First Aid For Communists Suffering From Shock

First Published: Turning Point Vol. X, Nos. 1-2, January-Feburary 1957
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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I – A Communist Audience

THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNIST MOVEMENT IS SUFFERING FROM SHOCK. Is it so shocking, therefore, that even the meaning of a clearly established word like “Communist” is now in doubt? We address this essay in first aid to Communists and Communist sympathizers. But how can we recognize our audience if the very word “Communist” is in doubt? Exactly the point! We hope that our consideration of shock and its treatment can apply Leninism as a fixative on the meaning of the word.

At a time when so many desperately separate themselves from any stigma of Communism, there is a certain significance in adherence to the name. Despite shock and its resulting confusion, those who still “feel like” Communists, those who ”want to be Communists – if possible,” show a continuing “adhesion” to the label. Therefore, we address ourselves to those who arc disturbed not by the “label” but by the “libel.”

We know that today’s Communist is in most cases unhappy, insecure, depressed, demoralized, derelict, hibernating, etc., etc., or in a word – CONFUSED. For constructive purposes, we prefer to locate our audience in the newly confused Communist and not in the newly enlightened ex-Communist or anti-Communist. We also prefer to locate our audience in the sympathizers whose gravitation toward Communism was not only impeded by the chronic opportunism of our movement, but completely interrupted by Khrushchevism. Among such sympathizers we often find a refreshing, objective evaluation of Khrushchevism unpolluted by a background of “unthinking” within the Communist Party, U.S.A. We believe that one day, these sympathizers will resume their gravitation toward Communism.

Our group has strong feelings (based on ten years of consistent work against opportunism) that the reconstruction of the Communist movement in the U.S. will not depend on “veterans.” To be sure, there are veterans aplenty – but mostly casualties. Either the CPUSA broke their spirit with an effective smear job (Khrushchev style), or the strain of cutting through the undergrowth of opportunism-in the ideological jungle of American imperialism wore them out. Perhaps these “veterans” should be more understood than judged, but certainly they have not earned that respect and trust which one directs toward responsible Communists.

Being sensible enough to recognize our limited resources and the complete ideological devastation around us, we ha to choose not to attempt to reconvince ex-Communist. It was their privilege to have been liberated by Khrushchev; it is our privilege to greet their departure. Also, we do not appeal to the new anti-Communists. If the anti-bug in them did not show before Khrushchev’s debut, we can at least credit a clown with having produced the open rash. Wt appreciate the separation now being effected between Communism and disguised anti-Communism. (We hope no one expected us to shed a tear!) It is and always was wrong to impede the EXODUS OF THE UNSTABLE. A loss is not always a negative development. (How well Lenin engraved this paradox for history.) It is better that Jacks-in-the-Box pop out sooner than later. This allows us to keep score more accurately, allows us to improve our judgment of people. (Communists have been too impressed with “operators” – too unimpressed with quality.) The exodus harms us less in this period of embryo than it would by exploding later at a critical point in our struggle.

We are not appealing to assorted, newly respectable, non-revolutionary socialists who are busy uniting with Trotskyites (old and new types) and Titoites to form a new all-inclusive, anti-Communist party of Social-Democracy in the U.S. When we scratch the thin surface of this fashionable amalgamation, we find ex-Communists and anti-Communists.

We may be asked: isn’t it possible that someday, after the reestablishment of a solid, attractive Communist Party, that some ex-and-anti-Communists of vintage l957 may want to return? We think this not only possible but inevitable. Man changes radically in a lifetime - and certainly, not always for the worse. But the job of reconstructing the Communist movement (currently considered impossible by all kinds of “whine experts”) demands at this point a concentration of attention on those people whose rare integrity qualifies them for the hardest, most important – and in the end – most satisfying tasks.

We may be asked: how about those who represent the worst opportunism under the very name of the CPUSA? What is left of the CPUSA is at this very moment sub-dividing into (1) a major portion of ex-Communism, (2) a minor portion of anti-Communism, and (3) an infinitesimal portion of re-awakening Communism. We are not speaking here of the formal decisions of the forthcoming CPUSA convention.( Our March issue will deal with these.) We are concerned with the development of individual CP members. For this reason, we also address ourselves to that third portion. But why do we think that it is infinitesimal? Simply because the best Communists in the CPUSA were evicted long ago.

The word “Communism” is so important today because it is so heavily honored - both in the observance and the breach. The Communists whom we address – despite their variations of confusion – have one positive characteristic in common: they did not use Khrushchev as an excuse to convert and pervert themselves into ex-and-anti-Communists.

II – Shock and Its Symptoms

The characteristics of shock seem, in great part, to apply literally to the Khrushchevian-Communist world. Communists feel cold, faint, nauseated. They lose identity (amnesia). Former “single-minded” comrades become anti-Stalinist Communists (schizophrenia). Their fear and cynicism advertise their paralysis. In Khrushchevian shock (hereafter referred to clinically as “Khrushock”) we are not faced with calm people reconsidering facts and alternatives. This is a hysterical situation in which frantic people flee from fantasies.

The main symptom of Khrushock is amnesia – a rejection of reality caused by the ugly wastefulness of the Khrushchev era. It is necessary to explore this amnesia which is incapacitating Communists. What is it that Khrushock has so violently dislodged from the memory of Communists? Many things – but essentially, the very definition of Communism in the period of imperialism. We are dealing with an amnesia which obliterates the definition of Leninism.

Out of a mass of confused people, we have tried to make a logical separation between those who have deliberately departed from Marxism, using Khrushchevism as a new form of liberation, and those who have temporarily lost their bearings as a result of Khrushock. Now, if we analyze the cause of amnesia and the essential points of memory loss, we will be “in position” to treat ideological loss of identity with first aid.

III – Cause and Analysis of Khrushock

The cause of shock was Khrushchevism, a suddenly announced perversion of Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism, formally unfolded at the CPSU 20th Congress. There have been great opportunist shocks before, but never such mass shock to the nervous system of the international Communist movement. The seriousness of the shock is due to the unanimous endorsement which the international leaders of Communism gave to Khrushchev’s transformation of Leninism into Social-Democracy.

Khrushchevism put Communists into shock by destroying the dignity and self-respect of international Communism through the use of Hearstian scandal and the Hitlerian “big lie.” Khrushchev’s picture of Communists was a montage plagiarized from the veteran models used by the international capitalist press: hypocrites, stooges, liars, torturers, fools, etc. Reproducing this picture too well, Khrushchev produced not only planned shock, but an unplanned boomerang. The respect which Communists lost for themselves and their leaders was not transferred to Khrushchev.

The ease with which Khrushchevism produced this amnesia is explained by the weakness of Communist theoretical education all over the world. As a normally imperfect human being, a Communist may misinterpret certain principles of Marxism-Leninism and still be a real Communist. But when he removes the core of Leninism, he becomes a Social-Democrat. The principles against which Khrushchev made his frontal attack were already vague shadows in the minds of too many Communists. We reduce these principles to three categories.

1. Khrushock produced an amnesia which obliterated the revolutionary characteristics of Marxism-Leninism. In this category we place Khrushchevism’s deletion of the Marxist understanding of the role of the state.

Since an understanding of the necessity for a violent proletarian revolution and an understanding of the necessity for a Dictatorship of the Proletariat are inseparable from an understanding of the role of the state, Khrushchevism destroyed the perspective of Communist Parties in capitalist countries and exposed Socialist states to attempts at counter-revolution.

Without its revolutionary characteristics, Communism has no reason for existence; it bows out to Social-Democracy. When the Polish and Hungarian states, suffering from amnesia, rejected the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, they INVITED restoration attempts – and the fascists, instructed by the U.S. State Department, did not spurn the courtesy!

2. Khrushock produced an amnesia which obliterated an understanding of the necessity for a Stalinist MOMENTUM FROM SOCIALISM TO COMMUNISM. Socialism goes forward to Communism or slips backward to capitalism. Socialism does not go forward automatically; it is organized forward by a vanguard which amplifies the Communist aspects of Socialist society ad gradually filters out the bourgeois aspects. This is the meaning behind the priority of heavy industrial development, behind the removal of the last remnants of small business, behind the struggle to graduate the peasantry from the concept of private plots to collectives and then from collectives to state farms.

Khrushchevism’s attack on centralization and its chain reactions in the other Socialist countries acted as a brake on the momentum from Socialism to Communism. When Khrushchev equated centralization with bureaucracy, he deleted the essence of the scientific organization of Communist society and replaced it with the most primitive liberal yearnings for free enterprise.

3. Khrushock produced an amnesia which obliterated the vanguard role of the Communist Party. The resulting disdain for theory invited wholesale opportunism and revisionism. Playing on the backwardness of the Communist movement, Khrushchevism encouraged a vulgarized interpretation of Democratic Centralism. Knowing that liberals object to centralism, Khrushchev (public relations expert that he thinks he is) offered a retrogression to liberalism; he equated Democratic Centralism with bureaucracy and thereby deleted the science of a proletarian party’s efficient behavior based on a strong principled unity.

Unfortunately, most Communists do not remember (or in many cases never knew) that Democratic Centralism “does not preclude but presupposes criticism and conflict of opinion” (Stalin’s “Foundations of Leninism”).

We could subdivide each of our categories many times and include all of Khrushchev’s innovations, but this would go beyond first aid. Instead, we have attempted to emphasize three anti-Leninist deletions as the quintessence of Khrushchevism.

IV – First Aid for Khrushock

First aid treats the most dangerous condition first. It does not treat a Communist bleeding to death for astigmatism (even if his astigmatism was a remote contributing factor to his “headline mentality”). The eyesight can be corrected later – if the man lives.

In shock, the immediate problem is to insure circulation of the blood to the heart and brain. Therefore, barring exceptions (like heat prostration – and Communists have not been red hot for some time!), first aid provides warmth, stimulants and blood when necessary.

TP has looked into its first aid kit for a compact packet that might be a combined source of warmth, stimulation, and blood. We find it in Stalin’s “Foundations of Leninism.”̶ – ;Foundations” can supply unlimited transfusion to keep a revolutionary heart going and a dialectical brain from disintegrating while it simultaneously corrects the most dangerous condition of amnesia: loss of the meaning of Leninism.

It is the greatest outline ever written of the foundations of any philosophy. It is scientifically so compactly and accurately organized that it becomes more than one man’s outline of another man’s complex production; it becomes in itself a creative masterpiece. Once it offered Communists a perspective of the whole of Leninism while they studied specific parts. Today, its value is enhanced. It is, indeed, a memory restorer, a compass, and a detector of Social-Democracy.

If TP sounds as if it considers “Foundations” a work of genius, a touchstone capable of turning dross into gold, we plead guilty. In fact, in all honesty, we warn anyone who prefers not to lose his respectable, Khrushchevian confusion not to read this seductive pamphlet. Of course, someone will ask with raised eyebrows (i.e., if his overworked eyebrows can still rise once more – after Khrushchev’s horror stories),“What is wrong with TP that it can see such excitement in a mere summary?” In a period of utter confusion which should be referred to historically – the “dark age of Communism,” there is nothing so satisfying, so scientifically artistic, so exciting as CLEAR, ORDERLY, CONSISTENT THINKING!

Now, if the reader thinks that we will continue our essay by summarizing “Foundations,” we must disappoint him. It is an impossible task.“Foundations” is Leninism already reduced to a concentrate. Although we can’t integrate Stalin’s summary into this short essay, we can do something better: we can offer a free copy to any reader who requests one.

Of course, we understand that in this political shock there is an expected block to treatment. A Khrushocked Communist is not particularly in the mood to read or even to listen. But this is not so different from non-political amnesia. If the state of amnesia is gratifying to the victim, he will not relinquish it without a struggle. Such a tragic predicament the editors of TP have no control over. The victim must in some way be dissatisfied with his own amnesia.

A comrade in Khrushock raises his head long enough to moan (by way of resistance to first aid):”This mess is too disgusting to take. I’m too busy vomiting to think.”

In case of vomiting during shock, the patient’s head should be lowered and turned to one side so that the vomit will not go into the lungs. Vomiting is not serious as long as one does not choke on it. Obviously, this applies politically.

Comrades who carelessly gobbled historical baloney at Khrushchevian banquets should not be alarmed at their own vomit as long as they don’t choke on it. In fact, upheaval may disgorge a few lies.

Again, by way of understandable resistance, a comrade may announce: “I want to be rid of all this filth of politics; I am getting as far away as possible; I am divorcing politics.” A sensible comrade should not divorce Communism because he found Khrushchev committing adultery with capitalism; on the contrary, he should divorce himself from the adulteration of Communism and not from Communism itself.

Even after inhaling the suffocating vapors of disillusionment rising from the bog of Khrushchevism can one really renounce Communism and escape to... escape to where? Capitalism has evolved the penthouse – but not the ivory tower.

Regardless of disillusionment, those factors which originally turned us toward Communism are still there. The repulsive qualities of Khrushchevism have not made capitalism more palatable. One still has no choice but Communism and – in the absence of a Messiah – no choice but to find the essence of Leninism and guard it with one’s own integrity against all opportunist operators who would pervert it.

To those who resist first aid, we would suggest: what can be lost by trying a transfusion of “Foundations” for the purpose of restoring the circulation of principle?

V – Prevention of Future Shock

Comrades say,“How do we know that this won’t happen again? What’s the use of trying to clear up this mess in preparation for a return engagement with another Khrushchev?” There is no guarantee that this won’t happen again, that opportunism, the disease which attacks Marxism, won’t again try a tour de force. Only intelligent, outspoken Communists with courage based on understanding can prevent this. If Communists learn from this mess, they never again have to experience such a mass degeneration of the International Communist movement.

“Oho!–that’s too big a dish,” cries an injured comrade. “Do we have to change man to protect the integrity of the Communist movement? That’s too hard.” In answer, we pose a point in logic:

1. You are shocked by the impurity of the Communist movement.
2. However, you are skeptical about producing purity!
3. Therefore, what can you settle for except cynicism?

And how good is cynicism? Pretty weak stuff. Very Unsatisfying. Actually, purity of principle is exactly what we have to strive for. Purity is rather a juicy term, but one which Lenin and Stalin were not ashamed to use when it came to safeguarding the integrity of the Party and its philosophy.

“How can this happen to men’s minds? What happens to supposedly principled Communists who turn into scoundrels overnight?” Of course, it doesn’t happen overnight. It only looks that way – in the morning newspapers. Surprises develop over – a period of time. Let us offer an important test case.

Wasn’t it true that a non-Communist gravitated toward the Party because he was developing the ability to think independently and courageously (i.e., radically)? Again, wasn’t it true that immediately upon his entrance into the Party, he stopped thinking independently and courageously?. Suddenly, wasn’t his loyalty measured – as it is in capitalist society generally – by his readiness to conform, the most disgusting talent in the world?

All Communists know that this horrible picture of an independent radical turning into a Communist mannequin is accurate. But only a few Communists ever met the paradox head-on because it meant expulsion and ostracism. How about the expedient ones who attacked their more courageous comrades for”disruption”? How about the ones who criminally kept quiet? The truth is that Communists in shock – despite shock – know what’s wrong. They did not stick to their guns. They lacked courage. But what corroded that courage which impelled them originally to join a CP? A false concept of discipline and unity subdued a genuine radicality.

Recently, an editor of TP wrote the following to a courageous non-Communist:

“Of course, there’s courage and courage. There’s the Communist (?) who is ready to die in struggle, go to jail, etc., etc., – who nevertheless is ideologically a coward. He will not stand up for what he knows is the right principle – when that principle is under attack within his own mutual admiration circle. This type Communist is capable of playing his individual part within a group courage. He may play a hero’s role in a war waged by his class. But – he is incapable of waging his own war when he, alone, at a given moment and in a given place, knows the cruel, unpopular but correct answer. For this he would need real ideological courage. Basically, I think, the difference between the two levels of courage is a matter of understanding. The man who not only guesses or imagines that an idea is right and necessary but knows with conviction based on a maximum of factual information - this man is capable of the most courage. Whenever people write to us about the problem of courage, I find myself answering through Engels’ ;“freedom as the recognition of necessity.” There’s the real secret arrived at scientifically.

“Why is there so little ideological courage among Communists today? The answer doesn’t lie in immediate, direct, or superficial character traits. The answer lies in understanding. Our Communists in the world today (and one cannot avoid including the famous intellects!) have forgotten some of the things they once knew. Many Communists never knew certain essentials. They never used their own brains; they rode along on faith - sometimes faith in a good man and sometimes faith in a phony.

“Consistently, I find very often that I have to respect the liberal or non-Communist radical who acts in accordance with the limits of his own understanding more than the “Marxist” who understands little of principle and is therefore incapable of defending Marxist principle. I think that if real Marxism is going to come back into its own, this is something that we have to drive home. Then Communists will really be respected by all honest progressives.”

The shocked Communist asks, “How did Khrushchev destroy so much so fast?” Khrushchevism is the climax of a period in which opportunism infiltrated Communism. It did not happen suddenly – overnight, in one Congress, in one report. Revolutions are sudden – but are not made the night before. Similarly, ideological counter-revolutions like Khrushchevism are sudden only in their formal debut. Khrushchevism was fertilized with ideological manure for the last decade and longer. Doesn’t that put the blame on Stalin? Not so simple! We believe that Stalin made mistakes (and no one but us has so far criticized him for the real mistakes), but it was Stalin who carried on the outstanding fight against those who would turn Communism upside down. It was only after his death that the scum rose up to the surface. (What better example than the rise of the Gomulkas and Nagys from jail to government leadership!)

Can one blame Stalin for the fact that Communists all over the world were badly educated and, in fact, de-educated during the last decade? Perhaps he can be blamed a little – as any Communist can. But he who would place the burden of the blame on Stalin really believes in a “cult of the individual,” in an all-controlling miracle-man. The newly enlightened anti-Stalinist who must gnaw away at Stalin should cautiously choose whether he objects to Stalin’s interference or to his non-interference in opportunist developments in other countries. He who sets both fuses is sure to explode nothing but his own hypocrisy. This we know (and have detailed in previous articles) – that Stalin, all his life, fought against the perversion of Leninism.

Can it be denied that once Stalin was dead, we were blessed with a heyday of revisionism in the Central Committee of the CPSU? The speed of the current catastrophe is due to the speed with which, after Stalin’s death, the foundations were removed from Leninism. That, we keep repeating, is why our slogan for reconstructing Communism is A RETURN TO STALINISM.

Where is the leader to lead us? Unfortunately, Communists are too used to being led. They consider a leader not simply a talented comrade who through necessity assumes extra responsibilities, but a mental crutch. Because we have not that shining leader today, it seems to the depressed that nothing is possible. This is downright undignified! Are we waiting, perhaps, for one of our dishonest leaders who betrayed us to reconsider, to have pity to return to lead us AGAINST HIS OWN BETRAYAL? We admit that, in exceptional cases, “this, too, shall come to pass.” But do we have to wait for Comrade Pendulum to oscillate back to us so that we can give our unthinking loyalty another fast swing?

When a man frees his own mind, he finds to his surprise that (1) he himself is to some degree able to lead, and that (2) he is able to recognize the quality of unadvertised leadership in others. He does not have to bounce into a pathetic liberalism which rejects leadership altogether, which can look at a Lenin or a Stalin and fail to see genius. Miracles do not exist; talent does.

But isn’t talent itself often dangerous? Since leadership breeds dishonesty rather easily, how do honest people check on their leaders? How can Communists satisfy themselves that they can prevent a recurrence of catastrophe? What attitude is necessary?

Communists cannot be mystics or religious devotees. They have to think independently. (Anything less is unworthy of the word “think.”) He who doesn’t think with his own copyright brain is a trigger-happy menace to himself and his comrades. When his best friend in the movement thinks, he will be loyally ready to denounce him as an enemy -– although he knows better! Every comrade must have standards with which to judge ideas and exponents of ideas.

But,”Suppose I don’t know enough to judge?” There we have an all-purpose padlock which protects “operators,” pedants, and assorted swindlers. As long as the rank and file feels forced to disqualify its own judgment, there is no check or balance in a movement – any movement. What justifies the layman in judging the wisdom of “experts”? (As if the expert doesn’t have the responsibility of proving his point!) The act of judgment (agreement, amendment, criticism, opposition) is part of the technique of learning – exercise for the muscles of the brain so that there is developed more strength than is needed to produce an “aye.” Worse than error is unthinking acquiescence. A gadget capable of sending only one message – that the head should nod – is certainly not a brain but just another product of IBM ingenuity.

Respect a deserving leader as you respect a deserving friend, artist, teacher, etc. – subject to your own standards of judgement. How should an independent man look at a leader?

Does the leader glory in his role, or is he too busy working to inflate? Does he continually collect data from those he leads, or does he dish out a priori decisions? Does he expect that these decisions be loyally swallowed whole and thereafter substantiated with data obsequiously tailored for his gratification? When this leader speaks, does he relish his own words, does he vibrate in his own exhibitionist vanity, does he remind one of Elvis Presley satisfying his audience? Do not neglect this point; since a leader tends to speak often, he offers great opportunities for dissection. Communist leaders should deliver themselves of logic; they should show no tendencies to act the clown.

Stubbornness in a leader may be a sign of honest conviction and perseverance, but beware of the leader who weasels out of his own mistakes by rationalization, by buck-passing, by blaming his own followers or the masses in general. A real leader, with conscience, must feel relieved – even if embarrassed – to have an error exposed because he is thereby prevented from compounding his error into catastrophe.

Communists can allow themselves to be loyal only to their principles and to the men who currently represent those principles. This is not so complicated. If one has grown to love a leader for his militancy, should one accept him loyally as he degenerates into a cautious, respectable, compromising excuse-monger? One can judge a leader by his own past consistency. His own errors are thrown into silhouette by the light of his consistency. Is this too much for a rank and filer to judge? Of course not. He simply has to get up enough courage to borrow the use of his own brain.

Communists should he disciplined for reasons of logic – not for conformity. They should understand the strength behind voluntary discipline. Coerced discipline is a hallucination which is incapable of producing revolutionary unity. Obviously, if a comrade has to he coerced into accepting correct ideas, he should not have been recruited – he was only harmed by being prematurely recruited.

Recruiting was traditionally a bad habit: a snow job on an unsuspecting sympathizer. The candidate for membership should know what he is joining, what his rights are, what his responsibilities are (including the responsibility to think). Why make a pressured delinquent out a respected ally? We should not pressure people into a Communist Party, we should not harangue, induce and seduce. On the contrary, we should make it clear that it is a privilege to belong. We should understand - for the future – that the CP is strengthened by the non-membership of unready or unstable elements.

In a reconstructed Communist movement we will warn new members against conformity, against a Dale Carnegie concept of popularity. We will say to him: if you fall asleep at meetings, we will understand that this is natural enough and due to your overtaxing job or worse – our overtaxing boredom; but, please, it is not allowed that you wake long enough to “endorse the brilliant report of Comrade Organizer.”

If Communists want to protect themselves against future surprises let them take a cruel look at their own contributions to this mess. Let them learn (at the risk of rupturing a beloved tradition or two) to judge by quality and not quantity, by consistent integrity and not popularity. Let them discover that membership in a CP is no holy guarantee against sloppy thinking or even loss of principle. (Even after more than a generation of Socialism, the human brain has not been remade to perfection.)

We propose an interesting experiment to those who are so dismayed at the disorganization of the Communist movement today. Look back – way back – at all your experiences in the Party. Collect data on mistakes – including your own (including the times you helped gang-up on a serious comrade who was honestly trying to improve and protect the Party.) Reinvestigate all your old habits of thinking. Having done so, can you really think that what has happened is so mystical, uncontrollable, unpredictable? If American Communists were to become architects of their own future and were to take note of the famous pitfalls, they could one day produce a truly surprising CP, one which would become generally known as the improper place for “operators.”

But first, before they lead anyone else, shocked Communists have to administer some first aid to themselves, have to strengthen their memory, have to find out what Leninism is, have to find out whether or not they still are Communists. With a solution to this problem of identity will come an end to shock. Then, we suspect, the whining will cease! The clammy coldness in the Communist movement will be relieved.