A Picture of the Party from Inside

What the Party Bulletin Says About the “Achievements”

(October 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 41, 8 October 1932, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The criticisms levelled by the Opposition against the Stalinist leadership for the organizational and ideological devastation it has produced in the ranks of the party, have never been met by our opponents. On the contrary, from time to time, under the pressure of the events themselves or the discontentment of the comrades in the ranks, the Stalinist officials have been compelled to make admissions which confirm to the hilt every one of our criticisms. A case in point is the official internal bulletin of the New York district committee of the Communist party. We take some excerpts at random, from its leading article:

“It is a known fact that the life of the units is very sterile and dead.”

Could a more damaging confession be made in a more oil-handed, manner? The Communist party should be distinguished from all other parties in precisely this respect, that is, in the existence of a virile, productive internal life at its base. In the revolutionary proletarian party there is no class distinction between leadership and ranks, there is no need of a leadership which must convert its followers into dumb, footweary cattle. The absence of this distinction serves as a terrific arraignment of those responsible – the leaders. For how can the life of the party units be other than sterile when the initiative of the ranks is systematically crushed for fear that its unfoldment may disturb the papal domination exercized by the bureaucracy? How can the “life” in the ranks be anything but “dead” when the bureaucratic leeches confine their activities largely to bleeding the party of every vital element?

For year’s now, the party leaders have promised a change in this system by means of the biggest fraud since Barnum’s white elephant: Stalinist “self-criticism”, i.e., the practice of finding scapegoats in the second, third and fourth ranks for the crimes committed by the first rank. But the disease is not rooted below – that is only where its effects are manifested most disastrously; it has its seat at the top. Like fish, the Stalinist hierarchy begins to decay and stink at the head.

* * * *

“The general understanding of the membership of political and economic events in the District”, continues the bulletin, “is at an extremely low level.”

Nor can it be otherwise. The Communist party at its birth was to distinguish itself from the social democracy and the syndicalists by vigorously combatting that contempt for theory which was practically the only “theory” tolerated in those movements. In the post-Lenin period, the Communist movement was inundated with that “unprincipled practicalism” against which Lenin inveighed so contemptuously, aud which has received the acme of its expression in the Stalin faction.

A leadership which has played ducks and drakes with such fundamental tenets of Marxism as its teaching on the class role of the State (China, “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry”, etc.), as the independent role of the proletarian party (subordination of Communism to Sun Yat Senism and the Kuo Min Tang, the masquerades of Muenzenberg, Barbusse, Stalin and Co.), as internationalism and its economic and political implications (“socialism in one country”) – to mention but a few of the points in which Stalin contributed only revisionist conceptions – such a leadership could scarcely be expected to do anything but bring to “an extremely low level” the “general understanding of the membership of political and economic events.”

Can a wolf instruct its cubs in vegetarianism? Can a catholic priest teach his flock the truths of evolution? Can a witch-doctor teach savages the elements of science? Can the man who is up to his neck in a swamp lift another to a safe and higher point? That is how the Stalin school teachers can raise the extremely low level of the general understanding of the membership.

More: the raising of the level of the membership of the party will be accomplished at exactly the same rate that the party bureaucracy is kicked out of the place it has usurped. Between these two forces in the party there is no harmonious link; there is a fatal conflict, a gnawing contradiction which can be eliminated only by an upheaval from below.

* * * *

“Our trade union work”, we read further on, “despite the objective favorable situation is lagging far behind ... We have not developed any real struggle in the A. F. of L. ... This Bulletin will give concrete aid in this work.”

If the aid to be furnished the party members by the editors of the Bulletin and their associates in the leadership is of the same caliber as the aid given in the past, then the prediction may be freely ventured that next year’s Bulletin and the resolutions of next year’s Central Committee Plenum will contain the same lamentations about mysterious failures of the party. Here, for example, is the warning given as early as two and a half years ago by the March 31, 1930 Plenum in an obscure reference made in the Resolution on Party Fractions:

“Party fractions must be established and must be engaged in active work in all A.F.L. unions. All tendencies to neglect work in the A.F.L. unions must be sharply condemned and corrected.”

Similar admonitions have not been lacking in the intervening period, nor will they be in the future. Nor, furthermore, will the work of the party in the A.F. of L. be improved one hair’s breadth thereby. And that for the simple reason that the naked instructions: “must be established”, “must be engaged”, “must be sharply condemned”, have proved to be quite meaningless without a fundamental correction of the party’s analysis cf the trade union problem in this country. The hierarchy may continue to establish and engage, to condemn and correct until the stroke of doom, but the party will not advance one step in the reactionary unions until it proceeds beyond administrative orders of a technical nature and into a political alteration of its line.

Who is responsible for the party’s complete isolation in the reactionary unions when the two principal resolutions of the March 1930 Plenum do not by as much as one single word (literally!) mention the need of working within the A.F. of L.? Is such an attitude conducive to the proper functioning of the Communists among the mass of organized workers? In the thesis on the Economic and Political Situation, we read about “the reformist organizations and elements, some of which (A.F. of L.) are outright Fascist” (page 11) ; that (only!) on the basis of the Trade Union Unity League will the party be able to assume the leadership of these economic struggles” (page 20) ; that it “has been a mistake on our part (hear, hear! self-criticism!) that we did not sooner clearly analyze and characterize the open Fascism of the A.F. of L.” (page 33).

Is there any wonder that with such an analysis and perspective, the party’s fractions in the A.F. of L. (they can be counted on your thumbs) “have not developed any real struggle in the A.F. of L.”? What progress in this direction could be made by a Communist worker who, in his A.F. of L. local, would have to repeat after the blockheaded theses writers: This is an outright Fascist union and we can move ahead only on the basis of the T.U.U.L.?

But have no fear, the marauders are still at work. The doctor who reported that his “patient was improving” until she died ... of improvements – cannot even compete with the directors of the Party Builder who promise to “give concrete aid in this work”. A little more concrete aid of the type they have given in the past and the poor patient ...

* * * *

“The struggle against social-Fascism in the district”, we note finally, “is in an extremely weak shape. Despite the repeated acts of treachery of the social-Fascist leaders, we have been unable to develop any real struggles and exposures of these people ... The Bulletin will give leadership and guidance ...”

One would imagine that after the record rolled up by them in the past, the party chiefs would be more modest with their offers of leadership and guidance. But we are dealing here with people who have lost all sense of proportion and place. The party has now been shouting itself hoarse against all species of “social-Fascism” imaginable. It has fought a furious battle in a vacuum of its own invention. And yet, “despite the repeated acts of treachery”, the Bulletin observes with a puzzled air, no real struggle or exposure of the reformists has been developed. Why? The Bulletin scarcely bothers to attempt an explanation, it simply recommends more “persistent exposures” and volunteers its leadership and guidance.

But the question is important and requires an answer. How have the “social-Fascist” demagogues been able to make the steady headway which even the Stalinist sages can no longer ignore? Essentially because of the enormous blunders which the party leaders have chalked up to their account. Especially in the period of the crisis, when the weakened working class feels most acutely the need of all its forces to resist the capitalist offensive, the Stalinists have met their aspirations and appeals with a scornful rebuff. The workers who have not yet developed to Communism increasingly gain the conviction that the Communists put their own party interests above the interests of the class. To answer them with the trite phrase that the party has no interests separate from those of the whole proletariat, means to substitute what should be, for what actually is.

In this whole period of the crisis, the party had unexampled opportunities to champion the fight for the united front of the working class. By forcing the reformist leaders to the wall in every concrete question of struggle, the party would have had chance after chance to break the workers’ present allegiances and win them to Communism on the basis of concrete experiences through which the workers would then pass together with their own leaders and the Communist leaders – experiences which would give them the best possible opportunity to judge which group is superior.

But the Stalinists, who only yesterday lay in the arms of Chiang Kai-Shek and A.A. Purcell, were overcome with such a tremendous wave of remorse, you see, that they now indignantly reject any united front with the reformist organizations or leaders. From the ivory tower of splendid isolation to which they have retired, they choose to hurl down anathema and vocal thunderbolts upon the reformist demagogues. The only trouble is that the mass of the workers shrugs its shoulders, in despair, in indifference, or in contempt. Such exposures have just about the same practical political value as the campaigns of the socialist muckrakers in the pre-war days: they set no appreciable mass of people into motion. The “social-Fascists” continue their “repeated acts of treachery”, the struggle against them continues to be “in an extremely weak shape”, and the Stalinist bailiffs at the head of the party continue to be, we suppose, the very essence of Bolshevik wisdom, strained twice through cheesecloth and silk.

The reformists make progress, the party stagnates, the trade union work lags behind, the life of the units is sterile, the work among the Negro masses is at a standstill – but the party leadership is as inviolate and impeccable as the College of Cardinals. Aren’t people with such a record of achievement just the ones to complain irritably about the extremely low level of the general understanding of the membership? Thank God somebody in the party is on a different level.

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