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Fourth International, March 1944


The Editors

The Month in Review


From Fourth International, vol.5 No.3, March 1944, pp.67-71.
Transcribed, marked up & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


The Meaning of Stalin’s ‘Constitutional Reforms’

STALIN AMENDS HIS OWN ‘CONSTITUTION’ Toward the end of January, less than two months after the Teheran conference, the Kremlin suddenly issued orders to convene the Tenth Session of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. The very fact of convening the Supreme Soviet is noteworthy inasmuch as this “highest organ of state power in the USSR” has been virtually defunct since Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941. One of the first actions of the Kremlin at that time was to suspend the “Stalinist Constitution” (promulgated in 1936); all power was arrogated by the Defense Council, a war cabinet of five individuals: Stalin and his four puppets, Molotov, Berya, Voroshilov and Malenkov. During the entire intervening period, the Supreme Soviet, supposed by law to meet twice a year, was convened only once, and that was in the summer of 1942 in order to ratify Stalin’s pact with England.

But the reason for convening the second wartime session of the Supreme Soviet is even more noteworthy. It was summoned in order to amend the suspended Constitution, or more correctly in order to adopt two amendments which ostensibly grant greater autonomy to each of the 16 Soviet republics. According to these amendments each Soviet republic is henceforth free to conduct its own foreign affairs and to dispose of its own independent military formations. Each is to have its own commissariats of defense and its own commissariats of foreign affairs; each is now empowered to enter into agreements and make treaties with foreign powers. Is this perhaps decentralization?

Centralization does not become transformed into decentralization by virtue of simple numerical changes. On the contrary, such changes can very well serve to disguise centralization effectively. As a matter of fact, it is a trick commonly employed by capitalists who, for example, set up a number of corporations in order thereby the better to disguise a monopoly.

Without any previous public discussion the foregoing two proposals were submitted to the delegates by Molotov, in the name of the Council of People’s Commissars. They were adopted unanimously on February 1 at a four-hour session of the Supreme Soviet.

MR. LIPPMANN HAILS ‘AUSPICIOUS’ REFORMS This latest Moscow move has aroused considerable speculation, especially in the columns of the “democratic” capitalist press. Among the opinions advanced is one to the effect that this is a maneuver of Stalin designed to assure dominance at the peace negotiations: Instead of casting one vote, the Kremlin can now cast 16! The more sober commentators have discounted this explanation on the ground that the Kremlin must surely be aware that matters relating to peace negotiations never were and never will be settled by counting noses. As against those who fear some wily ruse, there are others who incline to accept the Stalinist “reforms” at their face value. Thus, Mr. Walter Lippmann hails as “auspicious” the “decentralizing reform in the Soviet Union”; and goes on to speculate that this tendency toward decentralization will as a matter of fact become world-wide. Says Mr. Lippmann:

“The centralized state is a monster even at its most benevolent, and just because it is indispensable in war, peace will bring a reaction against it. If that reaction goes too far, it will produce anarchy. But it must go a very considerable distance or there will be popular explosions. It is not unlikely, then, that Stalin, who knows his Russia, has been reading correctly the signs of the times”. (New York Herald Tribune, February3.)

If, as Mr. Lippmann correctly contends, it is “amateurish” to reduce to simple arithmetic questions relating to a peace conference, then it is no less false to conclude that far-reaching changes in the Kremlin’s domestic and foreign policy are involved in a mere increase in the number of commissariats. Sixteen handpicked sets of puppets in place of a single set cannot alter anything fundamentally either in the character of Stalin’s regime or in his policies. His totalitarian control is not weakened an iota thereby.

MOLOTOV’S CRYSTAL CLEAR EXPLANATION The only explanation that the Kremlin itself has offered for the changes is contained n Molotov’s speech. As usual this official explanation explains nothing at all. 1t is a web of brazen lies. The keynote of Molotov’s speech is contained in the following passage:

“The meaning of the proposed transformation is perfectly clear. This transformation signifies great expansion of the activities of the Union republics which has become possible as a result of their political, economic and cultural growth, or, in other words, as a result of their national development.” (New York Times, February2.)

What “political, economic and cultural growth” is Molotov speaking about? What kind of “national development” have the Union republics actually experienced during the almost three years of the life-and-death struggle against the Nazis?

The territories of not less than seven of the 16 republics have been the arena of the greatest and most destructive battles in world history. Their industry and agriculture, their cities plants and fields first suffered from the scorched-earth policy when the Red Army was in retreat along the 2,000 mile front; whatever remained intact was subsequently subjected to the fury of the retreating Nazis. Among these seven republics is that of the Ukraine, with a population of almost 40 million, the biggest and most important next to the Great Russian Republic. There is the Belorussian republic, the third largest, with more than 10 million inhabitants. The richest and the most industrialized regions of central Russia have felt the impact of the war and key cities were left in shambles like Stalingrad or subjected to prolonged siege and battered like Leningrad.

STALINIST CONCEPTION OF NATIONAL PROGRESS What kind of “political, economic and cultural growth” could there have been for the scores of millions who have remained for the greater part of the war under Nazi rule? Five of the Union republics remain even today under Nazi occupation and the Red Armies are still fighting to recapture these areas. Vast stretches of Soviet territory over which the tide of battle has swept have been turned into gigantic wastelands. It will take years of reconstruction to bring them back again to the pre-war levels, which were none too high to begin with. Economically, the Soviet Union as a whole has been set back. The Kremlin bureaucracy itself estimates that it would need 10 million German slaves to labor for ten years in order to rebuild the devastated territories.

It is no less a mockery to talk about “political, economic and cultural growth” in the republics which have escaped the direct impact of the war but which have remained under the rule of Stalin. The entire productive machinery of the country, beyond the range of Nazi guns, has been strained to the breaking point in order to produce the implements for the war. The living bearers of culture, the flower of Soviet manhood, millions of its youth have given their lives freely on the far-flung battlefronts. Economically, there could have been no genuine growth under these conditions.

The political rights of the Soviet people have long ago been usurped by the bureaucracy. They have not regained a single one of their political rights. Nor has the bureaucracy the slightest intention of allowing any breach in its totalitarian rule.

CULTURE UNDER KREMLIN’S RULE So far as culture is concerned, the bureaucracy has seized the wartime conditions as a pretext for depriving the masses of the last remaining cultural conquests of the October revolution. The right of free, universal education has been abrogated through the introduction of paid higher education. Co-education has been abolished. Nothing remains of the protective legislation for women.

This comes on top of the terrible burden that the war has placed on the youth who are either at the front or in the factories and fields. The bulk of the agricultural force now consists of adolescents. Similar conditions exist in industry. The director of the largest munitions plant in Moscow told a Soviet press correspondent:

“The war has caused special difficulties with regard to personnel; I need only say that our entire personnel is practically new. Most of our workers today are young people of 14 to 16 – adolescents. These Young People have had no special training; we had to teach them in our stride.”

The correspondent then visited one of the shops:

“With few exceptions, all those tending the machines were girls of 14 to 16 years. Most were standing on low stools, as the lathes were too high for them.” (Information Bulletin of the USSR, Washington D.C., Vol.IV, No.3, January 8)

Nothing could be more reactionary than the ideology which the Kremlin is now straining all its resources to instill among the Soviet masses. The most barbaric traditions of “Holy Russia” have been revived. Stalin is dealing terrible blows to further cultural development by propagating” the poison of Slavic chauvinism. He has cleared the road for other poison, too. The Greek Orthodox Church has been restored and the Holy Synod reorganized with the blessings of the Kremlin. All this serves reaction, not progress.

WHAT POLICY DO THE REFORMS’CONTINUE? Stalin’s latest “reforms” can be correctly understood only in the ‘light of his entire previous policy. If approached from this standpoint it will be seen that they represent not a sharp turn but a continuation of a whole series of past and recent measures which have completely disclosed the counter-revolutionary essence of Stalinism.

Stalin’s rule rests on naked force. He knows of only one solution to political problems, and that is the application of police measures with ruthless cruelty. Deceit, falsehood and treachery provide the supplementary weapons in the Stalinist arsenal. Leon Trotsky long ago pointed out that it was Stalin’s conviction that force solves any and all problems; that ruling classes have been deposed only because they failed to use force sufficiently and brutally enough. Stalin’s personal traits qualified him for the role of the leader of the reactionary bureaucracy which rose to power in the Soviet Union owing to a combination of exceptional historical circumstances: the isolation of the proletarian revolution in one of the most backward countries of Europe.

THE STATUS QUO AND THE KREMLIN In general it can be said that the primary task of the Soviet bureaucracy has been from the very outset to perpetuate those exceptional historical conditions to which it owes its rise and under which alone it can continue to maintain its power and privileges, i.e., the conditions which resulted in isolating the conquests of the October revolution within the territories of the former Czarist empire. In the beginning this was not a conscious policy, but a chase after a reactionary utopia which expressed itself in the promulgation by Stalin of the theory of “building Socialism in one country.” In other words, once it arose on the basis of the new Economic Policy after the termination of the civil war in the Soviet Union in 1921, the bureaucracy proceeded to rationalize the basic weakness of the USSR – its isolation in a capitalist encirclement -- into a source of alleged strength, and assigned to itself a fraudulent historic mission which was presently proclaimed as accomplished. Years ago the Stalinists announced the “irrevocable triumph” of socialism in the country.

As a matter of fact, however, the bureaucracy found itself weakest precisely in the period of the first Five Year Plan (1929-1932) when for the sake of self-preservation it began applying the program of industrialization originally sponsored by the Trotskyist Left Opposition. Bereft of an independent social base, the Kremlin tried to create one artificially through an intensive fostering of a labor and kolkhoz (collective farm) aristocracy. But instead of achieving stability the bureaucracy found itself plunged into a series of internal and international crises. In the end Stalin discovered that the cadres he had so carefully handpicked over the years were unreliable. He decimated the ranks of his own bureaucracy in the mass blood purges during the period of the Moscow frame up trials.

As the arena for the maneuvers of the bureaucracy both on the domestic and foreign fields became more and more restricted, the reactionary content of the Stalinist policies became more and more pronounced. The policy of keeping the Soviet Union isolated became a deliberate one.

Internationally the world working class paid for this by a series of catastrophic defeats culminating in the betrayal of the German proletariat to Hitler and the subsequent outbreak of the Second World War. In the meantime the bureaucracy succeeded in completely expropriating the Soviet masses politically and in imposing a totalitarian regime on the country.

STALIN IN SEARCH OF A STABLE BASE The conditions arising from the war have made it more urgent than ever before for the bureaucracy to broaden its social base. How has the Kremlin done this? By utilizing the successes of the Red Army in order to create a monstrous military caste as its main internal prop. The Kremlin has done everything in its power to invest this military caste with social weight. The most reactionary feudal and Czarist military traditions have been revived. Prerogatives and privileges for the officers beyond even the Prussian standards have been legalized in an attempt to separate the officers by an impassable gulf from the mass of the soldiers and of the population and thus assure their dependence upon the Kremlin. Promotion of soldiers from the ranks to commissioned officers has been prohibited. Special military schools have been set up and only those enrolled in these institutions can qualify for commanding posts in the Army. At the same time military discipline has been introduced into all schoolrooms. The diplomatic corps has likewise been militarized.

Is there a direct connection between the latest “reforms” and this intensive fostering of the military caste? The Kremlin has unquestionably reinforced its new military hierarchy by setting up 16 new commissariats of defense. In commenting on the results expected from this “reform” Molotov made the following significant remark:

“It is to be expected that this will also increase the attention paid by the republics to the organisation of military training in schools and institutions of higher education, of which we stand in need.”(New York Times, February 2)

EVERYTHING PREPARED BEHIND THE SCENES The Kremlin never improvises in such matters but prepares everything calculatingly and carefully in advance. In the same speech Molotov announced:

“Now, too, we have national army formations in the Red Army. Our arm has Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian, Georgian. Azerbaijanian, Armenian, Kazakh and certain other army formations. Some of these army units were created during the patriotic war.” (Idem)

The corresponding national military hierarchies have already been hand-picked. Molotov hinted as much in his speech. This is confirmed in an article on the National Military Formations in the Red Army by one M. Volkov who flatly states:

Unlike the situation in previous years, every Union Republic now has not only cadres of rank and file soldiers, but certain cadres of commanding personnel capable of directing the corresponding military units. The Red Army has more than 10 Lettish generals developed and steeled in battle, and large numbers of Lettish officers trained in the Stalin school of fighting. Among the tested commanders of the Red Army are 108 Byelorussian generals. They are experienced masters of victory such as the sons of the Georgian people, General Chanchibadze and others, and more than 10 Armenian generals, among whom is General Bagramyan, Commander of the First Baltic Front.” (Information Bulletin, Embassy of the USSR Washington D.C., Vol.IV No.22, February 23. Our emphasis.)

*  *  *  *

The fostering and strengthening of the military caste is one of the most damaging blows to the remaining conquests of October. Only dupes and scoundrels would try to palm it off as a concession to the popular masses of the USSR. The Kremlin is now revealing more graphically than ever before that it has not and will not voluntarily make a single genuine concession to the Soviet masses. For it stands in mortal fear of the masses and of all developments that might make concessions necessary. The usurping and parasitic bureaucracy can continue to maintain itself only in the same way as it has done in the past, namely, by suppressing all initiative on the part of the masses, by crushing every sign of critical thought and of political opposition, by arrogating more and more power and privileges to the ruling stratum.

*  *  *  *

WHAT THEY ALL FEAR THE MOST Foreign policy is the continuation of domestic policy. The reactionary content of Stalin’s domestic measures has a direct bearingon the coming European revolution. The Soviet military hierarchy is aimed not only at the masses at home, but abroad. The Kremlin intends to apply the same police measures on the continent of Europe as it employs at home. Like the world bourgeoisie, the Kremlin fears most that the second World War will inevitably give birth to the proletarian revolution.

The Kremlin has been quite outspoken in its discussion of this crucial development. Here, for example, is what the leading editorial in War and the Working Class, the mouthpiece of Stalin’s foreign policy, had to say on this subject on the eve of the Hull-Eden-Molotov conference in Moscow:

“Among the many consequences which arise in our time as a result of a prolonged war it is necessary to pay serious attention to the fact that with the prolongation of war an inevitable change occurs in the reciprocal relations between the military and political factors which determine the course and outcome of the war. The longer the war lasts the less weightier becomes the purely military factor, i.e., the operations of military forces under the complete control of the respective governments, as against factors of political character arising from the complex and contradictory processes which are far less subject to the control and regulating influence of the belligerent powers This is a wholly lawful axiom; it has been confirmed by the experiences of war history.

“Let us recall the historical experience of the first World War. It lasted more than four years. At that time what did the prolongation of the war lead to? One of the most important consequences of the first World War and of the political crisis connected with the latter was the complete collapse of the Czarist empire in Russia which occurred as early as the third year of the war and which produced enormous changes in the system of international relations existing at that time. Eight months after the overthrow of Czarism, in the midst of the continuing war and the greatly aggravated political crisis, the October revolution gave birth to a state of an entirely new type ... As is well-known, the world-historic events in Russia were by no means the only consequences of the political crisis produced by the war. Other countries likewise lived through colossal convulsions, first and foremost, those countries which suffered defeat in the war. The Germany of the Kaiser, under the impact of a prolonged war and in the face of the obvious inability of the German army to resist any longer, suffered an internal collapse before the armies of the victorious countries were able to enter her territories. Whatever may be one’s standpoint in evaluating the events which took place in Germany, Italy, Hungary, throughout the whole of Central Europe at the termination of the first World War and during the transition from war to peace, one thing is incontestable: these events proved to be pregnant with the gravest consequences in the sphere of both the international political relations and economic relations.” (War and the Working Class, No.9, October 1, 1942)

THE BRIDGE TO TEHERAN This is not addressed to the European working class in order to inspire them with the knowledge that great historical forces are operating in favor of the proletarian revolution. Nor is this said to instill in workers the supreme confidence that out of the second world slaughter the revolution must inescapably arise with far greater chances for victory than the Russian workers had in 1917. This is not a summons to the European working class to rise in revolt for the establishment of the Socialist United States of Europe. No, the Kremlin is addressing its remarks directly to Washington and London. In Moscow they apparently still remember shreds of Marxism only when it comes to warning the capitalist politicians that the military defeat of Germany is but a part of the problem raised by the war. They cite history not to demonstrate the historic mission of the working class but to plead for collaboration in bringing the war to the speediest possible conclusion lest “factors of a political character:’ i.e., the class struggle breaks out into the open. It ought to be noted that implicit in the Kremlin’s presentation is the conviction that it is possible to cheat history – provided, of course, sufficient force is brought to bear in time. Moreover, the Kremlin is likewise expressing here its own mortal fear of the “gravest consequences” politically and economically that might flow from the war, i.e., the outbreak of the proletarian revolution.

This is precisely what provides the bridge for the agreement between Stalin and his allies – a bridge consisting not only of considerations of military expediency, the need of defeating a common enemy, Germany, but also of the common need to try to strangle the revolutionary uprisings on the European continent. This is the gist of the agreements arrived at in Moscow and Teheran.

GUARANTEES AND FAST SERVICE – AT A PRICE To prove his reliability and good faith Stalin has formally buried the stinking corpse of the Communist International. The revolutionary battle-song of the world proletarian the Internationale has been outlawed as the national anthem of the USSR. The American Communist Party is now calling upon the workers to – scab for the preservation of Wall Street. The British Communist Party licks the boots of British imperialists with equal zeal but without discarding its old organizational form ... Even the perfidious Social Democrats never sank as low as this.

All that the Kremlin asks in return for its many services are certain territorial concessions. Stalin’s allies have been somewhat hesitant about granting these demands. Not that the demands are exorbitant in and of themselves. On the contrary, Stalin is not even asking what the Czarist diplomats obtained during the last war by secret treaties from their “democratic” allies. Stalin is not even demanding the return of all the territories that Czarist Russia used to possess in Eastern Europe. He is only asking for that which he had previously obtained from Hitler. This he believes will permanently re-establish the status quo between a capitalist Western Europe and the USSR with its sphere of influence in the East.

If Stalin’s allies hesitate to grant these relatively modest demands it is because they would like to isolate the USSR hermetically in order the more easily to destroy it later on. The continued existence of the Soviet Union, even under Stalin, renders impossible any genuine stabilization of Europe on a capitalist basis. Unlike Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill know this, and proceed deliberately from this fundamental premise. In the last analysis this basic class conflict between capitalism and the degenerated workers’ state cannot be eliminated by any diplomatic maneuvers. When they consider the time and conditions propitious, the “democrats” will break with the Kremlin. Meanwhile, they find it expedient to continue the collaboration.

At first sight it may appear that the latest maneuver of the Kremlin can act only to aggravate the relations with the “democracies.” For, after all, it is quite obvious that thereby Stalin has not only repeated his territorial demands (the Baltic States, the Curzon line for Poland, Bessarabia, etc.) but has already set up a flexible framework for the absorption of new territories. Isn’t this tantamount to a bold challenge?

STALINISM HAS NOT ALTERED ITS COURSE To answer this question in the affirmative is to maintain that the Kremlin has made a sharp turn in its foreign policy. For every one of Stalin’s moves in the recent period has been designed not to impede or blow up but rather facilitate and forge his alliance with Roosevelt and Churchill. He is anxious to help London and Washington crush the German revolution. (As Browder has publicly boasted, Stalin pledged to do this at Teheran.) He is no less anxious to have the backing of Churchill and Roosevelt in obtaining reparations from Germany and in preventing a “strong Germany” from ever rising again. He needs – and expects to receive – the economic aid of the United States for the rebuilding of the USSR.

No, there has been no turn in Stalin’s policy. In reality, even if Stalin had decided not to pose the issue publicly, it would have been nonetheless posed just as sharply, owing to the successes of the Red Army which is now beginning to tower as the dominant military force in Europe. In the period immediately ahead the defeated and retreating German armies represent the only force that can prevent the Red Army from overrunning Eastern Europe, and even penetrating far more deeply. The “democracies” are thus confronted with the alternative of accepting what they are powerless to prevent at this time or of breaking openly with the Kremlin, which they are hardly in position to do. Stalin’s “reforms” provide a face-saving formula for the sponsors of the Atlantic Charter. Far from being a challenge it is a bid to pay Stalin his asking price and then proceed to seal the bargain struck at Teheran with the blood of the German revolution. Churchill at any rate is apparently inclined to accept. In his speech to the House of Commons on February 22, His Majesty’s Prime Minister declared:

“I feel fully entitled to reassure the House ... None of the ground made good at Moscow and Teheran has been lost.”

He then went on to add:

“But I also have sympathy for the Russian standpoint ... Russia has the right of reassurance against future attacks from the west, and we are going all the way with her to see that she gets it, not only by the might of her arms but by the approval and assent of the United Nations.” (New York Times, February 23.)

In terms of Stalin’s foreign policy, his latest “reforms” constitute the third move in the series which began at Moscow and Teheran and which is aimed at the heart of the coming European revolution. Other moves must of necessity follow.

THE ISSUE WILL BE DECIDED IN STRUGGLE But the chief actors in the impending catastrophic events have not yet spoken their final word, which is theirs alone to say. For one thing, we Trotskyists are deeply convinced that the Soviet masses will have a great deal to say before this war and the social crisis bound up with it are over. Entire generations of Soviet workers and youth have not passed for nothing through the terrible school of war. They have tested themselves in struggle. They have become tempered. They have gained new confidence in themselves. These are not the moods that have prevailed in recent years in the USSR. These are the moods much more akin to October, whose traditions are far from forgotten by the masses. Only bureaucrats drunk with power can cherish the illusion that these fighters will submit docilely to the continuation of political oppression.

Amid the privations and havoc of war the usurped prestige of military victories will weigh little as against the glaring discrepancy between the greedy, privileged, bespangled, well-fed bureaucrats and the hungry, ill-clad, barracks-packed workers and peasants. Stalin will find force of little avail when the victorious Soviet soldiers, workers and peasants rise to present their final accounting to the parasitic bureaucracy which sought first and foremost, to maintain and extend its privileges while the millions worked, sacrificed, fought and died.

Within the ranks of the bureaucracy itself there is a new stratum of men who do not owe their positions of leadership to Stalin, but who proved their merit in struggle. They are leaders who have become accustomed to fight in the face of seemingly insuperable odds. They have no illusions about the “genius” of Stalin. They constitute a grave danger to Stalin’s personal dictatorship.

If during the period of the greatest economic successes, Stalin was unable to stabilize his regime on the basis of handpicked and docile flunkeys, then just how will he achieve stability in the period of the most profound economic and political dislocation through which not only the Soviet Union but the whole of Europe must pass?

Fatal for Stalin – and for his allies – is the fact that the skies over Europe are already streaked with deepest red. The fires of the revolution continue to blaze in Italy under the bayonets of both the AMG in the south and the Nazis in the north. The Balkans are seething. The hour of Hitler’s doom is approaching. What will happen then? The developments in Italy are but a pale anticipation of what lies ahead.

Once the great thrice-betrayed, thrice-martyred proletariat of Germany rises again to its feet, Europe and the whole world will be shaken to its foundations; and the second chapter of the world revolution shall begin where the Russian workers under Lenin and Trotsky left off at the termination of the first World War.

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