Setting the Record Straight

(October 1946)

From New International, Vol.12 No.8, October 1946, pp.247-48.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Readers of The New International fall, if we may classify them, into one of four categories: those who read it and agree with its point of view; those who read it and disagree with its point of view; those who read it and misrepresent its point of view; and those who refuse to read beyond the cover page in order that they may attack its point of view unmolested by a knowledge of its contents.

This otherwise uninteresting commonplace is prompted by an article in the August, 1946, issue of Workers’ International News, the theoretical organ of the Revolutionary Communist Party, British Section of the Fourth International. It is written by E. Grant as a polemic against the French comrade Pierre Frank on the question of Bonapartism and democracy in Europe today. Grant, it is said, is the theoretical leader of the Trotskyist movement in Britain. With the main points in the polemic, we are not momentarily concerned. But in the course of it, Grant polishes off a jewel of such glittering irony that it deserves, we think, to be rescued from obscurity. He writes:

The existence of Bonapartist measures does not make a regime Bonapartist either, Comrade Frank! This argument is about as profound as those of the “bureaucratic collectivists” who argued that we had the intervention of the state in economy under Hitler, in France under Blum, in America under Roosevelt (NRA), in Russia under Stalin ... consequently all those regimes were the same.

What is right is right as everyone will agree. Why then should there be disagreement over what to call that which is wrong, ignorant or stupid? By “bureaucratic collectivists” Grant can but have in mind the comrades of the Workers Party and The New International who have put forward and defended the theory that Stalinist Russia represents what we call a “bureaucratic collectivist state.” This theory has been presented, especially in the pages of this review, in numerous articles published over the past few years and, good, bad or indifferent, nobody can rightfully claim that our theory is anything but what we have repeatedly said it is.

According to Grant, the “bureaucratic collectivists” “argue” (where they do this arguing remains a secret not only to us but also to Grant) that the Roosevelt, Hitler, Blum and Stalin regimes are all the same; but, again according to Grant – and this time with a sarcasm guaranteed, as the English say, to hit us for six – this argument is not very profound.

As the not-very-profound and very-much-ridiculed “bureaucratic-collectivists,” we promptly re-read every article on the subject that has appeared in The New International, including its overseas edition. Naturally, we found nothing that resembles Grant’s description of our position, but we were recompensed in the search by finding quite the contrary.

As is known at least among the readers who fall into either of the first two categories we listed, we have repeatedly polemized against those who hold that the social regimes of Hitlerite Germany (when it existed) and Stalinist Russia are the same. They know that the Workers Party and The New International have always criticized and rejected the point of view that fascist capitalism (Hitlerite Germany or Mussolini Italy) is the same thing as Stalinist collectivism, whether it is put forward, in one form, by anti-Marxists like Burnham and Macdonald or, in another form, by such comrades in the Marxist camp as J.R. Johnson. The political regimes of Roosevelt and Blum we have called bourgeois democracy; the political regimes of Hitler and Stalin we have called, in common with all Marxists, totalitarian despotisms. The social regimes of Roosevelt Blum and Hitler we have called capitalist; the social regime of Stalin we have called not only anti-socialist and anti-working-class, but also anti-capitalist, that is, bureaucratic-collectivist.

To those, especially Marxists, who have insisted that both the Hitlerite and Stalinist regimes are capitalist we have said, in our more indulgent discussions: If your view is granted for a moment, will you at least acknowledge that your Russian “capitalism” is entirely different in its historical origins from any capitalism we ever knew; that your Russian “capitalism” does not operate in accordance with all the laws familiar to us in the “rest” of the capitalist world; that your Russian “capitalist class” is unlike any other capitalist class we know or have ever known; that there is no capitalist class in the world that shows any sign of wanting to establish the kind of “capitalism” that exists in Russia, whereas whole sections of the capitalist class everywhere are openly or covertly working to establish the fascist capitalist regime of the Hitler type, and decaying capitalist society itself is moving in that direction; that the political representatives of the Russian type of “capitalism” do not receive the support of the capitalist class in the known capitalist world, and that capitalism has nowhere produced a native national political party or movement that aims to establish outside of Russia the same regime that exists inside of Russia; that the “peculiar” form that “capitalism” takes in Russia rules it out as the form that will develop normally (as, for example, fascism does in the decaying capitalist states) in the known capitalist world; that, therefore, Stalinist “capitalism” is and will remain (so long as it continues to exist) uniquely Russian; that to call the Stalinist state “capitalist” requires a radical change in the definition of capitalist society that was held in common by all Marxists, Marx included, for a century; that you can call Russia “capitalist” to your heart’s content – for even that is better than calling this reactionary Stalinist monstrosity a workers’ state of any kind – but at least admit that there never was, is not and in all likelihood never will be another “capitalist” state like it: and so on and so on and so forth.

Thus and similarly is how the ”bureaucratic-collectivists” have argued and still do. Knowing this, what shall we say about the sentence quoted from E. Grant? If we were vulgar and blunt, we would say: What the hell has happened in our Fourth International to respect for theoretical discussion and to scrupulousness in criticism and polemic? But we are not vulgarians. We are courteous and tactful people. So we ask instead:

Into what category of readers of The New International does E. Grant fall?


Max Shachtman
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 14.8.2008