J.R. Johnson

First in a Series of Articles

The Stalinist Menace to World Labor

(1 April 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. X No. 13, 1 April 1946, p. 3-M.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Stalinism is now a word more or less familiar to substantial numbers of American workers. It represents to them the Communist Party of the United States, its fellow parties the world over, all associated with the now mighty empire of Russia.

First of all, let us look at the more obvious material facts.

In Russia the Stalinist bureaucracy rules over 200 million people. Trotsky to his dying day insisted on calling this bureaucracy a caste. A class, he said, fulfills a certain role in production. Workers, capitalists, farmers, all play a special role in producing commodities. The petty bourgeoisie, small shopkeepers, functionaries in offices, etc., also play a role in the economic system. But the labor bureaucrats are not a class. They are a caste. They perform an organizational, administrative social function which is only remotely if at all connected with the actual productive and distributive process. The Stalinist bureaucracy, so ran Trotsky’s argument, was a caste, an unusual, an exceptional, an unprecedented caste, but nevertheless a caste.

The theory did not die with Trotsky. The Socialist Workers Party (Cannonites) and a majority of the Fourth Internationalists all over the world still hold it.

What the Bureaucracy Looks Like

Let us admit for the moment that the Stalinist bureaucracy is not a class. The facts, however, are there:

It has complete control of the economy of the country. It runs it, apportions labor, regulates as best it can the flow of wealth to different departments of production. It fixes wages, distributes the surplus, manages the foreign trade, decides where new plants should be opened and where old ones should be closed. Place on it the label caste. Take oft the label and write class instead. What, today, is changed thereby?

The Stalinist bureaucracy organizes, controls, directs a mighty army. It controls a secret police force of two million men. It appoints and removes its ambassadors abroad. It makes wars and declares peace. It performs all the functions of government, exercises all the privileges, bears all the responsibilities, exactly as if it were a class that had a history of five centuries behind it. No. Comrade Trotsky was wrong. He maintained a distinction which was not only meaningless but harmful.

Trotsky, be it noted, was not a sentimentalist, seeing Russia through the eyes of an old Russian revolutionary. Nor was he unaware of the realities of Stalinist Russia. Not at all. He recognized the enormous theoretical difficulties he would face if he abandoned his theory. That cannot be discussed here. But the final proof of the weakness, the impossibility, of maintaining Trotsky’s theory is this. To remove that bureaucracy today would require a revolution greater in scope than the October Revolution. Now what kind of caste is this that is more powerfully established as a government than the old combination of landlords, bureaucrats and capitalists who ruled Russia up to 1914?

Previously, this question was, in the minds of the average American worker, confined to Russia. But now two problems or, more precisely, three problems are being posed.

An International Reactionary Force

  1. This Russian society has loomed up as a deadly and direct rival to United States imperialism. The air is filled with the fear of war. What is this Russian state and why does war between it and the United States appear as inevitable as war between Britain and Germany in the old days?
  2. The Russian type of state is no longer confined to Russia or territories directly annexed by Russia. It is obvious that Poland and Yugoslavia are, to put it moderately, heading as fast as they can toward regimes modeled on Russia rather than the traditional European form. The question there is by no means settled. But the struggle is on.

    The Russians, in the part of Germany which they occupy, are obviously laying the foundation of the type of regime which they have at home. They do not do so openly, but every step that they take shows their ultimate aim.

    On the other side of the world, in Manchuria and Northern China, they have the same aims. They adapt their policy to the local circumstances, but a blind man can see what they will do if they can.
  3. In the countries of Western Europe, Communist Parties devoted to Russian aims and following Russian policy wield such political power as has rarely been exercised by any parties except those of a ruling class itself. In France the Communist Party has the decisive control of the united French trade unions, nearly six million strong. The party itself has over a million members.

    In Italy the Communist Party has 1,700,000 members.

    Just to complete the general picture, Communist organizations in Greece have the large majority of the population behind them. These organizations, here, as elsewhere, are fanatical followers of the Stalinist line.

Taking the situation as a whole therefore the Stalinist state and its ramifications represent without a shadow of doubt the most powerful organized social and political force in the world today. Its strength comes from its unification and the resulting cohesion.

Toward Understanding Stalinism

The American worker therefore must realize:

  1. That the Stalinists whom he meets in his factory or in his union may be few; their party in the United States may not be very powerful; but that they are part of a worldwide organization of enormous actual power. To underestimate them by judging them solely by their strength in the United States would be a terrible mistake.
  2. The problem of the Stalinists being a world problem, to fight them here requires first of all a clear understanding of what their Moscow general staff aims at today and tomorrow. This is world politics in the most profound sense of the term. The American worker seeking to probe this question to the roots must be prepared to grapple with the whole world scene. The days for preoccupation with purely national problems are past. The worker too must see the world as “one world.” This I propose to take up in this series of articles. But one thing must be established, and established without any sort of misunderstanding. The antagonism between the U.S. government and the Stalinist regime is one thing. That antagonism the U.S. government extends to the Communist Parties all over the world.

But the antagonism of the working class movement to Stalinism is something fundamentally different. The U.S. government opposes Stalinism because Stalinism is now its rival for world mastery. A class-conscious revolutionary opposes Stalinism because it betrays revolutionary struggle and, as far as it can, manipulates the working-class movement for its imperialist ends. Thus while American capital and American labor are both threatened by Stalinism, that makes for no solidarity between American capital and American labor on this issue. The class line is as sharp here as elsewhere.

Last updated on 19 January 2019