First Published: 1956
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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What is the significance of the speeches and resolutions of the XXth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party? It is that an opportunist faction has temporarily gained control of the Party apparatus and hopes, by Titoite methods, to restore capitalism in the Soviet Union. The campaign of defamation of Stalin, which began in a cowardly, conspiratorial fashion, is now coming out into the open, emboldened by the support of sham communists and renegades in foreign countries and is showing itself for what it is – an attack on the general line of the Communist Party, which led the Soviet people to victory. When a counter-revolutionary deed is done, discussion on the methods by means of which it is carried out should not divert our attention from the nature of the counter-revolutionary deed itself. Malenkov, Mikoyan, Khrushchev, are guilty of a counter-revolutionary deed which they are trying to cover up with talk about collective leadership and a fight against the cult of the individual. Without losing sight of the main point, namely the revision of Marxism which opponents of Stalin within the party tried to put forward even during his life time and which, now that he has gone, they hope to carry out, it will be useful to consider briefly the two main slogans that have been raised.
Collective leadership is the basic idea underlying the Communist Party, and always has been. The party is formed by the voluntary coming together of the most advanced members of the working class and other elements, particularly peasants, who have thrown in their lot with the working class and adopted its standpoint. Formulating a single policy by the principle of majority vote they proceed to advocate this policy and enlist support for it in all mass organisations and in every sphere of national life. Such collective leadership presupposes inequality of development of individuals in society, as does all leadership, for if all individuals were equally developed, leadership would not be necessary at all. They would all move, of their own accord, in the direction appropriate for pursuing those interests. Inequality of development is a basic law of Marxism. It underlies the development of living organisms. It is evident to all students of history in comparing the different forms of early human society, and it receives its classic exposition in the later rise and fall of nations. Hence the importance of leadership in history. But if there is inequality of development between groups of individuals organised together in various ways, and between groups within society and the whole of society, there is also inequality of development between individuals within these groups. Thus, every collective puts forward its most advanced individual as leader. In the present campaign for so-called collective leadership which has been launched by opportunists in the ranks of the communist parties today, quite a different sort of collective leadership is meant to that exemplified by the Party under Lenin and Stalin’s leadership. The slogan of collective leadership in the Soviet Party today has not been brought forward as the natural form of leadership which had hitherto been given by the party since its foundation by Lenin. On the contrary, it has been brought forward in opposition to the kind of leadership given by Stalin. It therefore does not mean collective leadership of the people by the Party, but collective leadership within the party. Collective leadership of this kind means factionalism and compromise between different policies, as opposed to the Leninist principle of adopting a single unequivocal policy by a majority vote, and then carrying out that policy under the leadership of that comrade who had led the fight for it: all those who had opposed this policy in discussion being now obliged to carry it out with the rest.
Similarly the opportunists are using the slogan: an end to the cult of the individual, to do away with the principle of leadership altogether. If there was a cult of &e individual in &e Soviet Union, who was responsible for it? It is an absurdity to charge Stalin with responsibility for this. It is not possible for a man to create a cult of himself. The cult of the individual is making a fetish of the individual, which was not done by any sincere worker in the case of Stalin. It is true Stalin was greatly praised, both sincerely and insincerely – sincerely by the toiling masses of the world who saw in him the leader they needed, the man who always gave the correct policy leading to victory; insincerely by the opportunists and careerists whose expressed opinions, as opposed to those they actually hold, are determined by those of the party in power. There are a large number of people, sham communists, who are now getting angry at the manner in which Stalin was praised, They, most of them, say that they were great praisers themselves at one time, but that they made a mistake. Maybe it was they who were guilty of the cult of the individual, but if so let them admit it, instead of slandering Stalin and those who believe in his policy. No one who has studied history can be ignorant of the important part praise of a good leader and a correct policy has played in every revolution. This is not shown only by history, but also by humanity’s greatest works of art. Even the insincere praise of the opportunist plays its part. Is it not an invariable practice of revolutionaries to force their defeated enemies to praise the revolution, and particularly revolutionary leaders and policies, so as to humiliate them in the eyes of their followers? If this is distasteful to some British left wing intellectuals why did they ever join the revolutionary party? It is quite clear, however, that what is really making them sick is the bad taste of their own words.
Plekhanov in his classic of Marxism, The Role of the Individual in History, points out that there are two views on this question which are opposed to one another, but both of which are alien to Marxism. The first is that all history is made by great individuals and that the people, the ’mob,’ plays a passive part. This was the view of the non-proletarian, revolutionary peasant parties. The second is that since social development is a process conforming to laws "the individual can do nothing." This was the view of the apologists of capitalism. The opportunist party members who today are raising a hue and cry about the cult of the individual are in effect falling back to this standpoint, for they are denying the importance of the individual leadership which is an organic part of a revolutionary people. It is absolutely necessary for all sincere workers to penetrate the smoke screen and see the present campaign for what it really is, that is, not a campaign to expose the alleged personal weaknesses of a great man, but a plot to abandon the revolutionary policy of the communist parties pursued under Lenin and Stalin’s leadership and replace it with an opportunist, Menshevik policy, a policy of conciliation with capitalism which could only lead to the defeat of the working class movement.
No charges have yet been made against Stalin by the party opportunists except in the most general terms. None of them have informed us what mistakes he made. Some declare that he executed good men, but we are not told their names. We are informed that he put himself above the Party, but we are not told on what occasions. The most serious criticism appears to be that he did not take Winston Churchill’s advice in conducting the defence of the Soviet Union in the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet peoples against Hitler fascism. A few more daring people enter into questions of policy in their criticism, but the party leaders prefer to avoid such questions and write long articles like those of Harry Pollitt in which as little as possible is said in as many words as possible, evading sharp issues.
Since the denunciation of Stalin which has developed in a few weeks from the first timid criticisms by Mikoyan at the Congress into a flood of slander, calumny and bitter hatred of the Bolshevik revolutionary leadership, the opportunists of all colours have enjoyed a regular Witches Sabbath in the pages of the British Daily Worker. All the reactionary policies which had been put forward within the party in its early days but had been completely rooted out by Lenin and Stalin are now making their re-appearance.
Whereas Lenin and Stalin taught us that the bourgeoisie would never relinquish its power voluntarily, we are now told that revolutions can now be carried out without a struggle. Whereas Lenin and Stalin taught us that under capitalism in its last stage, imperialism, the State power is built up into a huge machine, opposing the people with its armed force, and that this machine must be smashed if the working class is to carry its revolution to a victorious conclusion, we are now told that the capitalist parliamentary system can be transformed peacefully into a socialist parliamentary system and the existence of the imperialist state is completely ignored.
Whereas Lenin and Stalin taught us that in order to maintain its rule immediately after the proletarian revolution and carry out the building of socialist economy under peaceful conditions, the working class with the peasantry for its ally must set up its own State power in the form of a dictatorship of the proletariat which must deprive the remnants of the old bourgeoisie within the country of all platforms for the propagation of its politics, must suppress all attempts at counter-revolution by physical force and must build up strong defences against the external capitalist enemy, we are now told that the dictatorship of the proletariat is out of date and that in socialist Britain, after the (peaceful) revolution there will even be a Tory party (Daily Worker, March 27th 1956).
Whereas Lenin and Stalin taught us that capitalism, in its last stage, imperialism, inevitably leads to wars between capitalist States, we are now told that imperialist wars can be done away with altogether by the peace loving peoples without destroying imperialism.
Whereas Lenin and Stalin taught us that with the advance of socialism the resistance of the remnants of the bourgeoisie in countries where the proletarian revolution had been victorious, and the resistance of the ruling class in capitalist countries, would get fiercer and fiercer, we are now told that there are no bourgeois forces in the Soviet Union and it is being suggested in the British party that even the capitalists in the non-Soviet world are getting tired of the struggle and will dutiful lay down their arms when a people’s government is elected in Britain.
One of the charges Made against Stalin was that he put himself above the Party, making independent decisions. It will be remembered that a similar charge was made against Lenin by the Mensheviks. This was on the occasion of the April theses when Lenin charted the course for the Bolshevik revolution and announced his policy without first consulting the party. In his work Lenin pointed out the revolutionary necessity for such action and his view on this subject have since been endorsed again and again by the communist parties of the world, so that it is not necessary to go into them here. Lenin was not a dictator, but a great revolutionary leader whose strength depended on the fact that he took all his decisions in close consultation with the people, and when circumstances arose when immediate consultation was not possible he used his revolutionary instinct to judge whether a given decision would be endorsed by the people with the action that could alone turn formal decisions into actual events. Stalin was a great revolutionary leader of the same kind. He understood creative democracy, and formalism of every kind was alien to him. At every stage in the building of socialism he consulted the people on a mass scale, having first by thorough discussion and majority vote, secured collective leadership of the party for such mass discussion.
It was so in the socialist industrialisation of the country where meetings were held in every factory to draw up the details for the Five-Year Plans, in the fight against Trotskyism, where the whole party discussed the opposing theses and the supporters of Trotsky were given an opportunity of defending their standpoint, before he was formally condemned and then by majority vote.
In the campaign for the collectivisation of agriculture general meetings of peasants were held in every village to discuss and accept or reject the party proposals. And although in some cases democracy was violated by party members in this campaign, it is common knowledge that this was in direct contravention of the Central Committee of the Party under Stalin’s leadership and was done in many cases deliberately to antagonise the peasantry and weaken Soviet power.
In the campaign for socialist competition and Stakhanovism, two mighty movements which sprang up spontaneously from the working people and were at first opposed by many party leaders, Stalin gave tremendous scope to individual initiative among rank and file workers in industry and agriculture by supporting their campaign within the party and securing nationwide recognition of it. Who does not remember the numerous Congresses of Shockworkers, collective farmers, Stakhanovites etc. which played such an important part in getting new healthy life into the Party and hindering bureaucrats from getting control of the party apparatus.
Around the discussions on a model constitution for collective farms a similar mass campaign was developed and in the drawing up of the Stalin Constitution for the Soviet State (the present Constitution which the opportunists dare not yet try to attack) for the first time in history a whole people, including the foreign workers employed in their country, performed the function of a constituent assembly, discussing the Draft Constitution, putting amendments and finally enacting the Constitution by overwhelming majority vote.
The leader of a revolution, as Lenin pointed out, must at every critical juncture devote all his energy to what is at the moment the most important decisive task and let everything else look after itself. When the building of the Party was the most important task Stalin devoted himself to this task as Secretary of the Party. When the country was invaded by the Hitler fascists as part of a world wide conspiracy to attempt restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union, the securing of victory for Soviet arms became the most important task and Stalin devoted himself to that task as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. All the best leaders had likewise to turn their attention from peaceful party work to military matters and a large number went to the front. This meant leaving their own locality and since the party is necessarily organised on a territorial basis it naturally weakened the party apparatus, and war conditions in any case made party leadership on a discussion-decision basis in many cases impossible. Furthermore, whereas the Five-Year Plans were carried out by a united front of workers and peasants organised in opposition to all those remnants of the old regime, who, although formally in the category of workers and peasants, had not wholeheartedly gone over to their standpoint, during the war a broader, united patriotic front, including such anti-communist forces as the churches was organised, and rightly so, for it was under the banner of Defence of the Fatherland that the struggle against Hitler was carried to a successful conclusion. Stalin at that time became the leader of all the forces in the Soviet Union, including some forces bourgeois in ideology that wished to drive out the invader. During the war thousands of the best communists were killed by the invaders, while numerous sham communists, careerists in responsible party positions in the occupied territories went over to the enemy, some openly, others secretly, taking with them files which could direct the Gestapo to all activists among the old and young who were left in the occupied territories after all able bodied men had joined the Red Army or Partisan groups. The concessions made to the remnants of the bourgeoisie, the Church etc. during the war years, though necessary for the struggle, had their negative aspects, for they gave scope for ideologies hostile to communism. They therefore left serious problems to be dealt with after the war. In the occupied territories the collective farms were broken up and capitalist economic relations restored. In some cases farms were given to kulak elements from among the collective farmers. This provided soil for the re-growth of capitalist ideas. When all these facts are taken into consideration is it surprising that following the war certain opportunist forces should grow within the communist party, and since we now see from the public utterances of the treacherous turncoats who have now seized the leadership, that they actually did grow, must we not say that Stalin was quite right to oppose them with all the means at his disposal. Only people who make a fetish of the party will say that even if the party treads the path of counter-revolution (as happened before in Yugoslavia) loyal communists must still obey their directives. However, there is nothing to indicate that Stalin ever had to defy a majority decision of the party, for the members of the opposition were such cowards during Stalin’s lifetime that they always endorsed his decisions, whatever may have occurred in secret session.
In the discussions of the speeches of the XXth Congress many people have asked the question, if Stalin set himself above the party, what power enabled him to do this? This is a question very destructive of the thesis of Messrs. Malenkov, Mikoyan, Khrushchev and Company. Under capitalism a dictator may have great power because the powerful capitalist interests in the country agree to sink their differences and hand over the state to the control of one man pledged to suppress the people. But the Soviet Union is not a capitalist state, there are no powerful organised private interests, Stalin never had any personal power, though he had enormous moral authority based on his brilliant leadership and devotion to the people. The force by which Mikoyan, Khrushchev and Company felt themselves opposed was the worker-peasant masses of the Soviet Union and all the best sons and daughters of the human race throughout the world who spoke through their party and through the leader of their party, Comrade Stalin. And they will speak again.