Harry Ratner

Letter: Stalinism and Revolution

Author: Harry Ratner
Source: New Interventions, Volume 13, no 4, Summer 2011.
Prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive: by Paul Flewers & David Walters in 2017 & 2018
Copyright: New Interventions & Paul Flewers. Used here with permission.

Just some brief comments on Paul Flewers’ response to my ‘Stalinism, War and Revolution’ in New Interventions, Volume 13, no 2 and Laurens Otter’s letter in Volume 13, no 3.

I think Paul very well explains the dilemma facing the leadership of the Soviet Union from 1917 onwards of reconciling the desire to spread revolution internationally and the need to find a modus vivendi with the capitalist nations in order to safeguard the new Soviet state from capitalist aggression. I agree that eventually the diplomatic needs of the USSR gradually took precedence over promoting international revolution. But this was a gradual — or more accurately a step by step — process. The failure of revolution in Germany accelerated the process but the total abandonment of revolution in the West was probably not completed until the Laval-Stalin treaty with France in 1935 and the adoption of the Popular Front policy. I accept that by then the Moscow leadership had probably consciously decided that international revolution was not on and the prime objective was the survival of the USSR as a nation-state.

However the communist parties were a different kettle of fish. The French, Italian, Belgian, British workers and others who joined these parties were motivated primarily by the desire to see communism triumph in their countries and world-wide. (Certainly those who joined during the class-against-class period and before the turn to the Popular Front. In Reluctant Revolutionary I stressed the difference between these members and for example the Jewish members who joined during the 1930s and the Second World War who saw the communist parties and the Red Army as their defenders against anti-Semitic Nazism.) The pre-1936 joiners were certainly subjectively revolutionary.

Also we must make a distinction between these and the Thorezes and Togliattis who were completely subservient to Moscow. Laurens Otter says I make a distinction between Thorez and Togliatti, and Tito, Tillon and Marty. Yes I do and rightly so. The fact that wartime conditions had interrupted Moscow’s communications with local Stalinists is not the whole explanation. There was a genuine tension within the communist parties between the revolutionary aspirations of its members and the policies imposed by Moscow through the agency of the Thorezes and Togliattis.

One further thought. Suppose the Cold War had developed into a hot war — when peaceful coexistence had ceased to be an option? This was always a possibility (vide the Cuban missile crisis). Then we might have had the war–revolution scenario envisaged by Michel Pablo — in which the communist parties in the West might have been pushed into a civil war (as happened in Yugoslavia). That is if any organised movement could have existed in a nuclear-devastated Europe.



Last updated on 11 January 2018