From Fourth International, Vol.14 No.3, May-June 1953, pp.70-74.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The Communist Party of the United States is different from its sister parties in such countries as France and Italy. It has all their vices – cynicism, opportunism unrestrained by any consideration of class principle, readiness for any treachery – without their virtue: A firm base of support in the mass movement of the most militant workers which deprives the leadership of a free hand and compels them to take sentiments of the workers into account in every turn of their policy, especially under conditions of war and social crisis and a revolutionary upsurge of the masses.
By contrast, the Communist Party of the United States is isolated from the main mass of the living labor movement, exerts very little influence upon it, and is not regulated or restrained in its policy either by the interests of the workers or their sentiments at any given time.
The leading cadres of American Stalinism are not labor bureaucrats in the ordinary sense: that is, officials of mass organizations in which they exert an independent influence as leaders, and are restrained, and to a certain extent regulated, in their policy by this relationship to the mass. The top cadres of the American CP are functionaries of the Kremlin whose task is to serve the aims of its foreign policy on every occasion. They have no independent power or influence as authentic leaders of an organization or movement.
They depend for their positions on the favor of the Soviet bureaucracy and can be dismissed at its will with hardly any more fear of repercussions than the dismissal of managers and clerks of a local branch office of a national business firm. The case of Browder, who long served as “leader” by appointment, and then was dismissed and disposed of without difficulty when his services were no longer required, was only the most publicized and most dramatic illustration of the actual relationship of the official leaders to the party and to the Moscow bosses and paymasters.
Lacking any serious independent influence or mass base to which they would have to be responsive, and being free from any real control by the ranks of the party itself, the leading functionaries of American Stalinism are obliged to carry out any turn of policy required by the momentary interests of Soviet foreign policy, and at the same time are free to do so.
The original cadres of the CPUS originated as a left wing in the Socialist Party in the course of the struggle against the First World War, and gained a powerful impetus from the victorious Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in November 1917. The left wing of the SP adopted the program of Lenin and Trotsky, came out for the Third International immediately upon its formation in March 1919, and split with the SP reformists and centrists over that issue in December 1919.
The young Communist Party suffered far more severe repressions in the period of the post-war Palmer raids than have yet been invoked in the current witch-hunt. Virtually all the most prominent leaders were indicted, a number of them were convicted and imprisoned. Thousands of rank and file members were arrested in wholesale raids. The party was driven underground right after its formation and did not emerge into full public activity as a legal party until 1923.
The persecutions of the early period decimated the ranks of the party, but its leaders and cadres stood firm and gained thereby a strong moral authority in the eyes of all radically-inclined workers and intellectuals. Armed with the program of the Russian Revolution, and reinforced by its prestige, the CP soon swept all rivals in the radical movement from the field – IWW, Anarchists, Socialist Party – while assimilating their best elements, and met the outbreak of the 1929 economic crisis with a monopolistic domination of the whole field of American radicalism.
The degeneration of the party leadership and cadres, manifested by their unspoken but nonetheless actual renunciation of the perspectives of the socialist revolution in this country, brought them easily and logically to Stalinism, with its theory of “Socialism in One Country.” The expulsion of the initiating nucleus of Trotskyists in October 1928 dramatically signalized the definitive transformation of the Communist Party of the US from a revolutionary organization into a controlled instrument of the Kremlin’s foreign policy, and the simultaneous transformation of its entire staff from independent leaders of an organization of their own construction into docile functionaries of the Russian Stalinist bureaucracy. This basic transformation of the character and role ot the party remained unnoticed by the general mass of workers and intellectuals, newly awakened lo radicalism with the onset of the economic crisis. The American Stalinists appeared to be the most radical, even only “revolutionary” grouping. They also profited enormously from the enhanced prestige of the Soviet Union, resulting from its economic advances under the first five-year-plan. The pioneer Trotskyists were isolated and their criticism ignored in the first years of the depression, when the mass forces for the great radical upsurge were assembling.
The paralysis of the ossified AFL bureaucracy and the Social Democrats on the one side, and the isolation and poverty of forces of the Trotskyists on the other, left a vacuum into which the Communist Party moved without serious obstruction or competition. It gained a monopolistic domination of leadership in the newly-assembling vanguard – first in the unemployed movement and in the imposing body of students and intellectuals radicalized by the depression; and later in the great labor upsurge which culminated in the formation of the CIO. Even the weak rival movements, the Socialist Party and the Muste organization, which experienced a growth in this period, were heavily influenced by Stalinism and offered no serious resistance to it.
The American Stalinists cynically exploited the new mass movement of radicalism, which had come under their influence and domination, in the interest of Kremlin foreign policy, betrayed the struggle for socialism as well as the immediate interests of the workers, and were directly responsible for the demoralization and disorienta-tion of the richly-promising movement. The Rooseveltian social program was the decisive factor in heading off the mass movement and diverting it into reformist channels. But the Stalinists, who supported Roosevelt for reasons of Kremlin foreign policy, miseducated, betrayed, corrupted and demoralized the vanguard of this movement – a vanguard which numbered tens of thousands of the best and most courageous young militants – and thus destroyed the first great prospects to build a genuine revolutionary party in America on a mass basis.
The American CP reached its peak of membership and mass strength and influence in the early period of the CIO. Its influence began to decline in the latter period of the war, and has been declining steadily ever since. The Stalinists have lost nearly all the influence and control they once held in the unions. Today they are an isolated sect in the labor movement, and the extent of their isolation is steadily increasing.
War and post-war events, which have pushed mass-based Stalinist parties in some other countries into class battles and even into revolutionary actions, have not had the same effects on the American Stalinist party. Their policy, dictated by the Kremlin’s aim to influence American public opinion in favor of a “co-existence” deal, has been that of a pacifistic nuisance and pressure group. The post-war events have not invested the functionary-leaders of American Stalinism with any revolutionary virtues. The whole post-war course of their policy, centered around the treacherous formula of “co-existence” – which implies an offer to support American capitalism in return for an agreement – has been and remains a policy of class-collaboration. This has not been changed by radical phrases or in the least sanctified or mitigated by the refusal of American imperialism, up to the present, to accept it.
The latest turn of the American Stalinists to the Democratic Party, which they ardently supported in the wartime era, and their opposition to an independent labor party – is not a revolutionary demonstration, but a continuation of their policy of class treachery. Neither can it be excused as a mere device to seek “cover,” for an honest class party of the workers never seeks “cover” in the class party of capitalism.
The formal modification of the American Stalinists’ refusal to support the civil rights of Trotskyists – demonstrated in their demand for the prosecution and imprisonment of the SWP leaders; their opposition to the defense of Kutcher; their disruption of the Civil Rights Conference in 1949 over these issues – is not in any respect whatever a sign of “Trotskyist conciliationism.” It is merely a temporary lip-service concession to liberal elements whose support they need for the movement in their own defense cases. And this lip-service concession was forced upon them by the independent struggle of the SWP for its own civil rights and the effective united front policy of the SWP directed at the CP as a supplement to our independent struggle.
The Stalinists have suffered heavily from the intimidation of the witch-hunt, which began with the start of the cold war, and the prosecutions and imprisonment of their leading functionaries. But persecution is by no means the sole cause of their precipitous decline. The persecutions of the CP in its first years, which were far more extensive and severe, drastically cut down its numerical strength, but only strengthened its own morale, and enhanced its moral influence in wide circles. The same was true of the IWW, which was savagely persecuted in the First World War period, and its aftermath. Far more leaders of the IWW were imprisoned in those years than is the case of the CP up to the present. But the IWW came out of it with an enhanced reputation and a greater sympathy than ever in socialist, liberal and progressive labor circles. It was its theoretical and tactical errors, not the persecution, which brought about the decline and eventual eclipse of the once-popular IWW, despite the admirable bravery and self-sacrifice of its cadres.
The decline of the American Stalinists began before the witch-hunt started against them. It got well under way in the latter period of the Second World War when they were still basking in the favor of the government and doing all their dirty work of supporting the war and the no-strike pledge, promoting incentive pay, speed-up schemes, fingering militants for the FBI, and cheering for the imprisonment of the leaders of the Socialist Workers Party.
First, the Stalinists over-played their hand in the fight in the unions around the no-strike pledge, and this brought a revolt of the genuine militants against them. Second, they were outflanked by the Reutherites, who sponsored the GM strike soon after the end of the war, while the Stalinists sabotaged it. Third, our effective campaign of exposure and denunciation during the war and post-war period alerted many militants to the true character and role of the Stalinists.
Our exposure and denunciation of their stool-pigeon role in the Minneapolis case – recognized far and wide as a violation of the traditional labor ethics – compromised them in the eyes of many thousands of liberals and. trade unionists, and fixed upon them a stigma they can never erase. The Stalinists have also been compromised by their support of all the frame-up trials, mass-murders and slave-labor camps which informed American workers hate and despise, and justly so.
The decline of the American CP, which in some respects takes on the nature of collapse, comes primarily from its own moral rottenness. The Stalinists’ cynical promotion of characterless careerists, while honest militants were expelled and slandered, finally boomeranged against them. At the first sign of danger these careerists – in the Stalinist unions and peripheral organisations, as well as in the party – began to desert them in droves, and to carry their bits of information to the FBI. Never in history has any radical organization yielded up so many informers, eager to testify against it. Never have so many rank and file workers – who wanted to be revolutionists – been demoralized and corrupted, and turned into cynical deserters and renegades. The most effective and enthusiastic participants in the witch-hunt and purge of the Stalinists from unions, schools, and all other fields of their operation, are former Stalinists or former fellow-travelers.
The moral rottenness of the CP deprives it of the sympathy which has been traditionally given to persecuted groups, and at the same time deprives it of confidence in itself.
The leadership of the next upsurge of labor radicalism in the United States is not assigned in advance, either to the new labor bureaucracy or the Stalinists. Neither the one nor the other has any progressive historical mission, and both must be regarded as transitory obstacles in the path of the American workers’ evolution, through struggles, betrayals and defeats, to the showdown struggle for power under a conscious leadership. Only through the leadership of a revolutionary Marxist party can the struggle for power conceivably be led to victory in this stronghold of world capitalism.
As far as the American Stalinists are concerned, our differences with them are differences of principle which cannot be compromised or blurred over at any time. Our basic relation to them, now and at every stage of the further development of the class struggle, is and will be that of irreconcilable antagonism and struggle for the leadership of the new movement of labor radicalism.
The necessary approach to the Stalinist workers was correctly prescribed by the Convention resolution as a tactic supplementary and subordinate to our main orientation and work among the politically unaffiliated militant workers in the unions. It requires both a policy of united front for action on specific issues consistent with our principles, and fraction work in Stalinist organizations and peripheral circles, where opportunities for good results may be open and we have the necessary forces to spare for such activity.
The absolute condition for effective intervention in the continuing crisis of the CP or any work in this field is a sharp and clear demarcation of the principled differences between our party and perfidious Stalinism, and an altitude of irreconcilability in our struggle against it. Our work in the Stalinist milieu comes under the head of opponents’ work, as traditionally understood and defined in Leninist theory and practice.
Such work in Stalinist organizations and circles, as in any other milieu dominated by political opponents, requires a certain tactical adaptation on the part of individual parly members assigned to such work. But it must at all times be understood that this tactical adaptation is not the line, but a method of serving the line.
The united front with Stalinists on specific issues consistent with our program is not a form of friendly cooperation, such as that between two political organizations whose programmatic differences arc diminishing to the point where fusion can be contemplated. The united front activities of the American Trotskyists and the Muste organization in 1934 were of this type. The united front with American Stalinists, like that elaborated by Lenin against the Social Democrats, has a two-sided character. On the one hand it is a joint action, or a proposal for joint action, against the capitalist class on specific issues of burning interest to the workers. On the other hand, it is a form of struggle against the corrupt and treacherous Stalinist functionaries lor influence over the workers involved in the actions or proposed action.
The absolute conditions for successful work in this field are sharp and clear demarcation of program and independence of our own party organization.
The struggle of tendencies in the next upsurge of labor radicalism will have the double aspect of continuing struggle for the leadership of the broad mass movement and a simultaneous and continuing struggle for leadership of the vanguard – that is, of the unprivileged, younger, more militant and aggressive workers (and intellectuals) who will be seeking a programmatic formulation of their instinctive revolt.
The three forces which can now be foreseen as the main contenders in this coming struggle are the neo-Social-Democratic labor bureaucracy, the Socialist Workers Party and the CP. It is probable that the labor bureaucracy (or a section of it) will head the upsurge in its initial stages. Even that, however, is by no means pre-determined; it depends on the depth, sweep and speed of the radicalization, which in turn will be determined by objective circumstances. In any case the SWP, remaining true to itself and confident of its historic mission and its right to lead, will be an important factor in the situation from the start, and will have every possibility to extend its organization and influence with the expansion and deepening of the workers’ radicalization.
The key to further developments will be the struggle for the leadership of the vanguard who will eventually lead the whole mass. In this decisive domain, as far as can be foreseen and anticipated now, our direct and immediate rival will most probably be the Communist Party. (The notion that some previously unknown and unheard of tendencies and parties, without a body of ideology, experience and cadres, can suddenly appear as leaders of the vanguard finds little support in the experiences of the great radical upsurge of the 30s in the United States, as well as in the postwar upsurge in Europe.)
It is by no means predetermined that the CP will have the advantage, even in the first stages, of the struggle for leadership of the newly-forming vanguard. And, given a firm and self-confident independent policy of the SWP, its victory over the Stalinists in the further development and unfolding of the struggle can be expected.
In the upsurge of the 30s the Stalinists held the key lo every development in every field of radicalization (workers, Negroes, intellectuals) because they monopolized the leadership of the vanguard from the start. It would be absurd to assume that this performance can be easily repeated next time. And it is impermissible for Trotskyists to say that it is pre-determined – - for that is tantamount to saying that the Stalinists are endowed with a progressive historic mission; that they represent “the wave of the future” in the United States, which we must accept in advance and adapt ourselves to; and therefore that the right of the SWP to exist is in question.
It is true that the Stalinists outnumber us numerically, that they have more money, more paid functionaries, and a more widely circulated press than we have. This gives them indubitable material and technical advantages which are by no means to be discounted. Nor is it to be excluded that the continuing persecution of the government can have the effect later on of arousing the sympathy of wide circles cf workers unacquainted with their past record of crimes and betrayals, although the persecutions have not noticeably had this result up till now.
In the course of a world war the US Stalinists may gain a certain credit in the ranks of the opponents of the war because of the hardship and privations it imposes. On the other hand, it is not excluded that the Kremlin’s demands on the American CP – at any stage of the pre-war period, or even during the war itself – can propel the CP into flagrant opportunist or adventurist policies which would add to its discreditment and isolation.
Against the CP, as contender for the leadership of the new vanguard, is its record which has been most effectively exposed and denounced by the SWP (Moscow Trials; monstrous bureaucratism and betrayals of workers’ interest in unions they controlled; strike-breaking and stool-pigeon role during World War II; eager support of the government in the prosecution and imprisonment of the SWP leaders; betrayals of the Labor Party, etc.) This infamous record lies deep in the memory of wide circles of workers and will not be forgotten when the new upsurge begins.
The discreditment of the Stalinists has been in no small degree due to our unrelenting, unceasing and systematic exposure and denunciation, which are remembered in wide circles and rise up to confound the Stalinists at every turn. Our exposure and denunciation of the record of the Stalinists has been more effective in this country than anywhere else. It was in this country for example – and due in the first place to the work of our party – that the Moscow Trials were discredited before world public opinion.
The relation of forces between organized Stalinists and organizcd Trotskyists is more favorable to us in the United States than in any other major capitalist nation. Our cadres are far superior to the cadres of the American Stalinists in quality, and our reputation in the labor movement stands out in shining contrast to theirs. It is a downright insult lo the intelligence of the workers who will come forward in the new radicalization – if it is not cynically disloyal – to assume that the criminal record of the Stalinists, which we have advertised far and wide, in some way qualifies them to gain the confidence of the vanguard in the new radicalization, while our unsullied revolutionary record will count for nothing in our favor in direct struggle and competition with them.
Allegations that the American Stalinists are now “in the same class camp with us,” and have become our dependable allies in the fight against American imperialism are false in fact and an impermissible painting up of the real face of American Stalinism. In reality, the American Stalinists at the present time preach a class collaboration policy of “co-existence;” follow an ultra-conservative, cowardly, and treacherous policy in the unions; and betray independent political action through a labor party by herding their members and sympathizers into the Democratic party of US imperialism.
Assertions that the American Stalinists “can no longer betray” are misrepresentation of reality which can only help perfidious Stalinism. Such sentiments disclose an attitude of conciliationism to American Stalinism that is alien and hostile to our traditions. The Plenum of the National Committee stresses the urgency of educating and re-educating the party in the basic principles of Trotskyism on this vital question.
Last updated on: 29 March 2009