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International Socialist Review, Fall 1956


An Editorial Statement

The “Russian” Question
The “American” Question

A Contribution to the Discussion of the Regroupment
of Revolutionary Socialist Forces in the United States

On the 39th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution


From International Socialist Review, Vol.17 No.4, Fall 1956, pp.113-118.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


ON the thirty-ninth anniversary of the Russian Revolution, the influence of this greatest upheaval in the history of humanity is still very, much with us. We mean the radical movement, not the capitalist press where the question, of course, finds its perennial distorted reflection among these highly class-conscious organs of Big Business.

What has stirred up the radical movement in America is not a new wave of mass unrest in this country turning toward the Soviet Union for inspiration and leadership, but a new turn in the Soviet Union itself, a ferment among the Soviet people that has generated a crisis in the top circles of the Stalinist bureaucracy. The most dramatic evidence of this was Khrushchev’s confession at the Twentieth Congress of some of the crimes and betrayals committed by the late Stalin.

That this long overdue confession should have such resounding repercussions in the American radical movement, as well as elsewhere, is a good sign, an encouraging omen on the thirty-ninth anniversary of the 1917 overturn. The discussion that has begun marks an important turning point, it must be recognized, in the construction of the revolutionary socialist movement in America.

The Russian Revolution has dominated the thinking of radical workers in all parts of the world for almost four decades now. How could it be otherwise? In its essence the Russian Revolution was international in character, a mighty victory of the world working class, the first of the series of successes needed to build a world-wide planned economy on the technical foundations achieved by capitalism. Consequently radical workers could not help but regard the Russian Revolution with the greatest enthusiasm; first of all as a proletarian gain to be defended from imperialist attack; secondly – and perhaps more important – as an example to be studied. The teachings of Lenin and Trotsky, the universally recognized leaders of the revolution, became textbooks that retain their value to this day.

In the years of reaction and counter-revolution when the Stalinist crew usurped power and murdered the generation of Lenin and Trotsky, the Russian Revolution nevertheless continued to exercise its influence on radical-minded workers; for, despite Stalin and his gang, the economic foundations laid down by the Bolsheviks following the October Revolution proved capable of converting backward Russia into the second power of the world; and this demonstration of the viability of planned economy and its potential for the future inspired new millions of workers and oppressed peoples around the world.

True enough, the cancerous growth of Stalinism turned many away from the Soviet Union; and even some who should have known better became discouraged, gave up the workers state because of its degeneration and sought to justify their change by novel theories about the Stalinist bureaucracy being a new ruling class instead of just a parasitic formation. We may hope that at least a few of these former defenders of the Soviet Union who still consider themselves revolutionary socialists will now reconsider their position in the light of the new events. Hasn’t the Russian Revolution served sufficient notice that it is still alive?

To us it seems that a new stage has opened in the development of the workers state created by the revolution of 1917. This stage announced its appearance with the uprisings in East Germany, the slave-labor camps and Poznan, on the one hand, and by the crisis these events precipitated, on the other hand, in the Stalinist bureaucracy. The Twentieth Congress, marked a visible turning point, for it transmitted the pressures developing within the Soviet Union into the Communist Parties abroad, and in this country especially confronted the radical movement with the question of a regroupment of forces.

Up to now, the Shachtmanites, who were once defenders of the Soviet Union, have commented on this development but have proved incapable of intervening actively and participating in the discussion that is now going on in the American radical movement about making a fresh start. The reason for this is the refusal of the Shachtmanites to defend the Soviet Union. They thus exclude themselves at the ground level from serious consideration. Their position on the “Russian” question, as has been the case in the radical movement since 1917, determines the limits of their effectiveness in answering the “American” question.

Similarly with the Socialist Party, unreasoning opposition to the Soviet Union, without discrimination between the good and the bad, discredits what they have to say. What radical-minded worker cares to consider the opinions of Norman Thomas on this subject when you can get it straight from the State Department?

As for the Socialist Labor Party, Daniel DeLeon, prescient though he was, failed to foresee the highly complex and contradictory development of a workers state suffering degeneration and therefore left no set of rules to go by in such a situation. This cannot be held against DeLeon, for no other Marxist leader of his time foresaw it either, but it placed those who have made a cult of De Leon in an unfortunate position. In refusing to defend the Soviet Union they find themselves in the company of the class enemy and therefore in opposition to everything DeLeon fundamentally stood and fought for. Aside from this, the Socialist Labor Party – whatever else it may be accused of – cannot honestly be held guilty of displaying an interest in the re-groupment of the American radical movement.

In the Communist Party the contrast between the reactions of the rank and file and the leadership to Khrushchev’s revelations at the Twentieth Congress is notable. To date – three-fourths of a year later – not a single nationally known party leader has ventured to express an independent opinion about the crimes and betrayals committed under Stalin. Not one has come out with a bold demand for the whole truth and nothing but the truth, still less sought to draw a balance sheet from which radical-minded workers could draw a revolutionary lesson. Instead the entire leadership has stalled for time, awaiting further signals from the bureaucrats in Moscow, and meanwhile has utilized the Twentieth Congress for a plunge to the right, toward deeper involvement in the Democratic Party and the hunt for respectability in the infamous tradition of the Social Democracy. It would be difficult to find more convincing testimony to the corruption instilled in these functionaries by their years of training in the school of Stalinism. Unless we witness a serious break with the past among CP leaders it would be foolhardy to count on them to make any contribution to the problem of revolutionary regroupment in this country.

The rank and file of the Communist Party, on the other hand, are demonstrating a most heartening concern about drawing the correct lesson from their experience. No doubt a considerable section of the membership will suffer demoralization in the absence of a rallying center around a nationally known leader. But impressive evidence continues to pile up as to the number of genuinely communist-minded workers for whom the painful shock of Khrushchev’s revelations became the starting point of a new orientation. They are making independent investigations of the real role of Stalinism both in the Soviet Union and in the United States. They want the truth. They want it as the basis for a fresh start in building a revolutionary socialist party in America. Consequently they are examining the records of the various tendencies that avow themselves to be socialist, while at the same time they are considering once again the whole problem of the road to socialism in the United States.

From the reports of members of the Socialist Workers Party about discussions with the rank and file of the Communist Party in cities all over the country, we would say that the dominant urge of an honest communist worker coming out of the shock of the Twentieth Congress is to go “back to Lenin.” In this he is not much different from the Russian worker who learned about Stalinism from first-hand experience. Secondly, we would say that the average thinking member of the Communist Party, not without some embarrassment at first, sees Trotskyism in a new light. Perhaps Trotskyism was a sectarian tendency, he thinks, but it was certainly not fascist as Stalin claimed and it turned out to be dead right about Stalin’s final role. He can see no legitimate reason any longer for excluding the Socialist Workers Party from the discussion and from participation in any new formation that may shape up.

Thus the events in Russia, particularly the turn at the Twentieth Congress, have placed on the agenda of the American radical movement the question of regroupment. Since the most important problem involved here is the one of program, we would like to turn to this now.

What kind of party is needed in America? The feeling of Communist Party members that we must keep in mind the views of Lenin on this question is, we are convinced, completely correct. However, since much abuse has been made of Lenin’s views, it is necessary, we think, to spell things out as he did. Otherwise we can be misunderstood as advocating the monolithic structure developed by Stalin to maintain his personal dictatorship.

What we need is a party with complete internal democracy. Officials must be placed under the effective control of the membership through regularly held conventions and elections. Every member must be guaranteed full opportunity to present his independent views to the entire party through written and oral discussion ; and, if he wishes to organize a grouping to advance a platform, that right must be guaranteed, too, for without this right party democracy is a sham. Such internal democracy must be complemented by majority rule in action so that when a discussion is finished the minority loyally abides by the majority decision and helps carry it out. In return the majority must respect the right of the minority to retain its views, pending the further test of events, and guarantee to the minority the possibility of becoming the majority in subsequent discussion. Lenin called this form of party organization “democratic centralism.” You won’t find it in the American Communist Party today. In fact the draft resolution prepared by the leadership for the coming convention specifically prohibits factions. [1]

The opposition to Lenin’s views on the question of party organization has never been inarticulate. It would be easy to find objections over the past half century and more that could serve for purposes of illustration in furthering the discussion. However, it will perhaps prove more fruitful to confine ourselves to some of the objections being voiced today among those in favor of regroupment in America.

In the ranks of the Communist Party a current is developing that puts in question the tenets of Leninism insofar as they might be applied to America. We are not referring here to the revisionism advocated by the leadership, but to a mood apparent in the rank and file. In the correspondence from readers published by the Daily Worker since the Twentieth Congress, for instance, one notes expressions of doubt about “centralism.” We take this to be at bottom not a reconsideration of what Lenin advocated but rebellion over what the Stalinist leadership has been practicing in the name of Lenin; namely, bureaucratic suppression of rank and file opinion. As the discussion develops we can hope that this misinterpretation of Leninism will be ironed out along with a lot of other misconceptions about revolutionary socialism.

More important is the objection offered by the editors of the Monthly Review, who, we recognize, are quite interested in the regroupment of the radical movement. Huberman and Sweezy undoubtedly reflect the opinions of many who have become disillusioned with the American Communist Party but who retain their faith in the Soviet Union. In the May 1956 issue of the Monthly Review, in response to an appeal from Art Sharon, Campaign Manager of the Socialist Workers Party, for support to Farrell Dobbs for President, Huberman and Sweezy said:

“The SWP, he [Sharon] appears to be saying, bases itself on Leninism and the conquests of the Russian Revolution. Is this the correct and appropriate position for the American left to take? With regard to the conquests of the Russian Revolution, the answer is an unqualified affirmative ... Is the same true of Leninism? In our view the answer depends on what you understand by the term. Lenin was one of the greatest men who ever lived, and much of what he accomplished in the fields of thought and action has universal validity. But Lenin was also the master strategist of a revolution that took place under unique historical and geographical conditions, and some of his most fruitful ideas and discoveries were designed to cope with the problems of the Tsarist empire in the world of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. How far they are applicable to other countries and times therefore depends to a very large extent on how closely conditions resemble those of pre-1917 Russia ...

“This is not the place to attempt to settle the question of how much of Leninism has relevance and validity for the United States at mid-century. But it is a good place to state that for our part we are certain that not all of it has, and that the kind of undis-criminating acceptance of Leninism aa a whole and without qualification that has always characterized both the SWP and the CP can be, has been, and will continue to be a fatal political error ... One of the main purposes of the discussion which is now going on in left wing circles ... must be precisely to re-assess past relations and attitudes not only to Stalinism but also to Leninism. And among the points that cannot and should not be avoided are the nature of the Leninist party itself and the Leninist conception of the socialist international.”

Earlier in the article, the editors assailed the SWP for its “Russian” orientation:

“At bottom, the weakness and sectarianism of the SWP has had precisely the same roots as the weakness and sectarianism of the Communist Party: Both have been dominated by Soviet developments; neither has ever succeeded in working out American solutions for American problems.”

There is certainly more than a grain of truth in the contention that both the SWP and the CP have been dominated by Soviet developments. However, as we explained earlier, this has been true of all radical tendencies since the Russian Revolution, including the Huberman-Sweezy tendency. In and of itself what is bad about this? The Russian Revolution was the first great test of the theory of Marxism; and while Marxism is not specifically Russian its correctness was confirmed on Russian soil. The Russian Revolution, moreover, was a triumph for the tendency of revolutionary, orthodox Marxism as against the revisionist, reformist tendency, which, again, was not specifically Russian. Small wonder then that the whole international workers movement shaped itself around the question: For or against Bolshevism? Later, when the workers state was engulfed by Stalinist reaction, the international movement once more split into two basic camps: Stalinism versus Trotskyism.

What is decisive, it seems to us, is how the working-class movement was influenced by Soviet developments. We know how the Social Democracy was influenced. It lined up with the capitalist enemies of the Soviet Union and to this day functions as an agency of capitalist policy within the working class.

We know how the Communist Parties under Stalinist domination were influenced. They became agencies of the Soviet bureaucracy’s foreign policy and thus were transformed from revolutionary parties into organs of class betrayal, as we see today in the case of the American Communist Party’s support of the Democratic Party.

We know how the Trotskyist movement was influenced. It fought against the Stalinist degeneration in the Soviet Union and the corrupting of the Communist International. When the counter-revolutionary bureaucracy triumphed, the Trotskyist movement proclaimed the need for a new international, the Fourth International, and for new revolutionary parties everywhere, including the Soviet Union. The Trotskyist movement fought for the revolutionary regeneration of the Soviet Union decade after decade. What do the new events in the USSR signify if not the beginning of the achievement of that goal through the independent class action of the Russian workers?

In the struggle against Stalinist degeneration, the Trotskyist movement sought to work out strategic and tactical solutions for the problems facing the revolutionary movement in all the major countries. When the prevailing Stalinist and reformist policies led the workers movement to defeat after defeat, the Trotskyists did their best to analyze the causes and consequences and thus help prepare the vanguard for new advances. The body of revolutionary literature created during these years deserves to be studied, it seems to us, before further judgments are offered on the capacity of the Trotskyist movement for independent thought.

Now how was the Monthly Review influenced by Soviet developments? It must be said frankly – how can you have a serious discussion without frankness? – that the Monthly Review served principally as a magazine of apology for the Kremlin bureaucracy. Isn’t that so? For instance, the Monthly Review thought that the Moscow Trials were not frame-ups. It described the post-war purges and frame-ups in Eastern Europe as “more or less extensive personnel shakeups.” It was convinced that the June 1953 general strike in East Germany was the work of Western imperialist provocateurs. It even accepted the notorious frame-up in the Soviet Union of the Jewish doctors ...

We do not think that any purpose is served by simply raking up past errors from which nothing can be learned. However, since the Monthly Review has not yet disclosed what it thinks about these past positions, how are we to know that any lessons were learned by the editors? It seems to us that the regroupment of radicals in America could only be hastened and placed on a more solid basis if Huberman and Sweezy, as a contribution, would review the special way in which they were dominated by Soviet developments. Can prestige considerations be permitted to stand in the way of drawing up a balance sheet that would help in the education of every radical in America? Surely the work of building the revolutionary socialist movement in America is austere enough to enable all of us to overlook the personal embarrassment that is involved in such questions!

The special July-August 1956 issue of the Monthly Review attempted to answer the question: “What goes on in the Soviet Union?” Since the entire issue was devoted to the Twentieth Congress, we hoped that it would include an analysis of the past positions held by the editors. We are frank to confess, moreover, that our curiosity had been considerably whetted by the four-months’ silence of the magazine following Khrushchev’s revelations. However, the editors, despite their insistence on scholarship in some other questions, did not venture to examine their own past positions. Instead they announced that they had “encountered” a total of three “theories” worthy of note in accounting for what goes on in the Soviet Union:

  1. The official explanation of Khrushchev and Co.,
  2. the prevailing theory in Western imperialist circles, and
  3. Deutscher’s theory.

Of the three they elect Deutscher’s theory as “on the whole a good one.”

Are we correct in assuming that by accepting Deutscher’s theory, Huberman and Sweezy thereby discard their own past theories of what goes on in the Soviet Union? If so, that is some advance, although, in our opinion, not much. Deutscher’s theory is essentially that the Soviet bureaucracy can be expected to undertake its own self-reform. (For an analysis of Deutscher’s views see Trotsky or Deutscher, by James P. Cannon, in the Winter 1954 issue of Fourth International.) The Trotskyist view is that the Soviet bureaucracy can be expected to grant concessions under the pressure of mass unrest but it will finally be liquidated only by a political revolution undertaken by the Soviet working class.

Whatever one may think of Deutscher’s conclusions, it must be recognized that he appreciates the struggle of Trotskyism against Stalinism as a factor in Soviet politics. His main literary work in recent years has been an effort to assess Trotsky’s ideas and his impact in the world. The Monthly Review, however, while placing the laurels on Deutscher’s head does not even mention the Trotskyist analysis and record of struggle against Stalinism. They act as if they had never heard of Trotsky. This appears to us to be another lapse in their scholarship. [2]

Let us return to the question of the relevance and validity of Leninism for the United States. As a contribution to the discussion, we believe that Lenin himself should be given the floor. As the Monthly Review acknowledges, “much of what he accomplished in the fields of thought and action has universal validity.” Lenin’s accomplishments in the field of party organization should be included, we think, in this fine compliment to “one of the greatest men who ever lived ...”

Two and a half years after the victory of the October 1917 socialist revolution in Russia, Lenin published his “Left-Wing” Communism, an Infantile Disorder: A Popular Essay in Marxian Strategy and Tactics. In this pamphlet the founder and leader of Russian Bolshevism offered the international working-class vanguard some of the essential lessons to be drawn from the Russian Revolution. He held that these lessons hald principled significance; that is, universal applicability for the workers revolutionary movement of all countries. He was convinced that the international significance of the October Revolution meant “the international validity or the historic inevitability of a repetition on an international scale of what has taken place here [in Russia].”

Lenin, we must recall, wrote this essay to combat the tendency of young and immature Communist parties to ape Russian Bolshevism instead of studying and applying its basic method to the peculiarities of their own countries. Precisely for this reason he urged the communists of other countries to accompany their greetings to the victorious Soviet power with a “profound analysis of the reasons why the Bolsheviks were able to build up the discipline the revolutionary proletariat needs,” as “one of the fundamental conditions for the victory over the bourgeoisie.”

In his efforts to cure the young Communist parties of the infantile disorder that made a leftist caricature of Bolshevism, Lenin insisted they study the history of Bolshevism during the “whole period of its existence.” Lenin thought the lessons of the past have meaning for the present, as in fact they do.

The 14 years from 1903 to 1917 – the years Bolshevism took shape in the struggle against the petty-bourgeois tendencies of Menshevik opportunism and Social Revolutionary pseudo-radicalism – were, in Lenin’s view, the heritage of the world working-class vanguard. In his opinion, the inner-party factional struggles of these years, as well as the years from 1917 to 1920, were a school of preparation and training, not merely for the Russian revolutionists, but for the working class of the world.

To the revolutionary vanguard in other countries, Lenin said: Yes, you have something to le,arn our revolution – something that is fundamental and vital to the success of your own revolution – but you must study the history of our revolution and its preparation seriously and apply its lessons wisely in the light of the concrete peculiarities of your own national and cultural development.

As for the leaders of the Second International, and in particular its Kautskyan “revolutionary” wing, who rejected the Russian Revolution as a school for the strategy and tactics of the international working class, Lenin had only the sharpest condemnation.

“Leaders of the Second International,” he said, “such as Kautsky in Germany, and Otto Bauer and Friedrich Adler in Austria, failed to understand [the international significance of the Russian Revolution] and they thereby proved to be reactionaries and advocates of the worst kind of opportunism and social treachery.”

In his popular essay on Marxist strategy and tactics, Lenin stressed that Bolshevism was able to make a historic contribution to the world revolutionary movement only because it was founded on the “granite theoretical basis” of Marxism and had assimilated the best international revolutionary thought from the older movements in the West. On this score he said:

“The correctness of this – and only this – revolutionary theory [Marxism] has been proved not only by the experience of all countries throughout the nineteenth century, but particularly by the experience of the wanderings and vacillations, the mistakes and disappointments of revolutionary thought in Russia. For nearly half a century – approximately from the ’forties to the ’nineties – advanced thinkers in Russia, under the oppression of an unprecedented, savage and reactionary tsar-dom, eagerly sought for the correct revolutionary theory and followed each and every ‘last word’ in Europe and America in this sphere with astonishing diligence and thoroughness. Russia achieved Marxism, the only correct revolutionary theory, virtually through suffering, by a half century of unprecedented revolutionary heroism, incredible energy, devoted searching, study, testing in practice, disappointment, verification and comparison with European experience. Thanks to the enforced emigration caused by tsardom, revolutionary Russia in the second half of the nineteenth century possessed a wealth of international connections and excellent information about world forms and theories of the revolutionary movement such as no other country in the world possessed.”

Lenin thus explained how Bolshevism had “won the right” to introduce something new and vitally significant to the world movement, the concept of a combat party. The concept was based on the totality of all valid world revolutionary experience and theory up to that time. The concept was not peculiar to Russia. It was simply applied under the conditions peculiar to Russia.

Today, 39 years after the October Revolution, we believe that the American workers should give Lenin a hearing. We think that it is the duty of those who believe in socialism to present Lenin fairly and fully to the American audience. That is why we are convinced of the importance of discussing Leninism in the regroupment of the American radical movement.

We are similarly convinced that the storehouse of revolutionary experience accumulated since Lenin’s death in 1924 must be considered part of the heritage of the revolutionary vanguard in America. There are the rich and indispensable lessons provided by the evolution of the Soviet state following Lenin’s death. These, we think, will prove of extraordinary interest to members of the Communist Party now that they are faced with the task of explaining to American workers how a figure like Stalin could come to power and why it can’t happen in America.

There are the lessons, learned at fearful cost, of the struggle against fascism. Stalinism, by its fatal policies, helped pave the way for both Hitler and Franco. Trotsky, on the other hand, assembled everything in the arsenal of Marxist theory in the struggle against fascism. His works on this subject will prove invaluable to the American workers, in our opinion; for the defense against a fascist bid for power will loom large among the exceptionally difficult problems facing the American workers as they move toward socialism.

The struggle against imperialist war, the defense of the Soviet Union against imperialist attack and the colonial areas against imperialist domination likewise have provided rich material that should, we feel, be brought to the attention of workers who have come to realize that there is no escape from the evils of capitalism except through socialism.

The Marxist material accumulated in recent years should prove of great help, we are convinced, in providing deeper insights into the issues now under discussion in the Communist Party and its periphery – peaceful road to socialism, peaceful co-existence, multi-class coalitions, working-class independence in politics, how to avoid sectarianism, etc. These questions we leave for later discussion. In this article we wished only to emphasize the need to seriously consider the application of Leninism to the problem of building a revolutionary socialist party in the peculiar conditions of America.

We think that a party constructed along Leninist lines would prove a great asset to the American working class, in fact is indispensable to the victory of socialism in America. We agree that it cannot be simply a Russian importation – Lenin himself, as indicated above, rejected that infantile application of his concept. We agree that the Leninist concept of the party must be “Americanized,” given a specific American application.

We believe that all theories of party organization should now be put on the table for full and free consideration. In the unfolding discussion over what kind of party a regrouped radical movement should build in America, we for our part will defend the concept of Leninism.

As we indicated at the beginning, the discussion now opening up is a most important one. It does not occur, it must be emphasized, in response to a wave of radicalization among the American workers. It was touched off by the appearance of a new stage in the development of the Russian Revolution. Consequently, it can be expected that it will largely be confined to the class-conscious vanguard, those who are already convinced socialists and supporters of the Soviet Union. But the regroupment of these forces around a correct program constitutes an essential part of the preparation for the coming stage when the American working class will inevitably move in all their millions into the political arena. A thorough discussion of theoretical positions in this period of relative quiescence in America will help regroup the radical forces and build the revolutionary socialist leadership needed for success when the next wave of mass radicalization brings with it the opportunity for action on a big scale.


1. It is worth noting in passing that, aside from the question of principle involved, the prohibition of factions casts an illuminating light on the real views of these Stalinist leaders about a regroupment – they start out by gagging any organized dissident opinion in the ranks of the Communist Party; and that’s after the Twentieth Congress!

2. Editors Cochran, Braverman and Geller, who have been trying to shape their American Socialist into a perfect satellite of the Monthly Review, also say that “Isaac Deutscher is being proven right.” Taking their lead from Huberman and Sweezy, they also act – unlike Deutscher himself – as if they had never heard of Trotsky’s theory of Soviet development; which is strange, since Trotsky’s voluminous writings on the subject are in print and easily available to students and research workers. Do they really believe that Trotskyism can be excluded from the discussion of the regroupment of the American radical movement the way Cochran recently excluded half his own following from the American Socialist Union?

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