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Carl Davis

CP Opposition Group Must Examine Theory
to Find the Source of Stalinist Degeneration

(19 May 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 19 , 12 May 1947, p. 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

In our previous articles we described the peculiar character of the current Stalinist opposition groups and tendencies in the United States, tracing their fundamental contradiction in (1) their adherence to Stalinism and (2) unyielding rejection of the theories and practices of the Communist Party in the United States. The new magazine, Spark, issued by the PR group in the Bronx, and NCP Reports, published by the National Committee for Publications, both call for the organization of a new “Marxist” party on the ground that the CP has “left the road of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin.”

What do these groups and their colleagues have in mind? They assert that in contrast with “socialist” Russia and the Communist parties of other countries, the American CP is an opportunist, class-collaborationist, anti-Marxist party, dedicated to the cause of betraying the working class. In their specific criticisms of the native Stalinists they re-echo many things that we have written for almost two decades. Presently they are appalled by what they seem to regard as complete principled degeneration in contrast to periods when the opportunism was merely “tactical.”

Exceptionalist Theory Not a Tenable One

They charge the “new” leadership of the CP (new only by virtue of the elimination of Browder, for his most intimate collaborators remain) with betraying the cause of socialism in general and the day-to-day interests of the working class. In this, say the oppositionists, the American CP differs fundamentally from the other Communist parties. If we grant for a moment what is not true, namely, that the CP in this country is different from the Stalinist parties of other countries, what is the cause of this difference? Why is the CP here different from the CP in France or Italy? Reading the explanations of the various opposition groups, you can only conclude that there is something distinctly poisonous about the air, or water, or food in this country. For they make no other explanation. Actually what they have done is to adopt a position for which one used to attack the old Lovestone group, namely: American exceptionalism.

In our articles we have stated that no explanation of the degeneration of the American CP is possible without understanding its roots in the degeneration of the Russian Revolution and the triumph of Stalinist revisionism. The intense struggle in the Russian Communist Party on the question of bureaucratism after Lenin's death only foreshadowed the deep theoretical conflict which followed and produced the nationalist degeneration of the Revolution and the whole Communist International which came under the control of the Stalinized Russian CP. From then on, the degeneration developed progressively until the whole Comintern became a GPU instrument and the Communist parties were transformed into nationalist organizations – but with a difference.

They became nationalist parties not in the capitalist sense, i.e., they did not support their respective national ruling classes, except insofar as it was necessary to strengthen Russian foreign policy. They became Russian nationalists! Before the Second World War broke out, Trotsky expressed the opinion that the war might witness the collapse of the Communist parties, the world over because we would see them betray Stalin and join the camps of their respective ruling classes. This did not occur except, as we have said, to the extent that their support to the warring governments coincided with Russian interests.

Tracing the Roots of Degeneration

In directing the attention of the CP oppositionists to the origin of the degeneration of their party, we asked them to look into the prevailing theory of their whole movement: the theory of socialism in one country. If these groups consider that the most important task before them is the revival of Marxist theory they must begin first with principled conceptions of Marxism and that means to reject first of all the above anti-Marxist theory. This theory had one decisive influence on the Stalinist movement above all others: it caused the national degeneration of a world party, a degeneration rooted in a theoretical departure from Marxism. What followed was not merely a deviation from Marxist theory, but the practical transformation of a revolutionary international into a counter-revolutionary, nationalist, anti-working class world police organization serving one interest: the Stalinist regime in Russia.

Do the CP oppositionists really believe that the American Stalinist Party has supported, supports now, or will support iri the future the capitalist class in this country against Russia? Apparently! And it is this which disorients them completely. They have attacked the CP for making deals with the government during the war, selling out to the bosses in the factories, retreating before the demands of the labor bureaucracy, and in general comporting itself not as a revolutionary but as an opportunist party. They cited how the party led the fight for the no-strike pledge, incentive pay, held back strike struggles, etc., and while justifying it in the immediate past on the grounds of the needs of a great War of Liberation, they denounce the manifestations of these policies in the post-war period because “the Soviet Union is endangered.” Thus, whether they realize it or not, the oppositionists are themselves merely another expression of the same nationalist degeneration which afflicts the whole Stalinist movement. They differ with the CP only in that they wish a more militant policy in the defense of Stalin’s Russia than they believe the CP is actually carrying out.

So, we have asked them, what is the difference between the policies of a Foster, and a Pollitt in Great Britain, a Thorez or Duclos in France, and a Togliatti in Italy. Have they not also played the game of capitalist politics with even greater acumen and enthusiasm than their less competent American comrades. It is, as a matter of fact, not even a matter of competence, because Stalinism has had the effect of levelling the abilities and intelligence of its world leaders. No, the apparent superiority of the European parties arises out of particular European conditions, greater experience and above all, greater numbers.

But, the CP oppositionists should remember, the degeneration of the American Stalinist movement – if it is possible to speak of any degrees of differences among Stalinist parties – has not reached the full bloom of some of the European organizations because they have not shared state power. Is the American degeneration greater or less than the French CP which is part of the government and helps sustain a dying French capitalism? Or the Italian CP which continues to support the decrepit clerical government in Italy and only yesterday voted for making the Catholic Church the official state church to be supported with government funds? Have not the European parties held back the working class from taking power? Have they not time and again followed identical policies with deadly uniformity?

Every “new line” adopted by Stalin and his totalitarian gang is reflected in every Communist Party in the world automatically. And the GPU agents which run the various parties are there to see to it that there is no deviation from the world policy and no betrayal of Stalinist Russian interests. Here again, do the CP oppositionists really believe that Stalin’s “representatives” permitted what they call the degeneration of the CP here, its betrayal of Russia’s interests?

Recent Highlights of Stalinist Policy

Then, beginning with more recent days, it is necessary to remember:

The Russian policy of collective security which called for a bloc of Russia and the democratic imperialists was reflected in the uniform propaganda and activity for it by every CP in the world.

The Hitler-Stalin Pact, which made possible the beginning of the Second World War in September 1939, and which resulted in the first partition of Poland between Hitler and Stalin, surprised every CP equally. But with the same unanimity of thought, they all responded at once and on the same day to support of this imperialist alliance.

The post Hitler-Stalin pact period found every CP in the world denouncing, not Hitler’s role in the war, but the democratic imperialists, U.S., Great Britain and France, and logically, Roosevelt, Churchill and Daladier.

When Hitler double-crossed Stalin and invaded Russia the CPs were just as stunned as Stalin, but with the same speed of reaction as the Russian Stalinists, the CPs suddenly became partisans of the democratic imperialists and Roosevelt, Churchill, and now de Gaulle, together with Stalin, became great “benefactors of mankind.”

The war years found all the Stalinist parties loyal and efficient supporters of their respective capitalist war machines. The guilt of Browder is not that he invented a new policy, but that In his stupid naivete he took for good coin the Russian propaganda and stretched it beyond the point of Stalin's requirements. Having gone out on the limb too far, he was no longer useful in the post-war period of Russian policy. But Browder is not entirely discarded – he is still useful and may be even more useful in the days ahead.

In the post-war period, every CP, as though one, became more “militant” and aggressive, reflecting again the increasing tension which exists between the two main imperialist rivals in the world today, the United States and Russia.

Can’t Progress Without Break from Stalinism

Within this whole period of about ten years, Stalinist policy the world over was, from the point of view of Marxism, opportunist, class collaborationist, anti-working class, counter-revolutionary. The task the oppositionists have before them, if they believe they are correct, is to determine in what fundamental way the American CP differed in all these stages from other CPs, and more important, from the basic orientation, and the policies it produced, of Stalin’s Russia. Better yet, compare the diplomacy of Stalin’s Russia with the invigorating, hopeful, socialist internationalism of Lenin and Trotsky’s foreign policy. Once you do that, you will begin to see that what is wrong in the Communist movement today has its roots not in Washington, New York, London, Paris or Rome, but in Moscow, in the Kremlin, in the Politburo of Stalin’s bureaucratic party. And if you cry about the lack of democracy in the American CP, the bureaucratization, the leader-worship, the deadly, unthinking, automatic adoption and revisions of policy, in what important way is that different from the CPs elsewhere? Or from Stalin? Quoting Stalin’s writings in the ’20’s is poor sport. Better go to his writings and speeches in the late ’30’s and ’40’s.

While the growth of public opposition to the CP is a good sign, it is not nearly enough. The present opposition is still based on Stalinist theory and practice. It is not a clean break with an unhealthy totalitarian ideology; it is still an attempt to square a purely traditional adherence to the most generalized concept of socialism and the class struggle, with its antithesis. For that reason the movement of the oppositionists is doomed unless they break fundamentally with everything that is Stalinist.

Hard as it will be for these long-time members of the CP who have absorbed too much of Stalinist theory and its reactionary tradition, they will make not the slightest progress until they strike at the roots of the evil: Stalinism and its nationalist doctrine. They will make no progress and will most certainly be smashed on the political rocks unless they give up their utterly false and disorienting belief that Russia is a socialist state to be defended at all costs. For in that belief they are as guilty of nationalist degeneration as the CP. And that is what makes their differences with the official, recognized Stalinist party merely petty.

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