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The New International, January 1944

Notes of the Month

The “Liquidation” of the Communist Party


From The New International, Vol. X No. 1, January 1944, pp. 7–10.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Socialism or barbarism! With the whole world hard pressed by advancing barbarism to make the choice of socialism that it must make for civilization to survive, if not to flower, the Stalinists have found it fitting to announce the dissolution of the Communist Party and the abjurement of the program of socialism. We, too, find it fitting. It clears the air, helps make the truth appear as simple as it is, removes one of the more deceptive masks from the ugly countenance of Stalinism.

Browder’s announcement that there is no room or reason in this country for the Communist Party is one of the most astounding confessions of political bankruptcy in modern politics. All the years of sweat and blood, literally, that went into the attempt to build up the Communist Party in this country, all the astounding efforts and sacrifices made by the nameless tens of thousands of rank and file workers in the misguided belief that they were building the indispensable instrument for ushering in a new social order in this country, are now dismissed with bureaucratic disdain as futile, superfluous, unnecessary and even reactionary.

“It is my considered judgment,” said Browder jokingly, for everybody knows that his judgments are considered for him by others, “that the American people are so ill-prepared, subjectively, for any deep-going change in the direction of socialism that post-war plans with such an aim would not unite the nation, but would further divide it. And they would divide and weaken precisely the democratic and progressive camp, while they would unite and strengthen the most reactionary forces in the country.”

This kind of stammering Jabberwocky is almost beyond sober analysis. The urge for criticism is almost obliterated by a feeling of compassion evoked for a poor lackey who has been instructed to argue that one plus one equal a disordered liver, or something just as incomprehensible.

The Objective Factor

The American people are not prepared for the program of socialism subjectively. But that is no great discovery. It required no considered judgment on the part of Browder or any other sage, but only a pair of eyes and fan- hearing equipment. If this pretty well known fact is an argument against the advocacy of the socialist program today, it was just as valid, if not more so, an argument when Browder, along with others, first helped form the Communist Party in this country; and a hundred times more valid when the first socialist party was established in the United States, or, for that matter, in every other country of the world.

The implication in the emphasis on “subjectively” is that the American people, or rather American society, is ripe for the socialist program objectively. That is, industry has been developed and centralized to the point where capitalist ownership and appropriation are sharply incompatible with social production, where private ownership of the means of production and exchange are binding fetters on the further development of the productive forces, where the capitalist class has become an utterly reactionary social force, where a modern proletariat exists in sufficient numbers and with sufficient economic and social experience to replace the bourgeoisie as the ruling social class. If that is the case, and it is, then all that is lacking is the “subjective” ripeness of the masses, that is, their class or socialist consciousness of the objective maturity of capitalist society for socialism. To imbue them with this consciousness is precisely the task of the working class revolutionary party, which achieves it by putting forward and fighting for its socialist program. Therefore? Therefore Browder announces that this is not the time to put forward the socialist program!

There once was a socialistic group in Russia, known as the “Economists,” who declared, in effect, that because Czarist Russia was not objectively ripe for socialism, but only for bourgeois democracy, it is necessary to put forward, primarily, economic demands to the workers and not the political, or the general socialist, demands. That was wrong and Lenin fought them tooth and toenail. But at least it made some sense in the framework of the time and place. Browder’s argument, which implies that the United States is ripe for socialism objectively, but the people are not ripe for it subjectively, and therefore we must not put forward to the people a program that would help them mature subjectively, and make them conscious of the objective possibilities and needs of society – makes no sense on God’s green earth, none whatsoever.

Continuing, Browder argued before his ice-cold audience in Madison Square Garden that the

“Marxists [Ugh!] will not help the reactionaries by opposing the slogan of ‘Free Enterprise’ with any form of counter-slogan ... we frankly declare that we are ready to cooperate in making this capitalism work effectively in the post-war period with the least possible burdens upon the people ... Even such elementary measures as nationalization of the banks, railroads, coal and steel, although they would obviously make American capitalist economy much stronger and more capable of solving its problems, would be resisted desperately by powerful circles [circles unnamed!] in America. Such measures would not now have even the united support of the labor movement. Therefore they cannot be the program for national unity.”

Marxian analysis and criticism are powerful instruments enabling their users to probe to the heart of even the most complicated social and political problems or arguments. Browder’s arguments, however, are the kind of outpourings that do not even require such fine instruments; a rake will do as well.

Socialism, you see, is not advocated because it “would not unite the nation,” and if there is one thing, more than any other, which this “Marxist” blanches to think of, it is a divided nation. A divided nation might even mean class struggle, and that, of course, the Marxists have always been against. What, then, will unite the nation? Free enterprise, that is, the freedom of capital to exploit labor, that is, capitalism.

But if capitalism is objectively ripe for replacement by socialism, that is only another way of saying that capitalism has become reactionary, that it is an obstacle in the path of social progress, that it stands in the way of the welfare of the people upon whom it places, and must place, increasingly heavy burdens. In that case, it does not matter how much Browder may be “ready to cooperate in making this capitalism work effectively in the post-war period with the least possible burdens upon the people.” The situation is objectively ripe for socialism precisely because capitalism can no longer work effectively, regardless of what is done or who “cooperates” in the doing of it. It can not longer work effectively in a double sense: it cannot work effectively for the social progress of the masses, as it once did; and it cannot even work effectively for the social progress of the capitalists. If it works at all, that is, if it is maintained at all, it can only produce a continual social deterioration, of which crises, fascism and the war are authentic expressions.

Adopting the Program of Reaction

Oddly enough, Browder involuntarily acknowledges this fundamental socialist truth when he speaks of nationalization. “Such fundamental measures ...,” he says, “although they would obviously make American capitalist economy much stronger and more capable of solving its problems” – that is, would make it “work effectively” – “would be resisted desperately by powerful circles in America,” or, less anonymously, by the big bourgeoisie.

Correct! The contradictions of decaying capitalism have reached a stage where the bourgeoisie stands in the way of capitalism itself, so to speak. Browder is ready to cooperate in making capitalism work effectively by ... giving up even “elementary measures” aimed at making it “much stronger and more capable of solving its problems.” Why? Because these measures would be “resisted desperately.” Resisted, and desperately? Okay, let’s forget about it! If this is how easily Browder gives up on “elementary” measures to make capitalism work, he is not very likely to insist on more than elementary measures.

So it appears that a socialist program today is reactionary because it “would unite and strengthen the most reactionary forces in the country”; and even a “good” capitalist program is no good because “powerful circles,” that is, the reactionaries, would resist it. Conclusion: the way to gain “support from all classes and groups, with the working people as the main base, from the big bourgeoisie to the Communists,” as Browder puts it, is to advocate only what is suitable to the big bourgeoisie. Browder’s audacious plan is: launch the war against reaction by adopting reaction’s program!

The program of socialism, renounced by Browder, is not, and must not be understood as, an abstraction, a blueprint for reorganizing society at some future, and very remote, date. Socialism itself is an ideal, the fullest realization of which is a considerable distance away. The program of socialism, however, is immediate and pressing. It means the defense of the position and interests of the proletariat in the irrepressible class struggle because it is the bearer of social progress. It is a socialist program because the defense of the working class now, today and tomorrow, leads to deepening its consciousness that capitalism is incompatible, not alone or even primarily with an abstract socialism, but with the improvement and extension of the standard of living and political position of the working class; that the struggle for its economic and political rights cannot but mean a struggle against the economic and political power of the bourgeoisie culminating in the seizure of state power by the working class; that the working class in power cannot but take such economic and political measures as mean laying the foundation of a new, socialist society. In a word, the struggle for socialism, the program of socialism, is a highly concrete program of struggle for the working class today.

That is the program Browder formally abandons. He proposes to approach “the common path of dealing with economic problems on the basis of unity of different classes.” Class unity, as it has always been called hypocritically (for genuine unity of the classes is an utter impossibility under capitalism), is the basis of the program of capitalism. This has been proved a thousand times over in history. If specific proof is needed in Browder’s case, he himself offers it.

Take a concrete, illuminating, characteristic example, the question of wages. The capitalist criterion in this question is, essentially, the criterion of “production.” Capitalism is production for profit. No production, no profit. If wages are to rise, then only in dependence upon production (not productivity, it must be emphasized, but production!). In other words: If you want more wages, work more hours and produce more commodities. The working class criterion in the question of wages is a rising standard of living for all the workers on the basis of the higher productivity of labor which makes this possible. Browder has the former criterion: “Any sensible wage policy must be designed to promote maximum production ... it must expand earnings in some established relation to expanded production.” In other words, again: You will get more wages if you work more hours and produce more commodities.

Suppose the “powerful circles” do not agree to “a sensible wage policy”? Should the workers then fight? No, not even then. “The absence of such a common-sense wage policy is no justification for strikes ... we are opposed to all strikes as a matter of policy.” This is not Captain Rickenbacker nor Congressman Smith of Virginia talking, but Mr. Browder. That is, this is Mr. Browder translating from the original Russian the instructions he has received.

This brings us to the heart of the new Stalinist turn. Like every other consequential action taken by the CP in this or any other country, it originates in the needs of the Kremlin’s foreign policy and is dictated by them.

Stalin’s Real Aims

In every country, Stalin seeks to have a strong pro-Russian political force, not only in the labor movement but among the bourgeoisie. In every case, his strength in the ranks of the former facilitates the acquisition of strength in the ranks of the latter. Right now, Stalin is playing a daring game in world politics. He has a program of imperialist expansion which is almost breath-taking. The relationship of forces in the war are such that he feels himself in an exceptionally good position to realize his program, at least so far as his allies are concerned. So far as working class resistance to his program is concerned, he expects to deal with it adequately by means of the GPU and counter-revolutionary suppressions carried out jointly by him and his allies.

To facilitate the achievement of his program, Stalin requires the maximum of assurances against his allies putting obstacles in his path. Allies means, primarily, England and the United States, which means, above all, the United States. The dissolution of the Communist Party as a party is calculated to provide double assurances.

First, it continues to enable the Stalinists to operate as before (even more effectively, they hope) inside the working class movement, as “mere” members of Browder’s new “American Communist Political Association,” with the plan of tying the labor movement to Kremlin imperialism and gagging any voice of criticism against Stalin & Co. inside labor’s ranks. A foretaste of what is ahead is the impudent intervention of the Stalin government in the internal affairs of the American labor movement, by means of the recent denunciation of Dubinsky, Woll and others in the pages of the Kremlin sheet, War and the Working Class. The American workers must, and we hope will, settle their own affairs, and the question of their leaders, by means of their own efforts – and by their efforts we mean also the efforts of labor in other lands, too. They do not need, and must resist tooth and nail, the interference into their affairs of any government, be it the Roosevelt Administration or the reactionary Stalin government, even when the latter takes on the guise of its totalitarianized “trade unions.” By the same token, it must resist the even more insidious penetration of its ranks by the American agents of the Kremlin.

Second, however, the dissolution frees the Stalinists for organized penetration of the bourgeois parties, particularly the Democratic. Browder’s philosophizing about the two-party system as a great “old tradition” in the United States is a reactionary and cynical fraud. Call it what he will, the Stalinist party remains. What Browder means is: labor must not organize a party of its own. Labor must not declare its independence from capitalist politics. It must continue to participate in capitalist politics as in the past, but with this difference, it must participate as a tool of the Kremlin.

Will the Stalinists join the bourgeois parties? God forbid! “We are not endorsing either of the major parties, and we are not condemning either of the major parties,” says Browder. But, “I don’t mean we have any objections to our individual members registering in one or other of the parties when their local community life calls for it.” Why? Because under our wonderful two-party system, we have the direct primary system. This system is still more wonderful because it “gives all voters the opportunity to enroll under one or other of the two major parties and participate in choosing its candidates, as well as party committees and delegates to conventions.”

There it is. Wherever possible, and not too damagingly conspicuous, the Stalinists will henceforth seek, with the aid of their highly-organized machine which has stood them in such good stead, to capture both the primaries and the bureaucratic machinery of the old parties. This is not an absolutely new scheme with them. In California, during the Sinclair days, they did succeed in capturing whole sections of the machinery of the Democratic Party. Now the same plan is to be employed on a far more organized and national scale, and, they hope, with an effectiveness comparable to their successes in the American Labor Party.

Toward what end? To maintain capitalism? Bah! That is only an easily modified or even repudiated function of their main aim: to maintain and extend the power of the Stalin bureaucracy, to assure the maximum support of its policy in the ranks of American bourgeois politics. Is the Democratic or Republican candidate anti-Stalin or anti-Russian for whatever reasons? All the strength of the Stalinists will be brought to bear to defeat him in the primaries or in the elections. Is he in any way critical of the Kremlin or its policies? Does he, like Willkie, make the slightest, vaguest, friendliest criticism of Stalin’s plans? He must be dealt with the way Pravda dealt with Willkie, with this difference – Pravda cannot vote in the Republican primaries, or in the presidential elections, but Browder & Co. can. This simple but important fact is known, we assume, to Mr. Roosevelt How much satisfaction it gives him is another matter.

The Extreme Right Wing

We are thus enabled to place the Stalinists more definitely than ever before. They constitute the most dangerous and the most reactionary wing of the labor movement. No intelligent or intelligible criterion warrants the designation of “left wingers” for the Stalinists, as the press continually calls them. They are the extreme right wing of the labor movement, albeit the most singular right wing in its history, considering that they serve not their own bourgeoisie (that is, not primarily) but the Stalin regime in Russia. The idea that the Stalinists are in any way at all to the left of the “native” American labor bureaucracy – of Green or Lewis or Tobin or Murray or Dubinsky – it an absurdity, based upon an outlived tradition, a mistake in identity, a confusion of names; in other words, upon the fact that there once was a Communist Party in this country which was to the left of the dominant labor officialdom.

What we have now is this: a totalitarian right wing of Stalinism and a conservative labor bureaucracy. There is a left wing, too. But it is unorganized and even disoriented in large part. It must be reoriented and properly organized if it, and along with it the whole labor movement, is not to succumb to the capitalist offensive or to Stalinist enslavement. The new left wing must be imbued with the spirit and principles of socialism. The fact that the Stalinists have formally renounced these principles is highly commendable if only because it helps destroy a myth, and thus clears the air. It also clears the road for the building of a genuinely revolutionary socialist party. All the efforts of the Workers Party will be bent in that direction.

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