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Labor Action, 13 January 1947


Stanley Grey

Stalinism: Worldwide Menace to Labor


From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 3, 13 January 1947, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The condition of workers in Russia is unparalleled for degradation and servitude in any advanced country. The human worker is treated as part of a machine in the vast productive system of the country. He has as much voice in the conditions and wages of his labor as the machine which he operates. “His” trade unions are agencies of discipline and state scheming-houses for inventing new speed-up techniques. Dictatorship has been redefined, in Stalin’s prison, as democracy, and terror and fear pervade every aspect of public and private life. Extreme punishments are inflicted for minor human infractions of discipline such as lateness at work, illness or occasional failure to meet production quotas. The land which, with the Revolution of 1917, had started on the road to socialism and the liberation of the worker, has become the land of Stalinism which has ended on the sword of despotism and the brutalization of the worker.

It is in the interests of the ruling class of this land of labor’s enslavement that the Communist (Stalinist) parties in the various countries of the world operate. Their policies shift with every turn of foreign policy of the Russian state. American workers will recall their experience with the Stalinists during the war. On the Monday when Stalin was lined up in a pact with Hitler against England and America the Stalinist leaders in the trade unions were strike-breeders and “enemies of production.” And on Tuesday, when Hitler attacked Russia, the same leaders became the strike-breakers, the whips of production speed-up, the opponents of any struggle against the boss. With the zeal of slavish worshippers of Stalin’s land and an unconcern for the needs of labor modified only by local tactical considerations, the leaders of the Communist Party at each and every point used the labor movement as an instrument for serving their masters in Russia.

Were that the whole of the bill of condemnation of the Stalinist party it would be sufficient to indict it as an obstacle in the course of labor’s fight for its freedom from capitalist rule. Were it merely an adapter of Russian policy to American politics, it would be enough to warrant a summoning of the progressive forces in the union movement to defeat them programmatically in every union struggle and vote them out of organizational power. For to give power to a group whose policies can change so drastically, independently of the needs of the workers, is to place a time-bomb under the foundation of labor’s strength.

The Agent Like the Master

But that is not all! The agent not only serves the master, he is a small replica of the master he serves. Within the. Communist Party here, as in Russia, freedom of discussion and criticism (except when ordered from Moscow or Paris) exists only by calling the lack of freedom, freedom. Genuine democratic discussion of basic policies is considered a weakness of the ideal of a strong, monolithic party which must be as ruthless as a bludgeon. And wherever the Stalinists have control in the labor movement the same lack of democratic discussion and elections prevail.

In every country of the world where the Stalinists are in power or in dominating positions they have reproduced the terror and debasement of workers of the Russia which nourishes them and whose “socialism” they praise. The Stalinist parties aspire to establish a regime modeled on the principles and practices of Russia. But if these people win it can only result in a defeat for the working class. A precondition for the victory of the working class is the political defeat of Stalinism and its democratic removal from organizational power in the union movement.

A striking and illuminating example of the dangers of Stalinist control is provided by a development in the French labor movement since the end of the war. After the Germans were driven out of France, the question of who would now run the factories was immediately posed. In many cases the old capitalist owners were denied their property on the ground of collaboration with the enemy. In an article from France which appeared in the November issue of the magazine Politics the following description of the development is given.

“The owners, either in flight or arrested, were not replaced by other representatives of private capital nor by high civil servants, but by new men who had come up in the Resistance and owed their ascendance to the Communist Party or to the union bureaucracy which almost in all cases was made up from the ranks of the CP. The new administration was organized in forms unknown under capitalism. The reorganization of the enterprise was decided at negotiations between, on the one hand, working class organizations (which, during that period, practically meant the CP since the Socialist Party had only little importance) and, on the other, representatives of de Gaulle, i.e., of the still disorganized state of the Fourth Republic. The Communists had a distinct advantage during these negotiations and the factories fell into their hands through the intermediary of the Communist-dominated unions ...”

Here was “workers’ control of production” on a small scale. Here the unions had taken control of many plants and could now operate them in the workers’ interest. But if the unions had control of the plants, the Communist Party had control of the unions and that made the difference between democracy and dictatorship, between workers’ freedom and workers’ subjection. For example, at the Berliet automobile factory in Lyon which employed 5,000 workers, the plant was organized in typical Stalinist fashion.

“The reorganization’ of management that took place during the days of liberation at the Berliet plant, for instance, was not based on any mass action. And in the later period no trace of democracy was permitted in the factory. The leading personnel, including the union delegates, owe their ascendance to the CP and the unions. They are in no sense delegates of the workers since they are neither elected nor controlled by them. In the only place where the workers can raise their voice – in the general assemblies of the factories – one discusses only such matters as price calculations, an improvement of professional knowledge, etc. The workers have no right to talk about wages. They are consulted only on the best means to further increase total production and individual productivity. The factory paper Contact, edited by Stalinists, publishes pictures and names of those who ‘win our victories in the battle of production,’ i.e., of those who work overtime, on holidays, etc. The paper is full of admiration for the Stakhanovite methods of work competition. Workers who are deemed to be insufficiently productive are exposed and denounced as ‘saboteurs’ and ‘fifth columnists.’ The workers are asked to eliminate those who ‘hamper the rhythm of work’ or who ‘simulate sickness, which accounts for a loss of almost four million francs for the enterprise. This factory, on the other hand, has nurseries, vegetable gardens and dairy farms for its workers, organizes the distribution of toys for the workers’ children, etc. This is supposed to make up for wages too low to allow the workers to eat or be dressed properly, and to quiet their revolt against their conditions.”

Here, in capsule form, is Russian Stalinism translated into French. Hardly a drop was lost in the translation. Those who don’t speed up are “saboteurs”; insufficiently productive workers must be “eliminated.” Stakhanovism, the Russian word for speed-up and job-killing, is the new-model to be followed. And to complete this faithful reproduction, even toys and babies’ nurseries are provided so tourists can sing the praises of “socialism” while the workers are starving and have gags put in their mouths to prevent them from protesting. The same hounding of workers, the same atmosphere of terror and intimidation, the same dehumanization of the worker which marks and mars Russian life characterizes the practices of Stalinism wherever they have power and expresses their essential nature.

For a Real Defeat of Stalinism

If the necessity for the political defeat of Stalinism in the labor movement cannot be overestimated, caution as to the method employed cannot be repeated too often. Strong-arm organizational measures of expulsion, red-baiting as a substitute for political struggle, constitutional clauses of debarrment from office only plant seeds of future dangers as great as those the purpose of which they are supposed to defeat. They open the door for persecution of any progressive and militant minority which can easily and falsely be labelled “communist” by reactionary elements in the union. They play right into the hands of the bosses who, for their own reasons wish to crush the Stalinists in the labor movement and along with the Stalinists the labor movement itself.

The bosses’ assault on the Stalinists and the correct progressive struggle will be distinguished precisely in the methods employed. And the method to be followed inside the unions by progressive groups must consist in a constant programmatic exposure of the opportunistic, Russia-orientated policies of the Stalinists, in open and unrelenting debate on the union floor of the different programs offered for struggle, of patient and unceasing education of the rank and file of the dangers of Stalinism and finally of the democratic process of voting the Stalinists out of office in every election. To struggle politically is to accomplish two indispensable tasks at once: the defeat of the Stalinists and their program and by this defeat to educate the rank and file for carrying out the struggle along correct lines.

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