George Novack writing as William F. Warde

New Judgment on the Sino-Soviet Rift:
Monthly Review and the Great Debate

Written: Summer 1963
Source: International Socialist Review, Vol. 24, No. 3, Summer 1963, pp. 67-73.
Transcription/Editing: Daniel Gaido
HTML Markup: David Walters
Public Domain: George Novack Internet Archive 2005. This work is completely free to copy and distribute.

The Sine-Soviet dispute is upsetting relations between the workers’ states and shaking up the Communist parties. It is also forcing other currents of opinion in the socialist movement to clarify their positions on the controversial issues and declare their attitude toward the principal protagonists. The perplexities provoked among radicals by the unexpected widening of the schism between the two major members of the Soviet bloc and by their devious handling of the Great Debate are mirrored in Monthly Review, the most widely circulated organ of academic Marxism in the United States. Its editors used to believe in the predestined harmony of all countries in the “socialist camp” as well as the absence of conflict between Stalin and the Soviet people. The developments of the past decade have shattered these illusions. To be sure, the 1948 split between Moscow and Belgrade had occurred before then. But this could be dismissed as an exceptional event, an aberration due to Stalin’s intransigence. After Khrushchev embarked on de-Stalinization and effected a reconciliation with Tito, this impediment was removed. However, Moscow’s resumption of friendly relations with Belgrade coincided with a rupture with Albania and deepening differences with Communist China. How was this to be explained and which party to the dispute was right?

The first reaction of the Monthly Review editors was to side with Moscow. After describing the views of the disputants, they offered the following evaluation in their December 1961 issue:

“. . . We have no doubt whatever that the Russians are right and the Chinese wrong. The Chinese position seems to us to be a typical example of a kind of dogmatic leftism that has appeared again and again in the history of the international socialist movement. Two of the distinguishing hallmarks by which it can be recognized are underestimation of nationalism and the lumping together of all opposition in an undifferentiated reactionary mass. It always exudes super-militancy and preaches no compromise.”

As the dispute has unfolded, doubts about the correctness of their original conclusions mounted. Today the editors have reversed their stand. In a special issue on “The Split in the Socialist World” (May, 1963) they announce that their former analysis was wrong and they now support the Chinese against the Russians. They write:

“On the main issue in the controversy—whether the struggle for peace or the struggle against imperialism should take priority—we are convinced that the Chinese do indeed have the truth on their side. Real peace will never be achieved much less guaranteed, as long as imperialism exists. And we are also convinced that the Chinese are right that imperialism can and will suffer decisive defeats at the hands of revolutionary peoples of the underdeveloped countries.”

The Monthly Review editors now assert that the Chinese have the correct revolutionary positions on the key questions: the character of the historical period through which the world is passing, the nature of imperialism and how to fight it, the possibilities of peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism, and the program of “structural reform” versus proletarian revolution for the advanced capitalist countries. They protest against the misrepresentation of the Chinese views by Khrushchev and his associates.

“The Chinese are accused of wanting to advance the cause of socialism through world war, of advocating and practicing adventurist foreign policies, of stirring up premature revolts, of ignorance of conditions outside their own country, and so on and so forth. All of these charges are false, as anyone who knows the history of the recent past and takes the trouble to read the relevant Chinese literature can easily verify.”

They applaud the Chinese for publishing both sides of the debate while the Soviet leadership suppresses the Chinese replies to the accusations against them.

This shift from Khrushchev to Mao on the issues of the international class struggle raised by the Great Debate is a step forward by the Monthly Review editors. Their rectification of a hasty judgment and their openness to argument shines by comparison with the lackey reflexes of the American CP leaders who have dutifully snapped to attention under Khrushchev’s baton, incurring the scorn of Peking for “prettifying” Kennedy as a prospective preserver of world peace.

Defects of the Argument

Do the revised opinions of Monthly Review provide an adequate analysis of the Sine-Soviet dispute? The editors at least now do justice to the Chinese where their policies are right against the Russian. But their current viewpoint still has serious defects. One of the principal points discussed in their article concerns the revision of Marxism. Who represents authentic scientific socialism and who has abandoned its methods in the Sino-Soviet conflict? In 1961 Huberman and Sweezy maintained that, despite their differences, both the “Soviet and Chinese positions are built on common Marxist foundations.” This is as though Lenin, in his fight against revisionism and opportunism, had emphasized that Bolsheviks and Social-Democrats both appealed to the traditions of Marx in their polemics.

Now the editors say that only the Chinese are orthodox Marxist-Leninists. “The Russians and their followers, by comparison, are undoubtedly the modern revisionists the Chinese describe them as.” They no longer depict Khrushchev as the realistic statesman restraining the super-militant Chinese Communists from reckless acts. He, together with Togliatti and (we presume) Gus Hall, is a revisionist who has “thrown dialectical and historical materialism to the winds and . . . put in its place the most commonplace kind of pragmatism.”

As for themselves, Huberman and Sweezy claim to be true-red Marxists but somewhat unorthodox Leninists, particularly on the question of revisionism. They state that, while most of Lenin’s ideas were valid, his theory of Social-Democratic revisionism has not stood up and should be discarded. And since the Chinese attempt to extend Lenin’s conceptions about revisionism from the Social Democracy to the “modern revisionism” of Khrushchev, Togliatti and Tito, they too fall down.

The gist of their reasoning is as follows: The Chinese repeat after Lenin that revisionism is “bourgeois ideology which infiltrated into the ranks of the workers.” The vehicle of this infiltration is the labor aristocracy which turns against the interests of the masses and transmits the pressures of the bourgeoisie. This theory of revisionism, they hold, is wrong on two counts. In the first place, the Bolsheviks were proved wrong and the Social Democracy was right “for the simple reason that the Social Democrats and not the Communists expressed what the workers felt to be their real interests. The workers, in other words, were not revolutionaries at heart, and no amount of exhortation by the Communists could turn them into revolutionaries.”

Huberman and Sweezy write as though the original conflict between the revolutionary Marxist and reformist-revisionist trends in the European labor movement began over questions of strategy in the years following the First World War and the Russian Revolution. It actually broke out in full force in 1914 over the issue of supporting the imperialist war and then during 1917-1918 over the policies to be pursued in promoting the Russian and European revolution to victory. Lenin’s ideas on revisionism were most positively tested during the Russian Revolution in the Bolshevik contest for leadership of the insurrectionary masses against the Mensheviks and other reformist tendencies. His theory of the causes of revisionism was not simply an academic exercise; it served above all as an instrument of orientation and a guide to action in the struggle for workers’ power.

The Working Class is Blamed

The counter theory offered at this late date by Monthly Review shifts the responsibility for the subsequent defeats of the revolutionary movement from the Social-Democratic leaders to the working class. Yet it was these leaders, and not the workers, who were not “revolutionaries at heart.” This does not mean that the working class was ready for revolution or that the struggle for power was on the agenda at all times. But during the periods of recession in the struggle the Social-Democratic reformists and centrists failed to prepare for the next upsurge and, when that broke out despite them, they refused to mobilize the workers for the showdown with the capitalist rulers, and even sold out their movement.

According to Huberman and Sweezy, however, the Social-Democratic leaders—and the Stalinists who later imitated their example—were adjusting to “what the workers felt to be their real interests.” They do not necessarily think that the reformists were right in doing so but the latter were at least acting as realists in opposition to the romanticism and “dogmatic leftism” of Lenin’s followers.

Leaving aside all the other revolutionary opportunities that were mishandled and missed from the defeated Germany of 1918 to the crisis-torn France of 1934-36, how does such an interpretation, based on the non-revolutionary disposition of the workers and the common sense of their official leaders, fare in respect to the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1938? Were the Spanish workers so averse to revolutionary action that “no amount of exhortation by the Communists could turn them into revolutionaries”? In truth, the Communist and Socialist parties imposed upon the insurgent masses reformist, i.e., counter-revolutionary, policies that lost both the civil war and the revolution. The revisionists of the 1930’s did not express or represent either the real feelings or the basic interests of the working masses, any more than did the German Social-Democratic leaders of the 1920’s or the Communist leaders who helped Generals de Gaulle and Badoglio restore capitalism in Western Europe at the close of the Second World War.

The “Non-revolutionary” Workers

However, the main function of the editors’ rejection of the Leninist theory of the causes of revisionism is not to exculpate the misdeeds of the Social Democracy from 1915 to today but to provide an “objective” rationale for the Kremlin’s current line. According to them, the source and support of Khrushchev’s revisionism is not to be found in the special interests of any labor aristocracy but in the non-revolutionary attitude and outlook of the Soviet people which he faithfully reflects.

“. . . The Soviet people are no more revolutionary than the workers of the advanced capitalist countries, though for different reasons. It is not that they have shared as junior partners in the exploitation of a dependent empire, but rather that they have already made their revolution, have successfully defended it in violent struggles, and have laid the foundations of a rapid advance to higher standards of living. What they want now is a long period of peace and quiet in which to get on with the business in hand . . . . Marxism-Leninism is in its essence, as the Chinese correctly insist, a revolutionary doctrine addressed to the oppressed and exploited of the world. How can it be expected to appeal to people who are not oppressed or exploited and who have no need of a revolution?”

The Communist parties in the advanced capitalist countries likewise go along with the anti-revolutionary temper of their own working classes. The Chinese, on the other hand, are so fervently militant because they live in the colonial area, the hotbed of world revolution.

Thus the Communist parties are not vanguard organizations of struggle which strive to radicalize the labor movement but purely passive registers and accurate reflectors of the given state of consciousness of the masses in their own countries. Although the Monthly Review editors express disapproval of all this, they sympathetically understand its inevitability.

This simple image of the role of the Communist parties will not stand much inspection. It assumes that the policies of the Communist parties in the capitalist countries are arrived at independently of Moscow and under national influences alone. And it ignores the fact that they can at times undertake adventuristic actions which suit the diplomatic needs of the Kremlin, even though these may run counter to the sentiments and welfare of the workers. Nor does the notion of direct correspondence between the CP line and the mood of the masses hold good for many colonial countries. In Iraq, as Tabitha Petran points out in the same issue, the Communist leaders from 1959 on followed a purely opportunistic course of support to the Kassim dictatorship under highly advantageous revolutionary conditions.

Questions to Chinese Communists

Despite the flaws in their own theory, the Monthly Review editors do pose questions to the Chinese Communists which lead to the core of the problem of “modern revisionism.” The Chinese, they say, correctly characterize Khrushchev and his fellow CP leaders as revisionists. But, according to the Leninism they swear by, revisionism has its social roots in the creation of a labor bureaucracy and a labor aristocracy. Where, they ask, is such a social basis to be found in the Soviet Union to account for the prevalence of revisionism among its leaders? “Does it make sense to speak of bourgeois influence penetrating the ranks of the Soviet workers through a labor aristocracy?”

The question is well put. Monthly Review answers it by denying the existence of any privileged social strata in the Soviet Union. The Leninist method therefore is for them wholly irrelevant. The editors are able to do this so easily, not only by ignoring the gross inequalities within the Soviet social structure, but by avoiding all reference to the well-known Trotskyist theory of the bureaucratization of the Soviet regime under Stalinism. They locate the causes of “modern revisionism,” not in the material conditions and social differentiations of the workers’ states, but in the conservatism of the masses. [1] They point out that Khrushchev is “the fountainhead” of this revisionism in world communism.

But the present Premier is only rendering more explicit and carrying forward in practice the disfigurements of Marxist-Leninist doctrine initiated under Stalin. Khrushchev denies this. (He wishes to cover his own tracks and obliterate the memory of his teacher and sponsor.) The Chinese deny this. (They uphold Stalin as the continuator of Leninism and decry Khrushchev as an anti-Leninist.) The Monthly Review editors do not care to mention this. (Is that because they might have to review their entire attitude toward Stalinism and Trotskyism?) Yet it is the case.

There is no need to disqualify Lenin’s conception of the nature of labor opportunism to explain Stalin’s or Khrushchev’s course. It is only necessary to know how to apply Lenin’s method and ideas to the development, or more precisely, the political degeneration of the Soviet regime and the Communist parties from his death in 1924, as Trotsky did.

Stalinism, he explained, was a reactionary and revisionist tendency which arose within the Bolshevik party because of the isolation, economic and cultural backwardness of the young Soviet Republic fighting for survival. Its immediate social nucleus was the newborn Soviet bureaucracy which had its main social supports in the peasantry and labor aristocracy. This privileged bureaucratic caste, in the government, army, party and economy, straddled the two major social forces within the Soviet Union, now leaning on one, now turning to the other, as the necessities of self-preservation dictated.

Bureaucracy’s Dual Role

The Soviet bureaucracy had an equally ambivalent position on the world arena which was responsible for the violent zigzags in its foreign policies. While it sought to accommodate itself and conclude deals with the imperialists at the expense of the international working class, when it was threatened with attack by this or that sector of the imperialist powers, it had to summon the workers to its aid.

This dual nature and role of the Stalinist bureaucracy is not unique. It can be seen in the conduct of other union and socialist bureaucracies. For instance, such an incorrigible conservative as David McDonald, head of the United Steelworkers, was compelled to lead a 116-day strike against the steel companies after collaborating with them for years against the workers and visiting the U.S. Steel plants on a goodwill mission arm in arm with the corporation president.

Khrushchev does not represent the real interests nor fulfill the demands of the Soviet workers; he is the executive agent of the upper must of Soviet society. But he is subjected to the ever more insistent and unsatisfied demands of the masses as well as the claims of the more enlightened sections of the intelligentsia. He has had to make significant concessions to these in order to preserve and protect the dominance of his ruling group.

The Communist parties who are under Moscow’s tutelage are primarily subject to the crass opportunism expressed in Khrushchev’s line of “peaceful coexistence” and secondarily to the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois influences emanating from their national environments. This is as true of the weak and discredited American CP as of the big and strong French CP.

A Dangerous Subject for Chinese

If the Monthly Review editors see no merit in Lenin’s teachings on revisionism (which, parenthetically, extended and enriched Marx and Engels’ theory of the opportunism of the British labor leaders of their own day), the Chinese Communists dare not press their application too far. In dealing with Khrushchev’s revisionism, they have not passed beyond the spheres of ideology and policy to probe into the sociological foundations of the phenomenon, as materialists should.

If they did so, they would have to conclude that a privileged caste of bureaucrats had grown up and usurped power in the Soviet Union, embarking on an opportunistic course which involved the renunciation of the struggle to overthrow imperialism and the trampling on the rights of other workers’ states in a spirit of “great-power chauvinism.” The only effort along sociological lines so far issuing from Peking has been a maladroit attempt to insinuate that Khrushchev is leading the Soviet Union back toward capitalism where Tito has presumably already taken Yugoslavia.

The Peking ideologists shrink from adopting a Marxist explanation of the root causes of “modern revisionism” much as Khrushchev refrains from digging into the real reasons for “the cult of the individual.” It would inexorably force them—or others who are more consistent—to go back and reexamine the historic origins of this revisionism in the reaction to the Russian Revolution which concentrated power in the Stalin faction and embalmed Lenin’s program along with his body. It would also oblige them to reopen the whole question of Trotskyism and its role as the Marxist antithesis of Stalinism.

Still further, it would show that Khrushchev’s projected aim of building “Communism” in one country, which is one of the major sources of friction between Russia and China, originated with Stalin. This is the current version of the bureaucratic break with Lenin’s socialist internationalism first formulated in Stalin’s nationalist concept of building “socialism” in the USSR. The perspective of building an isolated and independent socialist paradise within the confines of the Soviet state was the official charter of the Soviet bureaucracy, just as the theory of the gradual, peaceful transformation of capitalism into socialism was the characteristic ideology of European Social Democracy. Khrushchev has now taken over both.

Mao and his associates have also absorbed this fundamentally anti-Marxist concept from Stalinism and are endeavoring to realize it in their own domain. At the height of the euphoria during the “Great Leap Forward” in 1958, some overzealous Chinese theoreticians even spoke of skipping the “socialist” stage and going directly to communism through the peoples’ Communes.

Soviet Key to Revolution

At the Twenty-Second Congress of the Russian CP, Khrushchev elevated this policy to new heights by proclaiming that the Soviet Union, having completed the creation of socialism, would be “the first country to advance to communism.” This became the cornerstone of the new 1961 program which said that “the successes of Communist construction spell abundance and a happy life for all, and enhance the might, prestige and glory of the Soviet Union.” The program also promises that the vision of these blessings would “win the hearts and minds of the masses” in the rest of the world and become the most potent factor in the elimination of capitalism.

This idea that the main motive power of the anti-capitalist revolution is henceforth to be, not the class struggle, but the economic successes of the Soviet Union is, as Monthly Review points out, a relapse into pure idealism. It reincarnates for our generation the Utopian socialism based on the belief that the force of good example would attract enough popular support to make the exploiters abandon their fleshpots and sources of power. In fact the economic advances cannot in themselves even induce the Soviet bureaucrats to renounce their privileges, although they can prepare the preconditions for their overthrow by the people.

The Kremlin policy proceeding from this premise not only cuts out the central role of international class struggle; it strikes at the prospects of economic development of the less favored workers’ states. The Soviet program itself asserts that, because of their dissimilar economic and cultural levels, different countries will complete social construction and enter “the full-scale construction of communism” at different times. According to Moscow’s timetable, the Soviet Union goes first and China last.

Viewed in purely demographic terms, this order gives the material interests of 200 million people prolonged priority over those of 700 million. This minority is to enjoy the plenty of communism while the majority lags far behind.

Through Comecon (Council for Mutual Economic Aid) the Soviet Union is engaged in the beginnings of trans-national economic planning with the East European countries exclusive of Yugoslavia and Albania. China, however, has no place in the Soviet plans of economic integration and development. Meanwhile, Moscow has been giving more economic aid to capitalist countries like India, Indonesia and Egypt, than to Communist China. To rub salt into a deep wound, it has withdrawn its technicians and torn up hundreds of economic agreements, reducing exchanges to a minimum.

The enormous difficulties arising at this stage from the uneven economic development of the workers’ states and their inadequate productive capacities cannot be easily or quickly overcome. It is one of the most critical problems of the transitional period from capitalism to socialism.

The immediate requirements of the two countries is one aspect of the problem; its long-term solution is quite another. Specific decisions regarding trade agreements, mutual aid, the rate and modes of economic integration, etc., would have to be worked out by representatives of the workers’ states judiciously and fairly in the light of the onerous existing conditions. Khrushchev has remained silent on this aspect of their differences. Peking has not fully discussed the problem in its polemics, although it has begun to divulge such consequences of the Kremlin’s policies as the use and abuse of economic aid as an instrument of diplomatic and political pressure.

Roots of the Bitterness

The bitterness of the clash between Moscow and Peking flows from the operation of the policy and perspective of building “communism” in one country, regardless of its harmful effects upon the progress of the other workers’ states and the international struggle for socialism. The political backsliding of the Soviet regime under Stalin, and the great- power chauvinism and bureaucratic opportunism under Khrushchev, which the Chinese inveigh against, have the same fundamental base. Both issue from the practical denial of the primordial role of the international proletarian struggle for power and the substitution of purely nationalist objectives in the movement for socialism.

Peking recognizes some of the consequences of this course but fails to uncover its ideological or sociological roots. So long as the Chinese Communists refuse to regard Khrushchev’s “revisionism” as the prolongation of Stalin’s anti-Leninist bureaucratic nationalism under changed circumstances and in new forms, they will be unable to give an adequate Marxist explanation for the division or develop a correct policy for coping with it.

Two Kindred World Views

The Monthly Review editors have not swung over to the Chinese side entirely because of the power of their arguments and the correctness of their positions. They have kindred views on the world situation and the strategy of the anti-imperialist struggle. For some time Monthly Review has staked everything on the progress of the colonial revolution alone. They agree with the Chinese that the underdeveloped countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America are “the weakest links in the imperialist chain” and therefore “the key to a successful fight against imperialism is to be found in the revolutionary struggles of the people in those areas.”

Since the masses of Asia, Africa and Latin America are impelled toward revolution by intolerable conditions while the workers in the advanced capitalism are conservative and so is the Soviet people, the sole chance of revolutionary advances and victories now lies in the colonial world. That is why the revolutionary movements in the underdeveloped countries “constitute the crucial factor in the all-important struggle against imperialism.”

The premise underlying this outlook is most clearly formulated in a companion article by the pro-Peking Uruguayan writer, Eduardo Galeano, in the same MR issue. He says that the Chinese recognize that “the fundamental contradiction of our time resides in the struggle between the rich countries and the poor countries. The anger of the Chinese shows that this contradiction cuts across social regimes and appears as much in the communist as in the capitalist world.”

This notion of an irreconcilable opposition between the prosperous bourgeosified and the poor proletarianized peoples, regardless of their socio-economic structures and internal class divisions, is prevalent throughout the colonial lands. It reflects both the realities of uneven economic development and the uneven progress of the world revolution. But it is a break with Marxism, which sees the fundamental contradiction and motive force of social development in our epoch in the conflict of classes and categorically separates countries where capitalist relations have been abolished from countries dominated by imperialism.

The existence of oppressed peoples and their just struggles for national and social liberation and the efforts of poor and backward nations to raise their productive powers and increase their wealth does not nullify the basic division of contemporary society into exploiters and exploited wherever capitalism holds sway and imperialism operates.

The theory of basic conflict between the hungry and the satisfied bloc, whether capitalist or Soviet, is supplemented by the concept of the all-saving mission of the colonial revolution. This also reflects realities of the present period. There is a disastrous cleavage between the colonial revolution and the mass moods and movements in the advanced capitalism. This has been sharply evidenced in the inertia of the French workers’ movement under Communist and Socialist direction toward the Algerian fight for independence and the even greater indifference and lack of understanding displayed by the American workers toward the Cuban revolution at their doorstep.

But it would be wrong to use this lag in the development of the different areas of the class struggle as the groundwork for a global theory of revolutionary strategy which counterpoises the colonial world to the West or to the Soviet sphere as a whole. The imperialist states, the Soviet bloc and the colonial and semi-colonial countries constitute three major sectors in the world struggle for socialism today. The problem is to link all three together in an over-all strategic conception of the world revolution which assigns to each the real part it plays in the entire process and keeps their interrelations and interactions clearly in mind.

The Chinese Communists are correct in saying-that Africa, Asia and Latin America are presently “the focus of all the contradictions of the capitalist world, the weakest link in the imperialist chain and the storm center of world revolution.” But that does not exhaust the question. In so far as the colonial countries break out of the world capitalist system and take the road to socialism, as China, North Vietnam and Cuba have done, they weaken the power and positions of the imperialist centers. But by themselves the forces of the colonial revolution cannot bring about the downfall of imperialism.

U.S. Still the Key

It will require the supremacy of the workers over the capitalists in the most highly developed imperialist countries before mankind can be definitively freed from the threat of nuclear annihilation and the way to socialism be cleared. The Chinese do not see, or at least they do not clearly state, that the key to world peace and a socialist society of abundance lies, not in the colonial areas, but in the centers of capitalism, above all in the United States. So long as the militarists and monopolists in Washington have their fingers on the nuclear button, they can wipe out in a few hours all the achievements of civilization.

The crucial and decisive role of the workers’ struggle for power in the advanced capitalist countries is the revolutionary Marxist answer to Khrushchev’s illusions about “peaceful coexistence” as a panacea and the false expectations that either the economic successes of the Soviet bloc or the cumulative victories of the colonial revolution can suffice, by themselves and without the victory of the Western workers, to overcome imperialism and its evils.

Struggle against Bureaucracy Omitted

In addition to the struggle against imperialism and neo-colonialism in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, and the struggle of the workers against the capitalist rulers in the imperialist strongholds, there is the struggle of the masses against the bureaucrats that has been pervading the Soviet bloc since Stalin’s death. The Monthly Revieweditors do not mention or include this in their reappraisal, as though it was not an issue in the Sine-Soviet dispute.

Yet it is no accident that the present conflict emerged after the Twentieth Congress where the cult of Stalin was denounced. Since then, the struggle for democratization of the workers’ states and their relations with one another revolving around desalinization has been one of the capital issues in the Communist world.

Unfortunately, the Chinese take the wrong side in this burning question. They regard the demolition of the Stalin cult and other liberalization measures wrested from his successors, not as gains won by the masses, but as unwarranted concessions to non-proletarian forces and bourgeois influences. They back up the Albanian regime whose Premier distinguished himself at the Fourth Party Congress in February 1961 with the following prescription: “For those who stand in the way of party unity: a spit in the face, a sock in the jaw, and, if necessary, a bullet in the head.” They are in a de facto bloc with the discredited Stalinist diehards of the Molotov type who would like to stage a comeback and halt further steps toward liberalization. They continue the cult of Stalin and supplement it with the cult of Mao-Tse-tung. They maintain a monolithic domestic regime with no room for the expression of dissent against the official line either within the ranks of the ruling party or in the country.

Peking’s Unreconstructed Stalinism

The issue of workers democracy versus bureaucratic domination is not a minor or incidental matter. It now agitates the entire Communist movement to one degree or another. The further development of the anti-bureaucratic struggles in the Soviet bloc will have momentous effects for good or ill upon the future of the entire socialist cause. The unreconstructed Stalinism exhibited by Peking, Albania and their co-thinkers on this point is far less praiseworthy or palatable than the inadequate reforms granted by the Khrushchev tendency.

The failure of Monthly Review to deal with this aspect of the dispute is not only a serious gap in their presentation. It indicates that, although their new position is an improvement upon the old, it is no less one-sided and uncritical. This is all the more regrettable because, in the preceding issue of the magazine (April 1963), Professor Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy put forward excellent views on the relations between proletarian revolution and democracy in a rejoinder to the arguments of Anatoly Butenko, a Lecturer in Philosophy at Moscow University, who objected to their criticisms of Stalin and of current Soviet policies. They wrote:

“We believe that revolutions, especially when combined with forced economic marches, create conditions conducive to excessive political repression, to abuses of power, to unnecessary curtailment of individual freedoms. The remedy, however, is not to be found in selection of good leaders, important though that certainly is, but in the preservation of popular control over leaders, in maintaining and extending the democratic institutions and civil liberties of the working people, in confining repression to active counter-revolutionaries. This was the policy advocated by Marx and Engels; it was the policy practiced under the most trying and difficult circumstances by the Russian Bolsheviks during Lenin’s lifetime; it is the policy being practiced in Cuba today. It seems to us that it has never been more necessary than it is now for socialists to insist on this policy of revolutionary democracy, and to combine this insistence with a careful analysis of all the obstacles that stand in the path of its realization.”

Workers’ democracy and control is no less an economic than a moral and political issue. Under nationalization accurate and harmonious planning becomes the key to optimum economic growth. The workers, who constitute the vital productive force, must be able to assert not only their preferences as consumers, but their proposals as producers. If the planners are guided by the collective experience of the producers, workers’ democracy stimulates the fastest rate of growth.

The Chinese people could be among the beneficiaries of a more rapid and well-proportioned economic growth of a democratically administered Soviet Union. Furthermore, the establishment of institutions of workers and peasants control in China would not only inspire the entire colonial revolution but could have saved the Chinese people from the disastrous recklessness which attended the “Great Leap Forward” since 1958 and the organization of the Communes. The Peking leaders themselves now admit that the growth rate suffered and grave mistakes were made because of lack of communication between the people and the planners.

The question of revolutionary democracy in the workers’ states posed by the de-Stalinization process is no less important in the Great Debate than the problems of strategy in the anti-imperialist struggle. It would be unwarranted to ignore either one or the other. The outstanding merit of the Fidelistas, as Baran and Sweezy stress, is that they combine correct attitudes on both of the cardinal issues in the dispute: international class struggle policy and workers’ democracy. If Moscow and Belgrade most gravely default on the first, Peking and Tirana go wrong on the second.

Monthly Review’s Political Orientation

The Monthly Review advertises itself as “an independent socialist magazine.” It certainly has no connections with any organized radical groups or party. It appeals primarily to disaffiliated and detached individuals interested in Marxist ideas which do not lead to any mass action or socialist organization. Yet the publication is not so ideologically independent of the main tendencies of socialist or communist thought as its editors claim or hope to be. For a long time Monthly Review traveled in the orbit of international Stalinism, keeping a proper distance from the American CP which servilely followed the Kremlin line.

Since the Khrushchev revelations and the Polish-Hungarian events of 1956, they have shaken loose from their old path and are seeking another anchorage. Like C. Wright Mills and many others, they have been inspired and uplifted by the colonial revolution. In the face of the weakness and cowardice of the Social-Democrat and Communist parties in the metropolitan centers, they have deposited all their hopes for the regeneration of socialism and the reconstruction of society in the colonial revolution, just as the fellow-traveling radicals of the 1930’s focused upon the Soviet Union. They have been firm supporters and influential expositors of the ideas and aims of the Cuban and Latin American revolutions.

From a Marxist standpoint, there are two fundamental defects in their orientation and outlook. One is their prejudice against any efforts for the formation of a revolutionary workers’ party in the United States and even against participation in socialist electoral action. They manage to convert Marxism into a means for learned commentary on world events rather than a guide to political action and organization, as Lenin taught it should be.

The other weakness comes out in their reactions to the Sine-Soviet dispute. In switching from Khrushchev to Mao, they have not succeeded in acquiring genuine ideological independence of the principal contending power centers in the Soviet world. They are as uncritical and categorical in their attitude toward Peking as they were previously to Moscow.

Neither the Russian nor the Chinese Communists hold completely correct Marxist-Leninist positions in the Great Debate. This is not a clear-cut conflict between a reformist and a revolutionary leadership on the model of the Bolshevik struggle against the Social Democracy. It is a far more complex and contradictory situation in which two bureaucratic formations, both of Stalinist origin and schooling are reacting to very different pressures from imperialism, the worker-peasant masses, the colonial and world revolution.

The Chinese CP undoubtedly advocates far more militant policies in the international arena than the utterly opportunistic Soviet leadership and its followers from New Delhi to New York. Although the Chinese have moved close to Leninist positions on a number of key issues of the international class struggle, they have by no means arrived at a comprehensive Marxist world outlook: their positions are marked by grave inconsistencies. A genuinely independent Marxist judgment of the issues in the Sino-Soviet dispute would first separate what is true and progressive from what is false and reactionary in the positions of both protagonists and then make an overall evaluation of the main direction of their development, without fear of criticism [2].


[1] For an analysis of the social base upon which the Soviet bureaucracy rests, see the chapter in Trotsky’s Revolution Betrayed, on the “Social Physiognomy of the Ruling Stratum.” Also the chapter: “Inequalities and Social Antagonism in the Soviet Union,” in Bulletin of Marxist Studies, No. 2, January 1955, entitled: The Soviet Union: What it is—Where it is going, by Theodore Edwards. Both available from Pioneer Publishers, 116 University Place, N.Y. 3.

[2] For an appraisal of the contending positions, including the inconsistencies of Peking’s foreign policy line, see: “Peking vs. Moscow: The Meaning of the Great Debate” by William F. Warde [George Novack], recently published by Pioneer Publishers, 116 University Place, N.Y. 3, N.Y. 50 cents.