E. Germain

An Answer to the Chinese Communist Leaders’ Defense of Stalin

(November 1963)

From The Militant, Vol. 27 No. 39, 4 November 1963, pp. 4–5.
Transcribed by Martin Fahlgren.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The article On the Question of Stalin, published September 13 by the joint editorial boards of the Peking People’s Daily and Red Flag as the second in a series of answers to the Open Letter of the Central Committee of the CPSU [Communist party of the Soviet Union], is undoubtedly the worst contribution of the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] in the present discussion in the world Communist movement, the one which does most damage to the favorable reception given up to now to the CCP and the one which most seriously hinders the progress of Communist cadres and militants towards revolutionary Marxism insofar as it is being advanced by this discussion.

Full of factual errors and distortions, it is also loaded with contradictions either within the article itself or with other important documents of the CCP or recent declarations made by Mao Tse-tung.

But the most striking aspect of the article is its complete divorce from reality. Nobody with the slightest knowledge of the opinions or aspirations of the masses inside the Soviet Union or the East European workers states can take seriously a statement like this: “This great majority of the Soviet People disapprove of such abuse of Stalin. They increasingly [!] cherish the memory of Stalin.”

Any attempt by the leaders of the CCP to build their tendency within the world Communist movement on such a line can only lead to rapid and increasing isolation, greatly facilitating the efforts of the Khrushchevite tendency to re-establish monolithism and some kind of central bureaucratic control over the greater part of the world Communist movement.

We are convinced that the leaders and members of the left-wing oppositional tendencies inside the CPs of the colonial and imperialist countries will also rapidly discover this through their own experience. We are convinced that they will warn their Chinese comrades with increasing insistence that a fight against right-wing revisionism that at the same time attempts to revive the cult of Stalin is doomed from the beginning. We are convinced that they will raise the slogan, “In the fight against Khrushchev’s revisionism, let’s not go back to Stalin but move forward to full-fledged Leninism.” And we are convinced that with the help of experience and fraternal discussion, this slogan will find increasing echoes within the Chinese CP itself, including its leadership. For that reason, we think it worthwhile to submit the article On the Question of Stalin to much more searching criticism than it intrinsically deserves in hope that it will help speed the process of clarification among left-wing Communists, in China as well as everywhere else.

Some of the arguments advanced in the article On the Question of Stalin are so self-defeating that they seem almost naive. The authors write:

“Khrushchev has maligned Stalin as a ‘despot of the type of Ivan the Terrible.’ Does not this mean that the experience of the great CPSU and the great Soviet people provided over 30 years for peoples the world over was not the experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat, but that of life under the rule of a feudal ‘despot’? ... Khrushchev has maligned Stalin as a ‘fool.’ Does not this mean that the CPSU, which waged heroic revolutionary struggles over the past decades, had a ‘fool’ as its leader?”

They seem to forget a detail. The Soviet people and the CPSU have been led for nearly ten years now by a group headed by Khrushchev whom this very same article denounces as a slanderer, a maligner, a falsifier of history, a fool, a coward, a splitter of the world Communist movement, an objective agent of revisionism that serves as a bourgeois agency within the working-class movement. Other CCP documents have compared Khrushchev and his group to the social-patriots of 1914 whom Lenin termed “bourgeois agents within the working-class movement.” Yet these repellent figures have been at the head of the CPSU for some ten years and have been part of the top leadership of the Soviet Union for 30 years! Why should this be assumed to be a self-apparent absurdity in the case of Stalin and yet be taken as perfectly logical in the case of Khrushchev?

The authors of the article On the Question of Stalin say that Khrushchev maligned Stalin in his secret speech at the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU when he admitted that Stalin had murdered the main cadres of Lenin’s Bolshevik party. They dare to say that this admission is a “distortion of historic truth.” But facts are facts! Let the leaders of the Chinese CP answer these questions:

We venture to predict that the authors of the article On the Question of Stalin will not attempt to answer these questions. No honest answer is possible but “Yes.” Yet if the answer is “yes,” then it follows that Khrushchev did not “malign” and “slander” Stalin in his secret speech at the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU. What he did was to admit part of the historical truth and reveal some fresh details. Against this truth, sophisms evaporate like snow in the sun.

The authors of the article even dare to approve an old speech made by Khrushchev in January 1937 in which the present first secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU said of those who opposed Stalin, “In lifting their hand against Comrade Stalin, they lifted it against all of us, against the working class and the working people!”

Have the authors of the article forgotten that the first one to “lift his hand” against Stalin was no one but Lenin himself? Have they forgotten Lenin’s testament, in which the founder of Bolshevism advised the Central Committee to remove Stalin from his post of general secretary? By making this judgment of Stalin, calling for his removal, did Lenin “lift his hand against the working class?”

An “Error”

The leaders of the CCP fall into another glaring contradiction when on the one hand they try to defend Stalin against Khrushchev’s “maligning” him as a murderer and a despot while on the other hand they themselves state:

“On certain [!] occasions and on certain questions, he [Stalin] confused two types of contradictions which are different in nature, contradictions between ourselves and the enemy, and contradictions among the people, and also confused the different methods needed in handling them. In the work led by Stalin of suppressing the counter-revolution, many counter-revolutionaries deserving punishment were duly punished. But at the same time there were innocent people who were wrongly convicted, and in 1937 and 1938 there occurred the error [!] of enlarging the scope of the suppression of counter-revolutionaries.”

What was the scale of this “error”? Zinoviev, first head of the Communist International, was shot as a counter-revolutionist. So was Bukharin who succeeded Zinoviev as the leading figure of the Comintern. So was Kamenev, member of the Leninist Political Bureau. Trotsky, founder of the Red Army, was murdered by an agent of Stalin. Rykov, another member of the Leninist Political Bureau and former chief of the Soviet government, was executed as a counter-revolutionist. Piatakov, Radek, Sokolnikov, Rakovski, Smilga, Serebriakov, I.N. Smirnov, Muralov and many others were similarly liquidated.

Do the leaders of the Chinese CP believe that all these Communists, these comrades-in-arms of Lenin, the majority of the members of the Central Committee in which Lenin sat from 1917 to 1923, were really counter-revolutionaries? Do the leaders of the Chinese CP believe that the top staff of the Red Army, executed after a secret mock “trial” in 1937, were really counter-revolutionaries? Do the leaders of the Chinese CP believe that the majority of the delegates of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth congresses of the CPSU were really counter-revolutionaries?

Their dilemma is insoluble. If they say “yes” then the only possible conclusion is that the Soviet Union was founded by counter-revolutionaries and Lenin himself guided the Communist party and the Soviet Union until he died with the help of a majority of “counter-revolutionists, spies and fascist agents.” In that case, by the logic used by the leaders of the Chinese CP, he was a fool if not worse. The banner must then be raised for the “rehabilitation” of Lenin against the authors of the article as apologists for the crimes of Stalin!

If they say “no,” if they decide that these slaughtered comrades were innocent victims of Stalin’s purges, “innocent people wrongly convicted,” then how can they reduce this mass slander and mass murder, often accompanied by mass torture, of thousands of old Bolsheviks and the majority of Lenin’s closest collaborators to a mere “error” and react indignantly when someone speaks the truth and calls Stalin what he was, a despot and a murderer?

The authors of the article On the Question of Stalin declare: “Khrushchev has maligned Stalin as ‘the greatest dictator in Russian history.’ Does this not mean that the Soviet’ people lived for 30 long years under the ‘tyranny’ of the ‘greatest dictator in Russian history,’ and not under the socialist system?” By stating the question in this form, the authors only prove that they have not yet learned how to distinguish between the socio-economic foundations of society and its political superstructure.

In the history of capitalism many different forms of state and government have appeared, from the extremes of autocracy and fascist dictatorship to what Lenin called “the most advanced forms of bourgeois democratic republics” (including those in which citizens keep arms in their homes as in Switzerland or nineteenth-century America). In the Soviet Union, capitalism was overthrown by the October Revolution and has not been restored since. Property relations remain those of socialization, of a transition towards socialism. The bourgeoisie has completely disappeared as a class.

But just as political counterrevolutions proved possible after the decisive victory of the bourgeois revolution and the definitive establishment of capitalist property relations (for example, the Restoration of 1815 in France) so, experience has shown, a political counter-revolution can destroy the political power of the working class after the destruction of capitalism without qualitatively modifying the socialized property relations.

Such a political counter-revolution occurred in the Soviet Union under Stalin. The social layer that dispossessed the Soviet proletariat in the exercise of political power was the bureaucracy. That there exists a deep antagonism between this bureaucracy and the proletariat is not a “Trotskyite” invention. In his last years Lenin had deep misgivings about the increasing power of the bureaucracy and he was constantly warning about it and preparing for the coming struggle with it. In the final codicil to his testament, which was published for the first time in the Soviet Union only two years ago, Lenin proposed that several hundred workers should be brought into the Central Committee while remaining on the job.

The majority of the Central Committee decided not to act on this advice. They completely misunderstood or underestimated the danger of the bureaucracy as a social formation. Unwittingly they thereby facilitated Stalin’s destruction of Soviet and party democracy and the establishment of his bureaucratic dictatorship. When they finally grasped the danger, it was too late. For this mistake they paid with their lives.

Left Opposition

It will remain the eternal merit of Trotsky and the Left Opposition to have correctly understood the gravity of the danger from the time of Lenin’s death. They correctly defended a policy of industrialization and the maintenance of Soviet democracy, Success in this could have limited the bureaucratic deformation of state and party. Although they suffered defeat, their struggle saved the honor of Bolshevism and the program of communism, making it possible to transmit these precious assets to a new generation. The cause of the Left Opposition became the cause of the Fourth International. It is the cause of revolutionary Marxism today, the cause of Leninism.

Khrushchev and the ruling strata of the Soviet bureaucracy, it is true, are trying to transform Stalin into a scapegoat for the collective crimes committed by the bureaucracy and the leadership of the CPSU in the 1930s and later. When the authors of the article On the Question of Stalin recall Khrushchev’s declarations in 1937–38, when they refer obliquely to Khrushchev’s own role as a butcher of Ukrainian Communists and intellectuals during the Yezovtchina, they do well, be it for obscure reasons of their own.

They write, for instance:

“Why does Khrushchev, who was in the leadership of the party and the state in Stalin’s period, and who actively supported and firmly [!] executed the policy of suppressing counter-revolutionists, repudiate everything done during this period and shift the blame for all the errors on to Stalin alone, while altogether whitewashing himself?”

This scores a good debating point and at the same time serves the more serious purpose of warning Khrushchev that if the fight becomes rougher, the Chinese, or people allied to them, might at a certain point begin disclosing specific crimes committed during the period of the purges by Khrushchev and other associates of his now on the Praesidium of the Central Committee of the CPSU.

If this approach is pursued, two possibilities are open. One is to whitewash Stalin which also whitewashes Khrushchev and the whole Soviet bureaucracy. The other is to indict Khrushchev and the rest of his colleagues for their joint responsibility in Stalin’s crimes. The Chinese leaders seems – for the time being – to have adopted the first course. This leads away from the truth, away from Leninism, away from the Soviet masses. As for us, we prefer the other course.

Un-Marxist Theory

The authors of the article under examination satisfy themselves with denouncing the completely un-Marxist theory of the “personality cult,” without attempting to offer a Marxist, dialectical materialist explanation of the contradictions of Soviet society. Indeed, they even maintain that these contradictions are essentially nonexistent and that all that is involved is the “interrelationship of leaders, party, class and masses.”

This is all the stranger in view of the fact that Mao Tse-tung himself, as late as 1957, i.e., after the Hungarian Revolution, in his speech entitled On the Contradictions within the People, came close to a “Trotskyist” – that is, a Marxist – analysis of these contradictions. Mao’s view was quite different from Khrushchev’s ramblings on the “personality cult,” which cannot be taken seriously by any Marxist. (A cult that dominated society completely, yet had no roots whatsoever in its infrastructure!) Mao’s view was different, too, from that of the authors of On the Question of Stalin with their vulgar platitudes about the “leaders” and the “masses.”

In his well-known speech Mao reduced the basic contradiction “within the people,” in the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat, to the contradiction between workers engaged in production and “administrators.” (We prefer the term used by Marx and Lenin, “bureaucrats.”) From this analysis it is but a step to understanding the crimes of the Stalinist era as resulting from a temporary defeat of the workers by the bureaucracy under specific conditions of isolation of the revolution, backwardness of the country and lack of understanding by the “subjective factor” (the party) after the death of Lenin.

Instead of taking this step forward in the direction of Leninism, the Chinese leaders seem today to be taking a step backward to an absurd denial of social contradictions “within the people” during the dictatorship of the proletariat, to an absurd denial of the crimes of Stalin. The stream of history is moving in a direction opposite to these new errors!

Hungarian Revolution

It is in the light of this same contradiction between the workers and peasants on one hand and the bureaucracy on the other that the working-class uprisings in East Berlin and East Germany July 16–17, 1953, and the demonstrations in Poland and revolution in Hungary in October 1956 must be viewed. The contradiction between the social forces in these countries was rendered all the more violent by economic exploitation and national oppression practiced in these countries under Stalin.

In their first article of reply to the Open Letter of the Central Committee of the CPSU, the editors of the People’s Daily and Red Flag implicitly recognize this fact, for they state: “By moving up troops in an attempt to subdue the Polish comrades by armed force, it [the leadership of the CPSU] committed the error of great-power chauvinism.”

The authors also reveal (a fact widely known in Communist circles) that the leaders of the Chinese Communist party strongly opposed Kremlin intervention in Poland and thereby probably saved the Polish working class and Gomulka from a repetition of the Hungarian tragedy. All the more astonishing is their pride in having pressed for counter-revolutionary intervention against the Hungarian workers: “We insisted on the taking of all necessary measures to smash the counter-revolutionary rebellion in Hungary and firmly opposed the abandonment of socialist Hungary.”

The main social force in rebellion in Hungary was the working class. A couple of facts prove this to the hilt. After Soviet troops smashed the Nagy government, the workers organized one of the longest and most solid general strikes in the history of the international workers’ movement. The freely elected leadership advanced the following purely socialist demands:

“We state expressly that the revolutionary working class considers the factories and the land as property of the people ... We ask for free elections, but only those parties should be allowed to participate in them who recognize and have always recognized the socialist order.”

The authors of On the Question of Stalin did not, of course, compose a pure and simple apology for Stalin, as some people have incorrectly assumed. They note many “errors” committed by Stalin in many fields. Among other things they censure Stalin for “also giving some bad counsel in the international Communist movement. These mistakes caused some [!] losses to the Soviet Union and the international Communist movement.”

When the authors turn to their own country and their own Revolution, this heavy veil of discretion and understatement is replaced by a thinner curtain. We learn that “in the late 20s, the 30s and the early 40s, the Chinese Marxist-Leninists represented by Comrades Mao Tse-tung and Liu Chao-shi resisted the influence of Stalin’s mistakes ...”

In other words, in Chinese affairs, Stalin was wrong for 20 years! A slight error, of course, especially if you happen to know, as the article admits for the first time – at least by implication that the right-wing errors that led to the tragic defeat of the Chinese Revolution of 1925–27 were directly inspired by Stalin’s “bad counsel.”

Instead of repeating the tired phrases about “Trotskyites, Zinovievites, Bukharinites and other bourgeois agents,” the leaders of the Chinese Communist party would do better to make an objective study of the real positions held by L.D. Trotsky and the movement founded by him, both in the past and at present. Thus they would discover that Trotsky correctly opposed both the “rightist” and “leftist” errors of Stalin and the Comintern leadership up to 1932, even before Mao Tse-tung felt that something was wrong.

Surely the leaders of the Chinese Communist party must know that the Trotskyists everywhere in the world have been the staunchest defenders of the great Chinese Revolution and the great People’s Republic of China against the attacks of Nehru’s capitalist regime and its apologists. Surely they must know that these same Trotskyists everywhere in the world defend the Chinese Communist party against the slanders of the Khrushchevites who have suddenly discovered that it is Mao Tse-tung and his comrades and not the American imperialists who are “warmongers” and people desirous of “provoking nuclear world war.” At a moment when the Chinese CP is under a constant barrage of slander of the purest Stalinist type; at a moment when Khrushchev and his henchmen are labeling the Chinese-comrades “splitters” and “wreckers” because they dare introduce their Communist literature into the Soviet Union, even printed – what blasphemy! – in the Russian language, it is scarcely a good example of proletarian morals for the Chinese comrades to employ the same kind of slanders against the Trotskyists. Please don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you, comrades!

When Izvestia devotes a half page to proving that the Fourth International favors the side of the Chinese CP on some important points in the dispute with Moscow and hence a “bloc” exists between Peking and the Trotskyists, shouldn’t it prove embarrassing to the leaders of the Chinese CP to claim that these supporters are “bourgeois agents?”

But Stalin’s “bad counsel” was not limited to Chinese affairs. Let us recall a few examples. Isn’t it well known that Stalin opposed the Yugoslav Communist party’s fighting for power from 1943 on, as in 1946 he opposed Mao Tse-tung’s turning toward the struggle for power? Isn’t it well known that he advocated the same capitulationist line for Vietnam? How do the Chinese leaders judge the fact that every revolution that achieved a dictatorship of the proletariat by its own independent force in Stalin’s time had to do so against his opposition?

Some of Stalin’s “errors” happily did not prevent final victory. But what about the more disastrous “errors” that continue to bear consequences to this very day? Do the Chinese leaders believe today that Stalin was right in the criminal line he advocated in Germany from 1929 to 1933, according to which not fascism but the social-democracy was the main enemy and the main target to be attacked by the German Communist party?

Do they approve of the class-collaborationist, right-wing, opportunist line applied by Stalin in Spain in 1936-39 which strangled the Spanish social revolution and thereby greatly facilitated Franco’s military victory? And what about participating in and upholding capitalist governments, aiding in reconstructing the bourgeois army and the bourgeois state apparatus in France and Italy after the second world war, a course carried out by the Communist parties under direct instructions from Stalin which ended up by destroying highly favorable conditions for the victory of the working class in Western Europe?

The balance sheet of these “errors” is indeed staggering. Repeated over such a long period, in so many countries, can they still be called just “errors”? For a Marxist, wouldn’t it be more correct to call it a fundamentally wrong policy? And in that case, isn’t it necessary to probe for the social roots of Stalinist opportunism, just as Lenin probed for the social roots of reformist opportunism?

Feeble Control

It is true, as the authors of the article claim in passing, that the leaders of the Chinese CP succeeded in correcting or preventing some of these “errors” and essentially kept their own counsel. They were able to do so and finally lead the Chinese Revolution to victory because of the feebleness of Comintern control due to their relative geographical isolation. But they know that Stalin intervened directly in the leadership of the Chinese CP several times to try to put people in charge whom he considered sufficiently subservient to himself.

It is scarcely cause for wonder then that in most Communist parties, ruthless intervention by the Stalinist international apparatus succeeded in eliminating from leadership genuine revolutionary figures, rooted in the labor movements of their own countries. The Kremlin replaced these revolutionists by servile, spineless executors of Stalin’s orders, no matter how contradictory or how they subordinated the interests of the international revolutionary movement to the diplomatic maneuvers and passing needs of Soviet foreign policy.

Ever since the Tito crisis of 1948, and more especially since Stalin’s death in 1953, the world crisis of Stalinism has continued to deepen. In order to save what they rightly consider to be the essence of their rule – economic privileges and a monopoly of politics – the Soviet bureaucrats have been forced to make one concession after another to the Soviet masses as they press for restoration of Soviet democracy. The abandonment of the Stalin cult in 1956 at the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU was the most important of these concessions, the one that created the most contradictions within the international Stalinist apparatus itself.

Today no objective basis whatever exists, either in the Soviet Union or in the East European workers’ states, for a return to that cult. The Soviet masses are not much interested in Byzantine speculation about what Stalin said or really meant by this or that statement about the party and its cadres. But they are extremely interested in preventing any return to the system under which workers could be condemned to hard labor for being as little as 20 minutes late to the job. They are extremely interested in preventing a return to a system under which their standard of living was ruthlessly sacrificed in the name of an industrial “giantism” in which heartbreaking waste occurred due to bureaucratic mismanagement. They are very interested in overcoming the inhuman housing shortage that began in Stalin’s time. They are more and more interested in participating directly in control and management of the economy and state – rights, the exercise of which was utterly destroyed under Stalin.

When they hear the Chinese leaders say, “Long live Leninism!” they think of Lenin’s teachings on socialist democracy, on the highest functions being exercised by simple workers, on the dictatorship of the proletariat being the first form of the state destined to wither away from the moment of its creation. On all these great themes of Lenin’s work State and Revolution, the Chinese leaders are, however, strangely silent.

Faced with this deepening mood of the masses, no sector of the Soviet bureaucracy that keeps in touch with reality dares to play with the “defense of Stalin,” for this would be the most certain way of cutting themselves from the rank and file of the party and the masses of workers and peasants, and most likely precipitating an immediate violent political crisis in the country. For the same reason, any policy geared to “rehabilitate Stalin” bars a “bloc” with any part of the Soviet bureaucracy. It is a sterile attempt to make an alliance with the shade hanging over the bureaucracy in opposition to all the real social forces of the Soviet Union, including the bulk of the bureaucracy itself.

To seek such an “alliance” can lead to nothing but isolation and utter failure. In the same way, no objective basis exists today for the creation of an international faction in the world Communist movement that would prove subservient to the Chinese state or any other state. The Yugoslavs found this out at some cost to themselves.

On the other hand, it is perfectly true that ever since the Twentieth Congress, a dual process has been affecting the leadership of the world Communist movement. Parallel to the so-called “de-Stalinization” process a more and more pronounced right-wing orientation has appeared among the leaderships of nearly all the Communist parties in the capitalist countries, imperialist and colonial alike.

Because they rightly criticize the neo-reformist, neo-Bernsteinian theory and practice of a “peaceful, parliamentarian road to socialism through gradual structural reforms”; because they condemn the criminal policy of trying to convince the American workers and Negroes that they should support the Democratic Party, which also happens to be the party of the most rabid Jim Crow Southern Bourbons; because they violently and correctly condemn the shameful capitulation of the Dange leadership before the Indian bourgeoisie; because they advocate that the Latin-American masses should follow the road blazed by the Cuban revolutionists; in brief because they in general advocate in most capitalist countries a more leftist policy – albeit often not a completely correct revolutionary Marxist one – and defend the ABCs of Lenin’s teachings on the state and the dictatorship of the proletariat, the Chinese Communists have already won much sympathy among the rank and file of the world Communist movement and they can win more.

Poor Policy

But the rank and file of these parties are well aware that it is utterly impossible to advance the cause of socialism by “defending Stalin.” They can only feel embarrassment over anyone who tries it. To try to “rehabilitate Stalin” will neither help them win Communist militants to the Chinese position nor facilitate the task of winning stronger positions among the masses of their respective countries. This line also cuts them off from the genuine left-wing Communists in the workers’ states, who are against Khrushchev, not because he has carried out “de-Stalinization” but because he doesn’t go far enough with it! Since the elements most sympathetic to the Chinese CP are generally the most independent-minded in all these Communist parties, the strange “campaign” advocating a “return to Stalin” instead of a “return to Lenin” insults their intelligence, clashes with their class consciousness and proletarian instincts and arouses an opposition which they will most certainly express.

The bureaucratic maneuver of speaking up for Stalin thus only leads into an impasse. In China itself, the Communists who come to understand this will increase in number from month to month. In the case of China, as has already been shown in the case of the Soviet Union, the effort to build an international faction will have important consequences through the introduction of strong pressures and contradictions within the movement of those who start it. It is very important to have a correct program!

For Chinese Communists the choice today is very clear: either backward to Stalin, to complete isolation from the masses in the “socialist” camp and growing isolation from the advanced militants and left Communists of the capitalist countries; or forward to Lenin, to full restoration of Leninism in correspondence with the needs and aspirations of the great majority of Communists in the workers’ states as well as the capitalist states and in correspondence with the objective needs of the world socialist revolution today.

Last updated on 3.7.2013