Max Shachtman


Left Wing of the Labor Movement?

Two Concepts of the Nature and Role of Stalinism

(September 1949)

From New International, Vol.XV No.7, September 1949, pp.204-210.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

[This article was written for publication in the new review Confrontation Internationale.]

The labor and socialist movements have had a good quarter century of experience with Stalinism. The experience is not yet at an end, but there is now enough of it to warrant the dogmatic statement that the working-class movement cannot and will not make real progress, let alone achieve its basic aim, until it has succeeded in destroying the incubus of Stalinism.

In 1858, Fredrick Engels, disgusted with the direction taken by the British labor movement under the leadership, of former Chartists like Ernest Jones, wrote to Marx that “one is really almost driven to believe that the English proletarian movement in its old traditional Chartist form must perish completely before it can develop itself in a new viable form. And yet one cannot foresee what this new form will look like.” Almost a century later, the same thing must be said about the proletarian movement in its Stalinist form – that part of the labor movement which is under Stalinist inspiration and control – only more emphatically, more urgently, and with a hundred times greater justification.

If nothing more were required than agreement with this simple proposition, Stalinism would long ago have been driven out of the labor movement without any prospect of regaining its power and influence. The adversaries of Stalinism are numerous, not only outside the labor movement but inside it as well. If Stalinism nevertheless remains a considerable force in the working class of all countries – even the decisive force in countries like France and Italy – that is due primarily to the lack of a full understanding of its significance.

This lack is widely prevalent, but nowhere is it so clearly marked – paradoxical as this may seem at first – as among the revolutionary adversaries of Stalinism. It is in the ranks of the latter, who are called upon to give the most clear-headed, consistent and progressive leadership in the fight against Stalinism, that the most confused, ambiguous and out-and-out reactionary conceptions are to be found. These conceptions paralyze the fight, or else they cancel out in advance whatever it is able to accomplish. Intellectual conservatism prevents many militants from seeing the true social role and meaning of Stalinism which lies underneath its misleading appearance.

Everyone can see the fact that Stalinism came out of a socialist revolution (the Russian October), the fact that it came out of a revolutionary proletarian movement (the early Comintern); the fact that it seeks to base itself primarily upon the working classes and is in so many places actually at the head of their organizations, the fact that it conducts such aggressive struggles against the capitalist classes and is fundamentally irreconcilable in its hostility toward them, the fact that these classes are no less fundamentally irreconcilable in their hostility toward Stalinism, the fact that there is such a continuous mutual hostility between Stalinism and the traditional reformist leadership of the labor movement.

We emphasize that we do not simply admit but insist that they are facts. But they are given such a weight and meaning as to mislead the most radical opponents of Stalinism and prevent them from grasping its real nature, its essential characteristics from the standpoint the proletariat and of socialism.

In all countries and movements, amid the most critical and even fierce attacks upon Stalinism, you can still read or hear:

These observations contain misconceptions that have already contributed to more than one disaster in the working-class movement. To rid this movement of Stalinism before it is destroyed by Stalinism or any other reactionary force, requires that the revolutionary movement, the Marxists in the first place, rid themselves completely of all misconceptions about Stalinism.

The problem can perhaps be approached best by dealing with the “left” character of Stalinism. You can hardly read a single American or British newspaper account of a dispute between the Stalinists and any of their opponents in a trade union without seeing the former referred to as the “left wing.” In France, to take another common example, the Stalinists are always referred to as “La gauche,” not only by their bourgeois opponents by even by their most radical critics. In both cases, the designation is simply taken for granted; it is considered natural, obvious, established beyond controversy, like the name hydrogen for the chemical element with the atomic number of 1. If all that were involved here was a question of terminology, then even in the interest of scientific exactitude it would be of decidedly minor importance. Its real importance, however, far transcends any pedantic consideration.

Characteristics of Left Wings

On what ground can the Stalinist movement be characterized, and therefore treated, as “left”? That should not be too difficult to determine. The history of the working-class movement is chock full of examples of right wings and left wings and of all sorts of intermediate tendencies. Of left wing and ultra-left wing tendencies in particular, there has been a tremendous variety: anarchists, syndicalists, Guesdists, De Leonists, Luxemburgists, Bolsheviks, Bordigists, KAPDists, Trotskyists – the list could be extended almost indefinitely.

Some of these tendencies were characterized as left wing because of opposition in principle to participation in parliamentary elections and parliamentary activity in general. Such opposition is nowhere to be found in the Stalinist movement, which participates uninhibitedly in all parliamentary activities, not only under its own name but under the name of any other political organizations with which it is maneuvering or which it is trying to infiltrate.

Others of these tendencies were considered left wing because, while favoring parliamentary activity by the workers and the socialist movement, they were opposed in principle to participating in coalition governments with bourgeois parties. The Stalinist parties cannot be considered left wing on this ground, either. Wherever they are unable to make a direct drive for exclusive state power, they work continuously to create, or to exploit the already existing, opportunities to enter coalition governments with bourgeois parties, either as the barely concealed representatives of the Russian government or as sappers of the coalition for their own benefit or as both. Their practical attitude toward the question of coalition governments is unmistakably more opportunistic than anything ever practised by the Millerands or preached by the Kautskys of the old socialist movement. They are not only ready to enter but have already entered coalition governments with parties of the “progressive bourgeoisie.” They even combine with parties of the most extreme bourgeois conservatism. Even out-and-out reactionary governments, which not even a hardened old reformist would think of supporting, have been supported and defended by the Stalinists with unashamed cynicism whenever it suited the foreign policy of Moscow.

Still others of the incontestably left-wing tendencies were marked out by their rejection of work in the conservative trade unions and collaboration with them; by their policy of organizing or supporting only those unions which adopted a revolutionary program from the very beginning. The Stalinists not only work in the most conservative unions, but are known for their repeated advocacy of the most conservative policies, in some cases policies so completely anti-proletarian as to arouse the opposition of the most reformist of labor leaders. And they not only work for their policies in conservative and reformist trade unions, but in conservative and even reactionary bourgeois organizations. In this respect, they draw the line nowhere.

Still others of the old left-wing tendencies were distinguished by their opposition to putting forth or supporting “immediate demands,” “a reform program,” “the minimum program,” or else by their insistence that the purely parliamentary or purely peaceful road to socialism is an illusion. The Stalinists are not distinguished by such views, either. If they put anything in the background, it is the program of socialism itself, not a “minimum program.” They have not hesitated to adopt as their own outright bourgeois demands of outright bourgeois parties, and the coolness with which they have often taken over grossly chauvinist and reactionary planks from the program of Italian and German fascism is widely known.

The “Internationalism” of the Stalinists

Without exception, all the traditional left-wing tendencies were outstanding for their internationalism, in some of which it manifested itself to deplorable extremes. Their internationalism was always counterposed to the nationalist and pro-imperialist tendencies of the right wing of the socialist and labor movements. The Stalinist movement is world-wide, but it, is internationalist in no sense that has ever been accepted in the working-class movement. In no country is it national in the entirely proper sense that the class struggle is national in form, in the sense that it seeks to serve as an instrument of the working class of the given country. It is nationalistic in the worse sense of the term, in that it serves as the universal instrument of the ruling bureaucracy of Russia, which is in turn a notorious oppressor of nations and peoples. It is “internationalistic” only in the sense that it demands the surrender of legitimate national aspirations of all peoples in the name of subservience to the Russian state (the case of Yugoslavia is only the most spectacular of dozens of other examples that could be cited). It is “internationalistic” in the same sense as Mr. Churchill who used to denounce the Indians for the narrow-minded and selfish nationalism they displayed in their demand for self-government.

The Left Wings and Democracy

Any number of other characteristics of the left vying (or ultra-leftist) movements will occur to everyone slightly familiar with their history. But one more, of outstanding and decisive importance, must be cited here. Without exception, everyone of them, in its fight against tendencies to the right of it, was characterized by its emphasis on democracy as against bureaucracy, on the rights and self-activity of the masses as against the disfranchisement and bridling of the masses. That the emphasis was extreme in some cases, is beside the point and need not be treated here. That practice did not always correspond to this emphasis or was not always effective in proving the correctness of this emphasis, is likewise beside the point. The characteristic itself remains decisive.

The 19th century social democracy was the left wing in politics by virtue of its fight for universal suffrage as against restricted suffrage, and its work for socialism as the realization of the fullest political and economic democracy – social democracy. Anarchists and syndicalists were distinguished as a left wing by their emphasis upon the mass action of the workers as against the bureaucratic maneuvers and procedures of the reformist officialdom in parliament or in negotiations with employers. Luxemburg was distinguished as a representative of the left by virtue of her emphasis on the spontaneous action of the masses breaking through the institutionalized conservatism of the reformist bureaucracy. The Bolsheviks counterposed the democratic Constituent Assembly to Czarist despotism, and then counterposed the Soviets to the Constituent Assembly because the Soviets were a “hundred thousand times more democratic” than the most democratic of bourgeois parliaments. TheTrotskyist opposition was regarded as the left wing because, among other things, it demanded party democracy as against the party bureaucracy. As for some of the ultra-left groupings, it is well enough known that they almost made a fetish of their fight against bureaucratism in the labor and revolutionary movements. In this most important respect, the Stalinist movement, which is the veritable apotheosis of bureaucratism, does not have even a semblance of similarity with the left-wing tendencies known to the labor movement.

In not a single one of its important characteristics does the Stalinist movement resemble the left-wing tendencies. It does not measure up to a single one of the criteria which would place it in the category of the left wing. Whoever continues to believe that Stalinism falls into that category only shows that he stopped thinking many years ago.

Does this mean that there is no ground at all for the characterization of the Stalinists which is to be found on the pages of the bourgeois press and the lips of bourgeois politicians? The reader may recall that earlier in this article is emphasized the need of grasping the real nature of Stalinism from the standpoint of the proletariat and of socialism. From that standpoint, Stalinism can in no sense be considered a left wing of the working class. Is it, then, a right wing of the working class? In our opinion, the answer is likewise and just as emphatically, No. This aspect of the problem can be best approached from another standpoint, which is not that of the proletariat and of socialism. For there is also the standpoint of the bourgeoisie and of capitalism.

From that standpoint, Stalinism is not only a left wing but the left wing; it is even the most “authentic” and “legitimate” left wing, as it were. From that standpoint, Stalinism is Bolshevism, it is the socialist revolution, it is socialism. Class instincts are valuable to the proletariat; but class consciousness is indispensable for its victory and rule. Class consciousness is valuable but not indispensable to the bourgeoisie; its class instinct is sufficient for its rule. This instinct has a powerful stimulating material base – the ownership of the means of production and exchange, capitalist private property. The bourgeoisie recognizes as its own, as its loyal kin and vassals, those who help preserve its private property and therewith its social power, The bourgeoisie can and has obtained the services of the Stalinists, in one country after another. It can and. has arranged to have the Stalinist party defend its property and its regime from dangers represented by the working class. This has led some superficial observers to conclude that Stalinism, at bottom, is nothing but a variety of that reformist social democracy which has so often served, sometimes with machine guns at its hand, to maintain the rule of capital against the assaults of the proletariat. But now that even the most dull-witted bourgeois is learning that this is not at all the case, it is surely high time that revolutionists, especially those who consider themselves Marxists, should revise their own superficial and erroneous opinions.

For Hire but Not for Sale

Class instinct plus experience have taught every bourgeois that the support of the Stalinist parties can be hired but not bought outright. The Stalinist parties in the capitalist countries are for lease, but not for sale. So long as a given capitalist regime is the ally of Russia, the Stalinists are leased for service to that regime. They then appear to act as arch-patriots. They vie with the bourgeois parties in nationalism and chauvinism. They catch up with and outstrip the reactionary labor leaders in urging workers to accept the most onerous conditions of labor with docility. In general, they act in that abominable manner that distinguished them from ordinary scoundrels in the USA and Britain during the period of the “Grand Alliance.” But this lend-leased servant is unreliable in two respects from the standpoint of the bourgeoisie. In the first place, in the very course of pretending to serve, he infiltrates and undermines the institutions of the bourgeoisie. And in the second place, the terms of the lease are not under the control of the bourgeoisie and can be altered or destroyed unilaterally by the Russian state, that is, by the real employer and owner of the Stalinist parties – a fact which requires no further proof than that which is (or ought to be) known to every political person. After the rich and instructive experience throughout the world in the last ten years, there is hardly a bourgeois left who places any reliance in the “services” of “his” Stalinists. He regards their pledge of loyalty to the bourgeois regime with the same contemptuous distrust – and quite rightly – as the revolutionist regarded Hitler’s pledge of loyalty to socialism.

The Standpoint of the Bourgeoisie

From the standpoint of the bourgeoisie, Stalinism represents a revolutionary left wing and Russia represents a “socialist state” in two respects. From the inception of the socialist movement, the bourgeoisie has taught (and many have undoubtedly believed) that socialism means the “servile state” – the bureaucratic monster-state that deprives all the people of property, of liberty, of prosperity, and subjugates all to its despotic whim. Stalinist Russia is the unexpectedly full materialization of this hoary calumny against socialism – or so the bourgeoisie teaches. Regardless of how much or little it believes this, it is obviously in its class interest to teach it. “There, in Russia today, is your socialism! That is what socialism looks like, not in the books of Marx, but in reality! That is the only thing socialism will ever look like in reality! Russia is a horror – shun it! Socialism is a horror – shun it!” (To which should be added that anyone who, with the best intentions and the best “theory” in the world, continues to call Stalinist Russia a socialist or a workers’ state of any kind, is giving both the Stalinist and bourgeois enemies of socialism a free weapon.)

Secondly, there is hardly a bourgeois alive today who still retains the utterly vain hope that Stalinism represents the restoration of capitalism in Russia, that it facilitates this restoration, or is in any way the unconscious instrument of forces working for this restoration. In addition, especially since the end of the war, the international bourgeoisie has begun to see what Stalinism represents outside of Russia, too, and to see it with a clarity and political intelligence that would be a credit to more than one self-styled Marxist. Wherever it was politically possible (as it was in Poland, for example, but not in France; as it is in China, but not in Japan) , the Stalinists have taken complete state power into their hands. Whether or not the Stalinists have established socialism in these countries, is far from the first concern of the bourgeoisie. Their first concern is that the Stalinists have disestablished the bourgeoisie and capitalism. Wherever the Stalinists come to power, the bourgeoisie is deprived of all political, economic, military and social power and in many cases even deprived of its capacity to breathe.

To soothe the bourgeois by pointing out that where Stalinism takes power it reduces the workers to slaves, exploits them more mercilessly than anywhere else in modern times, destroys every working-class organization without exception, destroys every democratic right of the people – is of no use. The bourgeois is, unfortunately, very little concerned with the fate of the working class. He is, unfortunately, entirely preoccupied with the fact that under Stalinist rule it is his class property, his class power and his class that are destroyed.

To soothe the bourgeois by telling him that Stalinism believes only in socialism in one country, or in very few countries, and that it will not move beyond the Bug or the Elbe or the Spree or the Rhine or the Yangtse – is of no use. If he answers such a soothsayer at all, he will tell him that that will not be decided by a theory but by fists – and atom bombs.

To soothe the bourgeois with the assurance that Stalinism represents nothing more than state capitalism – is of no use, and it is to be feared that it will be of less use tomorrow than it was yesterday. He knows that state capitalism, in its fascist or Rooseveltian form, intervenes in the economy wisely or unwisely (from his standpoint) in order to try to bring some order out of the increasing chaos of capitalism; that although it adds heavily to the overhead of capitalism it nevertheless seeks to, and does, preserve whatever can be preserved of that social system in its deepening decay; that it may try to playoff this group of capitalists against the other but nevertheless ends every time with the strengthening of the biggest capitalist powers. He knows also that Stalinism, on the contrary, simply wipes out an significant capitalist property and all the significant capitalists themselves. To him, that makes a difference, a profound difference, a decisive difference, Which is why, without the benefit of having studied Marx, he refuses to look upon Stalinism as a capitalist phenomenon of any kind.

The Standpoint of Socialism

To the revolutionary socialist, the Marxist, the triumph of Stalinism means primarily and above all the crushing of the working class, the crushing of all proletarian and revolutionary movements, the triumph of a new totalitarian despotism. To us, accordingly, every increase in the strength of the Stalinists in the working-class movement means another step toward that triumph which is a catastrophe for the movement. There is our standpoint!

The standpoint of the bourgeois is necessarily different. The triumph of Stalinism means primarily and above all the crushing of the bourgeoisie and all its social power. That is his standpoint! That is why he can and does, with genuine concern and sincerity, regard Stalinism as the same thing, at bottom, as Bolshevism, as the proletarian revolution, as socialism. From his standpoint, it makes no difference whatsoever whether he is expropriated by the authentic socialist revolution in Russia under Bolshevik leadership, which brought the working class to power – or he is expropriated by the reactionary Stalinist bureaucracy in Poland, Rumania and Czechoslovakia which has brought .the working class into a totalitarian prison. To the working class, there is all the difference in the world between the two; to the bourgeoisie, there is none. That is why the bourgeoisie expresses a deep and honest class feeling when it characterizes Stalinism as “left” in substantially the same way that it once characterized the Bolshevik Revolution and its partisans. From its class standpoint, the designation is understandable, it makes good sense. Likewise understandable is the political attitude which corresponds to this designation.

Stalinism Is Not a Left Wing

But that designation (and what is far more important, the political attitude that corresponds to it) does not make good sense from the class standpoint of the proletariat. It is totally false from the standpoint of the fight for its immediate and its historical interests – the fight for socialism. In this fight, Stalinism is no less the enemy of the working class than capitalism and the bourgeoisie. Indeed, inside the working class and its movement, Stalinism is the greater and more dangerous of the two.

The Stalinists very cleverly exploit the attacks made upon them by the bourgeoisie to enlist the support of those workers and revolutionists who, while opposed in general to Stalinism, are not less hostile toward the bourgeoisie. But it is an absurdity, where it is not suicidal, to react to every bourgeois attack of criticism of the Stalinists by rallying automatically to their support. Trotsky writes somewhere that any imbecile could become a revolutionary genius if proletarian policy required nothing more than learning what the bourgeoisie wants or does, and then simply doing the opposite. This very well applies, in the matter of the policy to follow toward Stalinism, to more than one anti-bourgeois imbecile (just as it applies, in the matter of the policy to follow toward the bourgeoisie, to more than one anti-Stalinist imbecile).

The first task, then, of all militants in the proletarian movement who understand the end of combatting Stalinism, is to rid themselves of all traces of the conception that Stalinism, in some way, in some degree, represents a left wing. It is not a proletarian or socialist conception, despite the respectable (and fatal) status it enjoys in the proletarian and socialist movement. It is a bourgeois conception, well-suited to the bourgeoisie, its standpoint and its interests, but utterly disorienting to the working class.

We will not have advanced far enough, however, if, in abandoning the notion that Stalinism is in any sense an authentic part of the left wing of the working class, we adopt the notion that it belongs in the right wing. The right wing of the labor movement, classically and contemporaneously; is its conservative wing, its reformist wing. It is that section of the working-class movement that stands closest to bourgeois democracy, that practises economic and political collaboration with the bourgeoisie, that confines itself to modest (increasingly modest) reforms of capitalism. That being the fundamental feature of the right wing, it should be clear that Stalinism is fundamentally different from any of the reformist currents and bureaucracies we know of in the labor movement.

None of the old designations – “right,” “left,” “centrist” – applies to Stalinism. Stalinism is a phenomenon sui generis, unique and without precedent in the working class. The fact that it is supported by tens of thousands of workers who are passionately devoted to the cause of socialism, who are ready to fight for it to their dying breath, is besides the point entirely. This fact is of importance only with regard to the forms of the agitation and propaganda work to be conducted among them. It does not decide the character of Stalinism itself. That is determined by the real program and the real leadership of the Stalinist movement, and not by the sentiments of those it dupes.

What, then, is Stalinism? Our formula is not very compact, but it will have to stand until a more elegant one can be found:

A Formula for Stalinism

Stalinism is a reactionary, totalitarian, anti-bourgeois and anti-proletarian current IN the labor movement but not OF the labor movement. It is the unforeseen but nonetheless real product of that advanced stage of the decay of capitalism in which the socialist proletariat itself has as yet failed to carry out the reconstruction of society on rational foundations. It is the social punishment inflicted on the bourgeoisie for living beyond its historical time and on the proletariat for not living up to its historical task. It is the new barbarism which the great Marxist teachers saw as the only possible alternative to socialism.

Stalinism is a current in but not of the working class and its movement, we repeat, The importance of the distinction is far-reaching. It demands emphasis not in spite of the prejudices and dogmas about Stalinism that exist in the revolutionary movement, but precisely because they exist. It underlines the unbridgability of the gulf between Stalinism and all sections of the labor movement. And by “all sections” is simply meant, without diplomacy or equivocation, all of them – from the left wing to the right wing.

Two Bureaucracies

How violently such an idea shocks the revolutionary sentiments of many militants, not only in the USA but in Europe – especially in Europe – the writer has had more than one occasion to see personally in recent visits abroad. All the more reason for insisting on it, patiently but bluntly. Until it is accepted, Stalinism will continue to be able to rely on one of its strongest props: the reluctant support it receives in the labor movement from those anti-Stalinist militants who are so justifiably imbued with a long-standing antagonism to traditional reformism. “The Stalinists? Yes, of course they are unmitigated rascals, agents of the Kremlin, and God knows what else. But to fight them by supporting Reuther (or Green, or Lewis, or Jouhaux, or Bevin)? That never! They are bureaucrats and reformists, they are agents of the bourgeoisie and the Devil knows what else!” That is a not unfair statement of the reaction of many genuine militants in the labor movement. As a spontaneous reaction, it is not altogether bad; as a political line, it is a first-rate calamity. It ignores the basic distinction between the two bureaucracies, the reformist and the Stalinist.

The reformist bureaucracy (trade-union or political) strives everywhere to raise itself to a privileged position in capitalist society. That is its social aim, and its actions correspond to it. It cannot even exist, let alone hold a privileged position, under fascism; hence, its genuine opposition (not necessarily successful, but genuine) to fascism, Neither can it exist under Stalinism; hence, its genuine opposition (again, not necessarily successful, but still genuine) to Stalinism. (It goes without saying that it is doomed in a workers’ democracy, where special privileges for any such social group would be undermined, which is why it shuns the revolutionary struggle for socialism.) It can achieve its aim only under conditions of bourgeois democracy. Which means, concretely, only on the condition that it bases itself on and represents the trade unions. It is this consideration that dictates to the reformist officialdom the preservation of the labor movement (as it is, to be sure, and not as it ought to be from the socialist standpoint). Without the trade unions, the reformist bureaucracy is, socially and politically, of no importance. In its own bureaucratic interests, it is compelled to maintain the labor movement. It does it badly, it does it at the expense of the best interests of the working class, but it does it and must do it.

The Stalinist bureaucracy, on the contrary, cannot achieve its social aim without destroying the labor movement root and branch and in everyone of its forms. No matter where Stalinism has triumphed (“achieved its social aim”) it has completely wiped out every branch of the revolutionary movement and put its representatives in prisons, slave camps or graves, and wiped out the trade-union movement as well. What passes under the name of “trade-union” in the Stalinist countries is far less of a workers’ organization than the notorious “company unions” that existed in the USA years ago; in any case, it is not a trade union in any sense of the term. The advance of Stalinism is incompatible with the advance of the labor movement; the victory of Stalinism is incompatible with the existence of any labor movement, be it revolutionary or reformist. A revolutionist who has not learned this from the wealth of recent experiences in Europe will be fortunate if he does not eventually have to pay for his “mistake” with his head.

It should go without saying among genuine militants that in any struggle for leadership and control of the labor movement, or any section of it, they will always seek to counterpose a policy of class independence and class struggle against both the Stalinist and reformist bureaucracies. But where, as is the general rule nowadays, the militants are not yet strong enough to fight for leadership directly; where the fight for control of the labor movement is, in effect, between the reformists and the Stalinists, it, would be absurd for the militants to proclaim their “neutrality” and fatal for them to support the Stalinists. Without any hesitation, they should follow the general line, inside the labor movement, of supporting the reformist officialdom against the Stalinist officialdom. In other words, where it is not yet possible to win the unions for the leadership of revolutionary militants, we forthrightly prefer the leadership of reformists who aim in their own way to maintain a labor movement to the leadership of the Stalinist totalitarians who aim to exterminate it.

A Bloc with the Reformists

To support the reformists, or make: a bloc with them, against the Stalinists, means nothing less than it says but also nothing more. To anticipate critics, both honest and malicious, it may be pointed out that a revolutionist does not at all need to become a social democrat when he supports the social democracy in a fight against the Austrian fascists. He does not at all need to become a bourgeois democrat when he supports bourgeois democracy against fascism in the Spanish civil war. He does not at all need to become a slaveholder when he supports Ethiopia against Italy. And he does not need to become a reformist when he supports the reformists in the fight to smash or prevent Stalinist control of the labor movement. In every case, he gives his support in his own way, with his own openly expressed views.

The reformist bureaucracy has more than once played into the hands of Stalinism and it continues to do so. One can even go further: in the long run, if the fight against Stalinism is conducted under the leadership of the reformists, with the policies that characterize them, with the detestable bureaucratic methods they love so much, it is not they but the Stalinists who are more likely to triumph. The policies of reformism are not ours; nor are its methods; nor are its aims. We cannot and will not take any responsibility for them, and this should be made abundantly and constantly clear to all who are within reach of voice or pen, even if that does not always meet with the enthusiastic approval of those with whom we unhesitatingly ally ourselves in the labor movement in the fight against Stalinist domination. But while the revolutionists are not the equal of the reformists and the reformists are not the equal of the revolutionists, the two are now necessary and proper allies against Stalinism. The scores that have to be settled with reformism – those will be settled on a working-class basis and in a working-class way, and not under the leadership or in alliance with totalitarian reaction. Stalinism is the most virulent poison that has ever coursed through the veins of the working class and its movement. The work of eliminating it makes the first claim on the attention of every militant.


Max Shachtman
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 2 June 2021