such great authority, whereas the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionists were so discredited, that no-one demanded the legalization of opposition parties. Already in 1921-1922, however, the tendency of misusing the organizational monopoly of the communist party arose: Secretaries began to rule over the masses and command them, instead of convincing and educating them. The last writings of Lenin were directed precisely against this tendency and Trotsky continued this struggle. The efforts of Lenin and Trotsky aimed at opening new roads and canals to the political activity of the masses and at checking the all-powerful party secretaries.

The party secretaries won out, however, and stabilized their hierarchy. Undoubtedly, from this moment on the organizational monopoly of the communist party turned from a lever of progress into an instrument of reaction, from a tool of the masses into a tool against the masses. The sharper the forms of this antithesis, the more legitimate became the aim of the masses and their ideological vanguard to counterpose to the party of secretaries a party of their own. The C.P.S.U. is today nothing but a loathesome police apparatus, the most corrupt police apparatus history has ever known. When Brandler demands the maintenance of the “organizational monopoly of the C.P.S.U.” that only means that he puts himself on the side of the G.P.U. against the workers. “Where it is a question of further development of socialist foundations and of the Soviet State, there is no room for parties who deny and struggle against this foundation.” Brandler has forgotten that he said at the beginning of his pamphlet: “Stalin’s regime now turns against the soviet state itself, against the proletarian dictatorship, against communism.” Stalin’s regime is identical with the regime of the C.P.S.U., which has become Stalin’s party. Therefore, the C.P.S.U., whose organizational monopoly is demanded by Brandler turns in destructive fashion against socialist foundations, the development of which he demands.

Brandler’s mental processes must really be frizzled. To be correct one must say that if the socialist foundations are to be preserved and if on this basis there is to be progress toward socialism, then there is no room in the Soviet Union for the party of Stalin, the party of bureaucrats, falsifiers, gangsters and G.P.U. provocateurs. A new revolutionary party must take its place. Someone will, of course, ask, will this new party in its turn again demand an organizational monopoly?

In his book The Revolution Betrayed Trotsky demands the restoration of the freedom of soviet parties. Brandler calls this demand flatly “counter-revolutionary”. He interprets soviet parties to mean Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionists, and assumes, therefore, that legalization of the propaganda of these parties would lead directly to counter-revolution. Here again is another of Brandler-Thalheimer’s peculiar zigzags of thought. They have proved that no basis at all exists for the Trotskyist “pessimistic distortion” that the Soviet Union could again become a prey to capitalism; they have “proved” that industry and agriculture are moving along a smooth road to socialism, and that one fine day they will finally outstrip Europe and America, and so forth and so on; and then these same people suddenly think that a little bit of Menshevik propaganda would be enough to let the whole thing collapse like a house of cards!

We, on the contrary, have our eyes open to the contradictions of soviet society and to the dangers threatening it, but on the other hand we do have so much confidence in the future of socialism and in ourselves, that we hope to conquer Menshevism along democratic paths, through the weight of our arguments, without calling the police for help. The civil war and the immediate threat presented by the armies of intervention gave the Bolsheviks no time to overcome the Menshevist prejudices of a minority along democratic paths; the repressive measures were the expression of a momentary necessity and also of a momentary weakness, since the Bolsheviks thereby admitted that the propaganda of the Mensheviks was becoming dangerous to them. At any rate, the civil war and Menshevist participation in intervention justified repression at that time.

After the civil war had been ended, however, it was the duty of the Bolsheviks to exchange anew the weapon of police repression for the democratic armament of agitators and Marxist politicians. Precisely this did not suit the bureaucrats. The system used in the civil war of stifling the voice of criticism by means of force was so much easier; it did not make so many demands on one’s own intellect, on one’s own mental elasticity. The bureaucracy continued to flay all opposition with the methods of the civil war. In the midst of the general political exhaustion it conquered in this manner, but one would have to be pretty blind not to realize that a victory gained in this manner is an admission of the immense political weakness of the bureaucracy. This bureaucracy is not only incapable of open discussion with the oppositionists of its own party before the masses, but even unable to defend the October Revolution against Menshevist criticism. What else can it mean, if twenty years after the October Revolution it still keeps the Mensheviks in jail? The October Revolution certainly did not proclaim the goal of making jail for political prisoners a permanent institution. Even a victorious counter-revolution grants amnesty to its opponents after a number of years, when it feels itself strong enough for it. Victor Serge rightly asks, should the revolution be less generous?

A revolutionary tendency in the Soviet Union will today, of course, put on its program, beside the freeing of all oppositional communists, also the demand for amnesty for Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionists. Today it is not those Mensheviks in concentration camps and isolators, but the Mensheviks in government positions, who are a danger to the Soviet Union. It is not Basarov and Eva Broido, but rather Vyshinsky, Saslaysky, Potemkin, Mikhail Koltsov, Troyanovsky, Maisky, etc., who are leading the Soviet state to ruin. Freedom for the Menshevik prisoners and jail for the Menshevik careerists – this would be a fitting slogan.

Moreover, Trotsky’s demand for the restoration of the freedom of the soviet parties does not primarily apply to Mensheviks and Social-Revolutionists. Because of the position they took toward the October Revolution and the civil war following it, these parties have forever forfeited their position among the Russian workers. Where political life continues to burn faintly under the blows of the terrible police terror, in the concentration camps and isolators, there live primarily the different oppositional fractions of the C.P.S.U., the Trotskyists, the Democratic Centralists, other ultra-leftists, partly also remains of the old Right, and so forth. Perhaps in the course of a re-blossoming of political life, in the wake of a mass uprising, the differences between these groups will prove to be so small, that they can be decided within one party. Possibly, even probably, a number of parties will be formed. No one can prophecy as to that.

What other road could there be for these parties but to weigh their arguments, one against the other, within the rejuvenated soviets, to try to convince the masses? We, at any rate, see no reason to fear the arguments of possible Russian followers of Brandler, and we are convinced, that we can get the better of them without having to call for the help of the police. Moreover, the masses learn slowly, but they learn from their experiences. Surely, after the terrible experience with the Stalin regime, they will not again be willing to grant the “monopoly of organization” to one single party. The future of the Soviet Union lies in soviet democracy. If this word, however, is not to be a swindle and a deception, then the workers themselves in the soviets and in the industries must have the right to decide which party they want to follow. They can permit neither the bureaucrat Stalin, nor the bureaucretinist Brandler, to decide for them.


Reform of the C.P.S.U. and the Soviet Union

Up till the year 1933 Trotsky and we, who are not ashamed of calling ourselves his pupils, stood for the perspective of peaceful reform within the C.P.S.U. and the Soviet Union. Brandler-Thalheimer at that time denied the necessity of any reform. In the Soviet Union and in the C.P.S.U. everything was going fine; it was only in the policy of the International that there were, deplorably and for incomprehensible reasons, “mistakes”. That was their standpoint until yesterday. Today, however, they remember the last writings of Lenin, and believe that they have uttered the ultimate word of wisdom with his advice to the party, to remove Stalin from the position of General Secretary of the party. Lenin’s advice was meant for a party which showed merely the first symptoms of sickness, a party at whose head Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin and Pyatakov still stood. Lenin’s operation, if carried out at the correct time, promised at least a certain hope for the cure of the party.

In the meantime 15 years have passed. The sickness has devoured head, heart and kidneys of the party. Only the bureaucratic posterior has gotten bigger and bigger and crushes each and every intellectual stirring. To give the same advice, which Lenin gave to the Bolshevik party, to the party of Kaganovich, Molotov, Yezhov, Chubar, Zhdanov, etc., today, and expect a cure from it, that is something that only complete blockheads can do.

But Mr. Brandler cannot be shaken so easily. “It is the head of the party, above all, that is rotten; the ranks are healthy and alive,” he declares. The head “above all” is rotten? What else is rotten, if the ranks are healthy and alive? And how is it possible for a rotten head and healthy, living ranks to be compatible for such long periods of time? Elsewhere Brandler-Thalheimer even declare in their bureaucratic, foolhardy manner, which is intended to cover up their own intellectual uncertainty: “Only complete ignoramuses can talk of masses whom the Stalin regime has dulled and left without any will of their own. Quite the contrary!” Quite the contrary! The Stalin regime has notoriously educated the masses to the highest standards of political activity and political thought! This, however, does not keep Brandler-Thalheimer from talking elsewhere again of the “intellectual devastation” of party life called forth by Stalinist practise. How can the ranks of the party be healthy and alive in the presence of intellectual devastation, and how can the political education and development of the masses be even possible under such conditions? Evidently only “complete ignoramuses” can entangle themselves in such contradictions!

In reality the C.P.S.U. no longer has a stable base at its disposition. For the last 15 years party cleansings have been directed not against careerists and opportunists, but, on the contrary, by the latter against revolutionary workers. During the last year alone approximately 2,000,000 workers were excluded from the party. The base of the party changes continuously. It does not receive any kind of political education. It has no rights at its disposal. It is a mere ball in the hands of the bureaucracy. The valuable old Bolshevik cadres are atomized, physically destroyed, in concentration camps, in misery. Young, independently thinking elements are continuously being excluded. The best elements are already outside of the party. And in so far as there still are scattered, honest elements in the party, capable of development, they do not have the slightest possibility of asserting themselves.

Surely one could have said of the German social-democracy of 1914, with much more justification, that only its head was rotten, the ranks, nevertheless, healthy. Despite this, the Marxists rightly proclaimed the necessity of a new party, since the “healthy base” was bound hand and foot to the mighty bureaucratic apparatus of the party. At that, the reformist bureaucracy was far from having the same power over the workers as the Stalinist one. It was, in contrast to the latter, not the only employer. It did not have command over a G.P.U., Mauser pistols, Siberia. Even if one takes into consideration the fact that the social-democratic bureaucracy was able to lean upon the repressive apparatus of the bourgeois state in its fight against the revolutionary elements, nevertheless the power of Ebert and Scheidemann was never as great as that of Stalin and Yezhov. Without a doubt there was more democratic freedom and more rights for the members in the party of Ebert and Scheidemann than in the present C.P.S.U.

For the present Brandler himself gives us an example, by declaring the slogan for the new party correct for Catalonia, but not for the rest of the world and not even for the whole of Spain. The Catalonian P.S.U.C. arose from a merger with the social-democracy; in this case the 21 conditions (which the Second World Congress set up for admission entrance into the Comintern) demand a split! Scholasticism, pedantry, and stupidity here have their rendezvous! Evidently the 21 conditions are, for Brandler-Thalheimer, a kind of holy article of faith, which they memorized without ever having understood its meaning. The 21 conditions demand first of all a break with the policy of social-democracy, with the policy of Menshevism. The main characteristics of social-democratic policy were: coalition with bourgeois parties, support of the bourgeois republic and the imperialist League of Nations, granting of war credits to the bourgeoisie, deluding the people with pacifist phrases, etc. Where, today, is there a country where these traitorous policies are not being practised by the respective section of the Comintern? If, consequently, the 21 conditions are to have a meaning, then they demand today everywhere a break with the Comintern, and the proclamation of the new, Fourth International.

When comrade Trotsky stated, after the historic defeat of the German proletariat in 1933, that now the German C.P. had experienced its 4th of August, i.e., it had turned at last from a progressive into a counter-revolutionary factor, Brandler-Thalheimer replied, in keeping with their limited intellect, that this analogy was completely lacking in historical imagination: the social-democrats on the 4th of August went openly into the camp of the imperialists; whereas such a thing was out of the question on the part of the Comintern. As regards this detail, Stalin has hurried to meet Brandler halfway. Since Stalin’s May 1936 declaration to Laval that the Soviet Union was in complete sympathy with the armament need of French imperialism, the desertion of the C.I. into the camp of imperialism has become an indisputable fact. But Brandler-Thalheimer still refuse to draw a clear line between themselves and the Comintern, again emphasizing how much their last answer to us was inspired by opportunist considerations instead of a desire for revolutionary clarity.

Closely bound up with the question of the new party is the question of the new revolution in the Soviet Union. Here, too, events have long since outdistanced the perspective of peaceful reform. Hitler’s victory over the German working class also hurled the Russian workers further back. The relation of forces changed heavily in favor of the bureaucracy; the social gulf between it and the workers grew enormously. At the same time all roads of democratic equilibrium were blocked. All safety valves were sealed. The murder of Kirov, arranged by the G.P.U., gave the signal for unheard-of terror which has raged for the last three years and engulfed the country like a tidal wave. The Stalin regime is preparing a terrific explosion of the wrath of the populace. One must be completely stultified not to understand this.

It can, therefore, only cause laughter when Brandler decrees “that the liquidation of the bureaucratic regime must come not from outside of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, but from inside it [literally] and not against the Red Army, but together with it”. School-teacher Brandler commands history, but history will mock him. In the coming great historical crisis the opportunistic party of Stalin-Yezhov, held together by narrow, material interests and by incredible moral and physical terror, will doubtless fall to pieces. If in these circumstances a new party does not arise, the building of which must naturally be prepared now – a party which continues the traditions of October and again gives the industrial proletariat the foremost place in society and lays out a road for the peasantry – then the Soviet Union will doubtlessly fall to pieces and fall prey to capitalism. He who today still links the fate of the Soviet Union to that of the C.P.S.U. make, himself an accessory to the crime which leads from the unavoidable decay of the latter to the downfall of the former.

If we say, that in the Soviet Union a political revolution is being prepared and contrast this term with a social revolution, i.e., a fundamental transformation of property relations, then of course this does not mean that the political revolution has no social content. Even political revolutions which were consummated upon the basis of bourgeois property had social content, in so far as they had for their aim and result a social shift within bourgeois class society. The conflicts between finance capital, industrial bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie created the foundation for the revolutions of 1830 and 1848. In spite of this, the term political revolution is justified, since the oppressed layers struggled for the bettering of their condition not by means of an overthrow of property relationships, but through a redistribution of political positions of power and a change in political regime.

In a like manner, in the Soviet Union, the political revolution is being called forth by the conflict between the bureaucracy and its related privileged layers on the one hand, and the proletariat and lower peasant layers on the other. The proletariat, of course, does not desire to fill the strategic political positions in order to abolish the socialization of the means of production and the nationalization of land and soil, but in order to accomplish far-reaching social reforms on the basis of the socialist property relationships.

The nature of these reforms is quite evident. The renewed Soviet regime will abolish the privileges of the bureaucracy and raise the standard of living of the masses. It will build workers’ apartments instead of palaces for the bureaucracy; it will raise the quality of mass consumption articles and stop the production of luxury articles, and so forth. In short, the direction of the whole process will be fundamentally changed.

After what has been said above, we can dispense with further polemics against the Brandlerian assertion, that “the Trotskyist demand for the overthrow of the bureaucratic regime is hopeless, because it is without a social base”. The reader will easily realize for himself that Brandler has here, against his will, aptly characterized his own position. For indeed, what purpose would there be in the overthrow of the bureaucratic regime, how is to be understood if the organizational monopoly of the C.P.S.U., if the huge differences in income between the bureaucrats and workers, if the right of inheritance and the Stalinist constitution should be retained? The reader will certainly not get an answer to these questions from Brandler-Thalheimer.

A few words in conclusion. The numerous self-contradictions of Brandler’s pamphlets can be accounted for by the fact that Brandler, on the one hand, in breaking loose from Stalin, depends on some of the arguments of Trotskyist criticism, and on the other hand, uses the “arguments” of Stalinism against Trotsky. That also explains why Brandler-Thalheimer, in the matter of the bloody terror directed against the Trotskyists, don’t take any clear, unequivocal position, but lay the blame on both parties: Trotsky, also, is equally responsible for the methods of Stalin, because he writes articles against him! What disgusting Philistines!


Oslo, February 1938
Walter HELD


1. Zur Krise in der Sowjetunion. A pamphlet of the I.C.L.L.


Last updated on 26.5.2005