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Present and Future of U.S. Labor

H.W. Benson

The CP at the Crossroads

Toward Democratic Socialism or Back to Stalinism

(Fall 1956)

From The New International, Vol. XXII No. 3, Fall 1956, pp. 139–178.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Communist Party is in a grave crisis.

There are different opinions on the causes; there are disagreements on the cure; but every leader and member knows that the discussion which involves the Party from top to bottom arises out of the crisis and seeks an answer to it.

Yet while Communists are plunged into unprecedented debate, outside their ranks every wing, group, tendency, publication stemming from the socialist movement talks of a new alignment, a regrouping, a new beginning; they look not toward the decline of socialism but toward its rise. New opportunities are opening everywhere.

The Communist Party can no longer go on as before. In truth, it stands at the crossroads. If it chooses one road, it will travel speedily toward decline and disintegration into an isolated Stalinist-type sect, not only rejected by the working class but detested by it. If it takes the other path, it can make a notable contribution toward the rebirth of genuine socialism in the United States; it can move together with Socialists everywhere and spur the movement on. Which way shall it be? Members of the Communist Party must make the decision but the outcome is so vital that all socialists must enter into the discussion. In such a spirit, we of the Independent Socialist League offer this pamphlet as a contribution to the discussion inside the Communist Party.

IF THERE IS A CRITICAL SITUATION which no one can ignore, how did it arise? It is not because members or leaders suddenly wavered in their loyalty to ideals which brought most of them into the Party. They were first drawn into the movement by the liberating inspiration of socialism; they were motivated by the goal of a society without exploitation, by human brotherhood, internationalism, democracy. As Party members, they sacrificed for causes that were unpopular; fought for what they thought was right; gave money; gave time; some gave their lives. And in recent years, when their movement came under attack from every quarter, they risked jobs, they faced jail, they felt the lash of anti-democratic persecution. And yet, they went on. They persisted courageously in maintaining and building their movement. If the Party now faces a crisis, it is not for lack of heroism, self-sacrifice and devotion by its adherents. Quite the opposite. The membership of the Communist Party displayed an unexampled fortitude in standing against the tide of opinion in their own country.

Yet the crisis is here. The outward signs are obvious to all who know even the most elementary facts about its history; the movement which once numbered a hundred thousand in membership, which inspired a million or more close sympathizers, and which led other millions is now isolated from the mass of people who once looked to it for advice and leadership, direct and indirect.

Once, vast numbers of worker unionists affiliated with the American labor movement were led by members of the Communist Party and its sympathizers. The Party was a growing force: in transport, auto, rubber, oil, packinghouse, electrical and machine – a roster of basic industry, not to mention secondary industries where its influence was no less. Now, it is all gone. In one union after another, the Party and its sympathizers have been defeated, ousted from power, often expelled from membership; where their followers and friends held on, they were expelled en bloc from the CIO and cut down.

Where they still hold a remnant of influence, it is either being whittled away or without significance to the development and course of the labor movement. As one Party trade union commentator explained:

“... a base which becomes completely surrounded and hemmed in by the enemy will not long remain a base. For the very concept of a base is that it be a strong-point from which and not merely in which to operate.” (John Swift, Political Affairs, April 1952.)

That was almost five years ago. Since then, the Party’s situation has deteriorated even further.

Once, Communists were among the chief leaders of the fight for Negro rights everywhere, inside the labor movement and out. Entirely apart from its fundamental line including the slogan: “self-determination for the Black Belt,” in fact despite its basic line, the Party led national struggles against discrimination, police brutality, and frame-ups. Inside the Party, a constant campaign was waged against “white-chauvinism”; hundreds of thousands of workers who passed through the CP learned at least one thing: the need for solidarity between white and black and the pressing need for a fight for equal rights for all.

Yet, today, the CP is isolated from the Negro movement. In the United States, a vast struggle for Negro equality is under way. Negroes in the South are ready to risk life and security in a fight for democracy; they are not frightened; they are not submissive. Their movement spreads all over the South; in the North, Negroes rally to the assistance of their comrades with moral and material aid. It is the most massive surge forward of Negroes in the nation’s history. But the Communist Party is not part of it; the fighting Negroes look to new organizations; they look to the unions; above all, they look to the NAACP. Not only do they by-pass the Communist Party; they look upon it with distaste: even though individual members of the Communist Party are often respected for their own personal devotion to the cause of civil rights.

Nevertheless, and this should be absolutely clear, the Party’s isolation from the organized workers and the Negro movement is only a symptom of the crisis and not its basic cause. Sometimes, socialists must stand alone against public opinion in the interests of truth and democracy. No movement has the right to respect and devotion if it cannot remain steadfast in the face of adversity and tell the world, “You are wrong; we are right.” If the undercurrent of public opinion were overwhelmingly conservative, even reactionary, and bitterly anti-socialist, then any socialist movement, worthy of the name, could only hold on, defend its own rights and its views, awaiting a turn in the tide. It would hold on, knowing that isolation is the harsh price it pays for unremitting service to truth, democracy, and justice. If that applied to the Communist Party today, there might be a decline in membership and in influence but not a crisis; for its followers were hardened enough to stand up under such pressures.

But is that the case? Every CP member and leader must face up to this question squarely without evasion, and without self-consoling delusions.

Has the CP been plunged into isolation because the American working people have been plunged into an unprecedented conservatism? Did the labor movement and the Negro movement fall victim to unreasoning jingoism, anti-socialism, and McCarthyism? If so, how and why? Such an explanation must be rejected out of hand. The Negro movement today has risen to new heights and cries out more vociferously than ever for democracy. The labor movement is more powerful than ever and the working class is aware of its extraordinary strength.

The workers and Negroes have won a strong position in American society. But do not “console” yourself that their victories have made them content with their lot and unmovably pro-capitalist. “The reality that even under capitalism the workers may be able to increase and defend their living standards need not, in the long run, lead them to accommodate themselves to capitalism and to turn a deaf ear to socialism.” So writes Foster in Political Affairs. (p. 41, Nov. 1956) Why, then, do they turn a “deaf ear” to the Communist Party today?

But let us clarify the question. We are not referring here to “people” as a vague, undifferentiated mass. Obviously, a majority of workers, even organized workers, has always been non-socialist or anti-socialist. Nevertheless, a whole section of the working class was socialistic in its thinking, and progressive in outlook. It is to this truly progressive section of American labor opinion that we refer. Once, the CP was respected by it; now it is rejected. Why? Was the rejection of the Communist Party by these workers a rejection of socialism, truth and democracy or was it something else?

Until February 1956 it was possible for every Communist to tell the world and, even more important, to tell himself as he looked in the mirror, that he was defending the truth. If isolation and denunciation is the price for defending socialism and democracy every sincere Communist Party member and leader told himself; then so be it! We have stood up under worse and we will again. But that inner conviction was wiped out at one blow by the 20th Congress and the Khrushchev revelations! Of a sudden, it dawned upon the thinking members that they had defended not truth for 25 years, but lies!

The 20th Congress

Everything had to be reexamined. The open crisis in the CP dates from the 20th Congress. The very fact that the party was shaken from top to bottom was in itself a sign of life. Only a corpse would remain unmoved. If the Party was no longer sure of the old way, a new way became possible.

It came as a shock to Party members and sympathizers to discover:

The list is longer. And to the list of official crimes must be added the questions that came to mind but which were evaded by Khrushchev. What of democracy in general, free trade unions, the one-party state, free elections?

The 20th Congress was a terrible moral blow to the old Party leadership. It was compelled to admit that for a whole political epoch it had defended as democratic what was now admittedly a police dictatorship and it had done so as a blind and uncritical apologist for Stalin and his ruling regime.

The “revelations” were new only to those deliberately kept ignorant of the fact that the crimes of Stalin against socialism had been followed and analyzed in all details by socialists from the earliest days of his rise to power. What made them “revelations” was that this time the charges originated from within the ruling bloc itself and consequently were virtually unanswerable.

One party member looked the facts square in the face.

“The American Communist Party does not approach the American people with clean hands, as far as the Soviet Union is concerned. The American Communist Party repeated as gospel truth which it sincerely believed, every lie told by the Soviet Union about its living standards, about Tito, about the Moscow Trials, about the electoral system, about the Doctor’s case, the stamping out of Jewish culture.” (L.W.M. in Party Voice, December, 1956)

That was the root of the Party crisis.

You can understand better now why militants in the labor movement hung back, refusing to spring to the defense of the Party. You can see now why the Party had to fight on, isolated and alone, a losing defensive battle not just before the bar of bourgeois courts but before the jury of working class opinion. There had been “red-baiting” many times before; in the Thirties, the infamous Dies Committee and its similars tried to rouse a lynch spirit against Communists, Socialists, liberals, and dissenters of all kinds. But they failed. They failed because millions, especially in the unions, rejected with contempt the call for a witch hunt. As a matter of fact, progressives and militants in the unions did more than defend the legitimate democratic rights of Communists from reactionary attack; they placed them in high union office; they even shielded them from justified criticisms from Socialists. But their mood changed.

Militant unionists fled from the Party’s orbit not because they were misled by lies but because they were beginning to suspect the truth. It is the same truth which Communists have begun to face only since the 20th Congress.

Even now, some Party members try to discover what tactical errors led them to lose the sympathy of progressive workers. How, for example, did they lose out in so advanced a union as the United Automobile Workers with its outstanding record of militancy and democracy? Was it the “right opportunism” of “Browderism” which led Communists to support piece work, to denounce opponents of the no-strike pledge, and to tail-end Roosevelt during the war? Was it “left-sectarianism” which led them to denounce Reuther as the “bosses’ boy”; or a dozen other errors? The answers raise more vexing problems than the questions. It was none of these errors and it was all of them! Any socialist group will make “errors.” But what became clear to every intelligent militant in the UAW was that every turn in the Party line, “leftist” or “rightist,” followed one consistent pattern: it represented an attempt to adjust the policy of the working class movement to the needs of the Russian rulers. No minor shift from “right” to “left” or back could shake off this conviction.

It was true before the Congress and even more so after. Party members began to realize that to the extent progressives rejected blind acceptance of the Kremlin’s policies, they were right. The Party could not go on as before. The growing hostility of workers had sounded a warning. After the Congress, a new balance sheet was unavoidable.

THOUSANDS JOINED THE PARTY to fight for socialism, willing to bum the bridges to bourgeois respectability behind them. Were they now simply to fade away in disillusionment and become a political nullity? Were they to look for a comfortable niche as obedient and docile servants of the status quo; mere beasts of burden in the factories; intellectual work-oxen in the professions? Would they join the swarming throng of ex-radicals who had discovered that it was possible to make peace with capitalism and live comfortably as its courtiers? Would they call for the speedy “liquidation” of the Communist Party only in order to liquidate a socialist future for themselves? Those who remained in the Party but who want a radical change have given their answer. They speak of an independent socialist movement, democratic, based upon the interests of the working class, and freed from dependence upon Russian policy. They have decided to press inside their Party for a new, resurgent independent socialist movement.

Thus, this crisis inside the Communist Party gives rise to a thoroughgoing and genuine debate. And as the discussion proceeds, it is becoming clear to socialists everywhere that whole sections of the Communist Party honestly have already taken the first steps toward the only authentic socialism, that is: democratic socialism. New hope stirs for American socialism.

But it is not simple; it is not easy. In the discussion, there are many in the leadership and in the ranks who sincerely want a new course. Others, some in honest confusion and some by deliberate calculation, block the way and resist any fundamental change. Some want clarity; others throw up a squidlike ink screen. Everything come us for discussion; it is difficult to separate primary issues from the secondary and to differentiate between questions that can and must be settled quickly and those which must await a more leisurely, continuing discussion. It is not possible, instantly, to take a quick position on a dozen “fundamental” questions before taking a stand on issues which are decisive to reconstructing an independent, working-class socialist movement in the United States. In brief, it is not necessary to decide everything before doing anything.

The Draft Resolution: Two Tendencies

OUT OF THE FIRST STAGE of debate came the Draft Resolution which became the focus of discussion as the February convention approached.

It was obvious at the outset that it proposed sweeping tactical changes and viewed the Party’s recent past with a critical eye. But was it the beginning of a genuine change or was it a camouflage and cover for a continuation of the fundamental line of old?

When the program appeared, that question seemed hanging in mid-air; the socialist and labor public was accustomed to abrupt 180-degree turns in line which left things basically unchanged; they were scornful, too, of fake “discussions” that became nothing more than breast-beating, scapegoat-hunting sessions.

It soon became clear that the National Committee majority which had adopted the Resolution was divided into at least two sharply divergent tendencies, each of which had voted for the same resolution but for vastly different aims. Since the program was an umbrella covering opposing policies, it could serve only as the starting point for debate; it became a convenient vehicle for raising the key questions, but it could not settle them.

If it quickly became evident that this was a real discussion, in every sense of the word, it was because one wing of the Party seriously tried to face up to the Party crisis. It saw the Resolution as a spring board for a new attitude and a new movement; it maintained that the Party would founder unless it became democratic – democratic in its inner regime and democratic in its conception of socialism; that it had to be genuinely based upon the interests of the working class and to reject the role of blind apologist.

It was this group that turned the discussion into a genuine one.

John Gates, editor of the Daily Worker, in Time for a Change (Political Affairs, November 1956) called for a real turn:

“This tragic situation cannot be cured by a few patches here and there as we have been doing for many years. It can only be solved by drastic and basic changes....”

He rejected “uncritical acceptance of Soviet mistakes.” He pointed out that “the expansion of democracy is not automatic under socialism but must be fought for.” He insisted upon inner-Party democracy and “the right of dissent after policy has been adopted and while it is being carried out.”

Gates is only one among many. They have only made a beginning but it is a serious beginning by people who know that trivialities and clever maneuvers are futile and that without a drastic reorientation they are doomed in the United States.

It was no accident that those who rose to the occasion centered around the Daily Worker. Here were the Party’s public propagandists, the men who faced the non-party public.

They sensed the mood of progressives and union militants who had become suspicious of the Party and were deserting it after the 20th Congress. They were eager to drive the lessons home to the Party and induce it to make a real turn.

But there are others – others for whom the draft program was not the beginning of a new era but a subtle maneuveristic device. With unruffled equanimity, they were willing to admit a multitude of errors – in the past – so long as they were not required to make a real turn in the future. They imagined that by repudiating the “crimes of Stalin” in his “later years” they could be absolved from the duty of drawing up a real balance-sheet.

They hoped to go on fundamentally as before, with new apologetics and cliches for the old. The working class public, they hoped, would forgive or at least forget. They sought a “new look” but the old substance; old wine in new bottles.

No one better represents this redecorated, wall-papered conservative wing than Eugene Dennis.

For a fleeting moment after the 20th Congress, it seemed as though the Khrushchev regime might tolerate, even encourage, a critical attitude by foreign Communist Parties toward limited aspects of Russian policy. The bureaucrat, skilled in the arts and crafts of old-line Stalinism, cultivated a sixth sense that enabled him to anticipate what his higher-ups would appreciate. The successful Stalinist flunkey was one who required not direct orders but only subtle hints. Perhaps Eugene Dennis suspected that his new mentors might welcome a certain line of inquiry. At any rate, he wrote a rather mild note to Pravda suggesting that the rise of the “cult” of Stalin needed a deep Marxistical explanation.

(Leave aside the pitiful mood of such a query: the most urgent demand put to those who shared power with Stalin is that they think up a cogent explanation for crimes they once concealed. It is as though a murderer’s accomplice were called to task, not for killing, but for failing to lecture on the social causes of crime.)

Under the pressure of labor, liberal, socialist, and now Communist public opinion, Dennis mentioned the execution in the USSR of Jewish cultural leaders and the suppression of the Jewish language. Pravda reprinted his missive in full, with one deletion; it deliberately cut out all his references to the destruction of Jewish rights!

Months pass. Dennis defers, submissively and politely, to this disgraceful censorship and refuses to raise his voice.

Here is a man, then, who is ready upon command to call out stridently against murder, frame-ups, terror, and tyranny ... for the past and upon orders from above. But in his breast stirs not the meagerest hint of audacity, not enough to protest against a mean act of censorship and suppression of the truth. Who will now take him seriously if he begins to speak of “independence”?

A short history of the Dennis line is preserved in the Daily Worker for December 4, 1956. Joe Clark proves in pitiless detail that he never dared to utter a criticism until it came through Russian channels first: “Dennis evidently does not object to the Daily Worker criticizing anything said or done by Soviet Communists but only after the Soviet Communists have themselves made such criticism.” With perfect accuracy Clark summarizes Dennis: “Dennis ... assigns to the Soviet armed forces in Hungary the role which Marx considered fell to the working class.”

Yet Dennis, Clark and Gates all support the Draft Resolution; the real line of division, then, is not between those who voted for and those against the Draft. It lies elsewhere.

While Dennis voted for the Draft, it soon became obvious that he had far more in common with William Z. Foster, Party chairman. For one passing, hesitating moment, Foster reluctantly voted for the Draft Program but after rapid calculation changed his mind and his vote. He is against – and properly so from his basically Stalinist point of view.

The Draft is heavily laden with old baggage. But there is little point to a microscopic word-by-word dissection of its political line. Apart from its exact contents it cleared the way for a searching criticism of the Party line; it legitimized not only a consideration of secondary tactics and slogans but a new look at some of the most sacred party dogmas.

It opened a path for those who wanted fundamental changes; in particular, for a change in the relation between the Party and the regime in the USSR.

That is exactly what those who hang on to the past cannot tolerate. They want not a real discussion but only the appearance of one.

They tolerate a genuine discussion with distaste and, doubtless, would suppress it if they could by bureaucratic machine methods. But since that is not possible in the present atmosphere, they try to smother it with other methods.

Not every supporter of the Resolution desires a fundamental break with Stalinism; but its opponents, open and not so open, rally round a still-Stalinist line, in politics and in method. The unquestioned leader and organizer of this tendency is Foster, an unreconstructed holdover from the Stalin era whose politics have not budged an inch despite routine disavowals of “Stalin’s crimes” especially in “his later years.”

The discussion takes place around the Draft, with amendments, supplements, addenda, and what not. But all this serves only as a convenient rallying ground for the battle between the two main tendencies and as a temporary shelter for those who vacillate between them. Convention action on the Draft cannot end the discussion; it only opens a new phase.

Those who have nothing better to do spend their time picking out “revisionist” flaws and “opportunist” deviations in it. In the end, they know no more about the depths of the divisions between the two main tendencies than they did at the beginning. To understand the real scope of the fight in the Party, it is essential to turn to the course of the discussion as a whole.

One group takes form and looks for leadership to men like Gates and Steve Nelson. It is a distinctive tendency; that is, it leans in a certain direction. It is not of one mind on every question; its views are not consistently or fully developed; it has a distance to travel; but its direction is already marked out: toward democratic socialism. On the other side, a truly Stalinist wing clusters around Foster.

Democratic socialism or Stalinism: these are the two main poles. The party must ultimately choose between them. That and nothing less is at stake.

FOSTER DENOUNCES HIS OPPONENTS as “revisionists” when they propose to revise his monstrosities in the field of Party policy. He accuses them, too, of representing a “right” wing.

Who is “right” and who is “left”? One can get lost wandering around the points of the political compass; but such direction signs give a rule-of thumb guide to tendencies in the labor and socialist movement.

If we could find “pure” examples of right and left tendencies (as we never can in practice), they would be distinguished approximately as follows: A Marxist “left” wing is one which leans toward the independence of the working class and for its establishment as a class organized in its own interests. A “right” wing leans just in the opposite direction, toward the subordination of the independent working-class or socialist movement to other social groupings or their representatives.

In the multitude of questions up for debate, a flood of tactical and strategic divergencies relate to the “American question.” Foster has ample scope for his talents. Yet, despite grotesque contortions and outright distortions, no one of the Foster-Dennis camp has been able to demonstrate, or even seriously suggest, that their line represents the policy of independence in American politics as against critics who propose to capitulate to the bourgeoisie. In any case, party history refutes any such claim; no line of demarcation has appeared here.

But what does separate the two sides – clearly, unmistakably and admittedly – is their respective attitude toward the USSR, and differing conceptions of the relationship of the Party to it. Foster and Dennis are united in a determination to subordinate the movement. Gates, Nelson, and the Daily Worker group, on the other hand, despite the vacillations of their politics, call for an attitude of critical independence from the USSR, and demand an end to serving as blind apologist for it.

Not that they follow out the full implications of their position. Ironically, both they and Foster insist in common that Russia is “socialist”; but the difference in tendency is there nonetheless.

The Gates wing moves toward independence; in that sense, compared to its rivals it is the “left” wing in this dispute.

However, the terms “right” and “left” can be misleading. It would be more accurate to say that the democratic socialist tendency is the working-class wing, while the Foster group is the “Russian” wing. Their incompatibility arises not simply from differences of opinion but from class roots: the former is groping for real roots in the American working class, while the latter is bound firmly to the bureaucracy of the Russian state.

Stalinist Methods

AT FIRST GLANCE, THE DISCUSSION seems knotted up in a tangle of hopeless confusion. Everything and anything is up for consideration and posed for decision ... a stream of bulletins, magazines, letters, articles, papers, columns ... an unending series of subjects ... a multiplicity of clashing opinions. In the Daily Worker alone, perhaps 1,000 letters from readers have commented on the issues!

And on what subjects! Minor matters and important ones; trivial questions and decisive ones: The Program; the Negro Struggle; the Trade Union Movement; Constitution; Organization; Marxism-Leninism; Democratic Centralism; Peaceful Coexistence; USSR and relations with national Communist Parties; Hungary; Election Policy; Left-Sectarianism and Right Opportunism; A New United Party of Socialism; Roads to Socialism; Capitalist Stabilization; American Economy and American History; Dogmatism and Creative Marxism. All this is only a partial list of subjects stretching from Past to Present into the Future, and covering all the spaces in between.

Beneath it all, two definable forces are exerting their pull. But it is not always evident what they are.

No one could possibly end the present discussion by rude decree. But a bureaucratic device, to serve the same end is to prevent it from leading to anything in particular and to drown it in a forrest of cliches. A master at this technique is Foster, trained and reared in the Stalin school. In 30 meandering pages entitled, On the Political Situation (Political Affairs, October 1956) he proceeds at length to cut the discussion into a thousand hanging fragments to prevent it from becoming concentrated and clarified. He uses up the alphabet from “a” to “u” listing no less than 21 positively burning questions that must be probed before anything can be decided, ending his list with “etc.” Not satisfied, he rakes up no less than 16 basic “errors” of the “right wing” that must be censured. He is only scratching the surface. With his private thesaurus of “deviations” and “orthodoxies” the man could go on indefinitely. He is ready to talk his opponents to death while they grow old politically and die.

Then, without turning a hair, his friends accuse them of wanting to turn the Party into a discussion society!

Do you raise questions? Nothing short of liquidationism, revisionism, he replies. Consequently, let the discussion proceed not on what you want to discuss but on what I do.

Do you suggest new views? That is irresponsible, he replies. Before your views could be adopted, or even seriously considered we must discuss everything and anything from the formation of primitive protoplasm out of raw matter to the creation of the Warsaw Pact; we must follow every ramification, every detail fully, “scientifically.” We must study, we must investigate, we must think. That, by the way, applies only to your views. But not certainly to mine which can and should be adopted instantly, long before the devious ends are tied together in a beribboned bundle.

Before taking a position (that means, of course, your position) on America, argues Foster, we must begin to study American History, and U.S. Economy in a deep way – which, by the way, he insists has never been done. Don’t make a move without consulting Lincoln – and Lenin. He, himself, however, is not hindered by such diffidence and stands above such prescription. He is trigger-ready to “reaffirm” all “fundamentals” and their applicability to America without a second’s hesitation or a moment, even, of contemplative study.

It seems absurd? It sounds incredible? Yet, the danger is that this assault upon human intelligence, or something like it, will win out in the end!

Understand that Foster’s program is nothing more than a dusty collection of hollow formulas, stale slogans copied mechanically out of books, a running series of familiar cliches. If life gets in the way of his philosophy, let life be adjusted; a simple act of legerdemain, easily performed for a select credulous audience and reported in sympathetic publications, privately printed.

Yet its appeal is understandable. The membership listens for months to a discussion of new views and still newer views. Objections, rebuttals, surrebuttals. Criticisms and replies to criticisms. Months pass and nothing stands out with any starkness; nothing seems in order except new investigations into still newer fields.

Then comes Foster. “Marxism-Leninism, Proletarian Internationalism, Vanguard of the Workers, United Front of Struggle, Mass Work.” At last! The collective sigh of relief is almost audible. Here at last is something that can be understood! Concert goers listen with untutored ear to modern music, respectful perhaps but ill at ease. It is hard to concentrate until, at last, comes a popular piece with old familiar tunes; they relax in relief and hum the harmony along with the orchestra.

Foster’s method is simple. Keep up a constant bedlam and rely on natural conservatism to assert itself in the face of confusion. What if those who know that a change is needed become discouraged; what if hundreds are driven away in impatience. Let them go, so long as a Stalinist machine can reach back for Party control. Keep the pot of irrelevancy boiling and bubbling until your critics quit in disgust; then, perhaps, the time will have come to put an end to discussion.

By his methods alone, Foster reveals the unregenerate Stalinist at work.

Dogmatism and Marxism

THE BANNER OF CREATIVE MARXISM is raised against dogmatism. Those who want to re-examine policy in the light of living events are indubitably right in rejecting dogma. But as they pause in contemplation of everything-at-once, they inadvertently overlook the trap which Foster has set right at their feet. The task is to focus attention sharply on what must be decided now; and help everyone reach a position. But Foster diverts attention precisely toward his dogmas, which ring so familiarly, and casts a diffusive haze over every living question.

For that, he and his friends play at being the true apostles of “Marxism-Leninism.” But the dogmas that fascinate him have little in common with the theories that guided Marx or Lenin. He appeals to the “laws” of Marxism- Leninism as a body of juridically fixed statutes; his “laws” are like a criminal code and not the guiding principles of a socialist movement. What he decrees now, as in the past, in the name of “Marxism-Leninism” are nothing but the rules and regulations laid down in every sphere of theory and practice by those upon whom he is ever dependent. He cannot arrest anyone for violating the “laws” but he can subject them to a heavy sentence of verbal vituperation.

He wants to “reaffirm” everything. It was not the laws of “Marxism-Leninism” that led us astray, complain Foster and Dennis, it was our own failure to carry out its prescriptions; instead of sniping away at it, let us criticize our own shortcomings. What we must do, they insist, is to reaffirm the old dogmas; carry them out, at last; and go forward, the flag flying high.

If they never get around to accounting for their own basic errors, it is doubtless for lack of time. They are busy self-criticizing others. Meanwhile, by their own admission, they could never distinguish between genuine Marxism-Leninism and a counterfeit. For years, Foster confesses, the Party and its leaders violated and perverted these principles; the energies of a generation of writers and theorizers were dedicated to presenting the false as true. By what right can Mr. Foster who, like the others, couldn’t tell one from the other, offer himself as the official, accredited, certified representative of “Marxism-Leninism” ready to reaffirm in less than a moment all that he never understood?

When all dogma is cast in doubt, it is only natural that Party members are dismayed. For years, they imagined that the “dogmas” were clearly understood by all; the distilled essence of truth, categorical precepts for all eternity, the guide to action, the theory. Now they are puzzled and confused. Do you mean that we didn’t know what we were talking about? What is “Democratic Centralism” really? (to use only one example). They enter into prodigious researches to uncover its “true” meaning so that it can be voted up or down, once and for all. One club finds the nugget of truth buried in a directive issued from above to the Chinese Army! The editors of Party Voice, New York discussion magazine, extracts a definition from the official rules of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Consider what all this implies.

A hundred years after the Communist Manifesto, it is necessary to redefine Marxist fundamentals. Thirty years after the death of Lenin, you are compelled to refine your conception of Leninism. Every generation from the vantage point of its own experience has the right to examine all programs with a critical eye. It will require years of political and scientific confrontation to unwrap each and every principle that guided Marx and Lenin from the mud and silt of misunderstanding, distortion and plain falsification that settled upon them like archaeological deposits.

And meanwhile?

While all fundamentals come up for investigation, the pressing tasks of our day remain: To decide what type of socialist movement fits our needs in the United States today; to reply to insistent questions on events in Hungary, Poland; to choose or reject independence from the USSR as it is today, under a regime unknown to Marx or Lenin and foreseen by neither. Study commissions are not a substitute for politics.

It has taken a political lifetime first to suppress, then to pose, finally to formulate all questions inside the CP. From the bursting locked attic of the Party memory, an accumulated storehouse of politics is now strewn about. It will not be carefully sorted, rearranged and tucked back neatly in order in a passing few minutes; not at one convention or two. The full encyclopedia of subjects belongs, too, not on the Party’s private discussion shelf, but in the socialist public arena.

THE ATTENTION OF THE PARTY must be focused on what is urgent and its passions aroused for a truly independent socialist movement. The greatest freedom of debate, the widest expression of views should be not simply tolerated but encouraged and insisted upon. It is not a question of limiting, certainly not of closing, the debate for that would be a calamity. But at some point the discussion must be brought to a head and concentrated.

The salient task for a leadership which wants to show the way to democratic socialism is to turn a spotlight on those issues which light up the way. Not everything can be treated on the same plane. Some matters can be left for time and the leisurely confrontation of opinion. But others must be grappled with quickly. Out of the welter of discussion the key issues have already taken shape and force their way to the forefront. They need to be formulated more clearly:

  1. Democracy inside the Party.
  2. The fight for democracy by socialists, everywhere; not only in countries dominated by capitalism but in those ruled by Communists as well, including the USSR.
  3. Realignment of forces to build a broad independent socialist movement in the United States; one which would unambiguously reject capitalism and Stalinism.

Democracy in the Party

The whole Party is in arms against bureaucracy. Everyone repents the past and pledges to protect inner-party democracy in the future; gone are the days when the most elementary rights of rank-and-file members were passed off with a shrug.

So universal are democratic professions that the matter seems raised above dispute. Yet it would be foolhardy if the Party members trusted to simple expression of good intentions.

The future of Party democracy depends not on the good will of leaders, not even exclusively upon the alertness of its membership, but upon the political means chosen to solve the Party crisis. Foster’s road leads ultimately back to bureaucracy; not necessarily because he is a willful man but because he wants to overcome the Party crisis in a certain manner.

What has caused the crisis and what is the way out? The answers to these questions will in the end determine the fate of internal democracy.

Consider the approach of John Gates, Steve Nelson and their supporters: For them, the Party dilemma is rooted basically in a failure of Party policy in a fundamental sense to meet the needs of our times. The Party and its policies must be changed radically if it is to make its essential contribution to socialism in the United States.

Once this view is carried out consistently, democracy becomes more than a mere preference; it becomes an indispensable instrument.

In the first place, it would be impossible to make the essential turn now and tomorrow without the most thoroughgoing participation of the membership in action, in decisions and in debate.

But this is the minor key. For there are others who would agree: So far, so good. But so far, and no farther! For them, the question of democracy is posed as though it were a code of etiquette to guide the family in the private relations among its members.

But those in the Party who move toward democratic socialism view democracy as something more than mere traffic rules and see it in its deeper significance. It is not enough to grant each other the dispensations of democracy; they must convince trade unionists, Negroes, all peoples fighting for democracy, that they are actively turning away from dictatorial methods, away from dependence upon any authoritarian regime and toward democracy.

Party democracy becomes a life-and-death matter for them, not only for private purposes but because without it Communists are doomed before working-class opinion.

Some socialists, who regrettably have not followed the discussion with the attention it deserves, demur.

“You claim there is a democratic socialist tendency in the CP, even among some of its leaders,” they object. “But look at their past; see how they still refer to Russia as a socialist state and shy away from a full and frank criticism of its role in Hungary. Do you imagine that they can be sincere in this turn?”

But it is not a question of “sincerity” as some disembodied spirit. Look upon the past in a new light; insist upon a change in a given direction; and you are led willy-nilly toward a new view of Party democracy, flowing from a whole political outlook. Such a leaning or tendency arises in the Party; we can only hope that it continues consistently along the road which it has charted for itself.

To understand their outlook, contrast their views with Foster’s.

For him life is quite simple. The only crisis that he notices is the annoying fact that others persist in talking of a crisis! What is fundamentally wrong, he thinks, is that there are too many comrades who insist that there is something fundamentally wrong.

The 20th Congress? The Khrushchev report? Events in Eastern Europe? Isolation from the mass movement? No problem for Foster: just don’t think too much about them.

Why bother, in any case? The basic difficulties have been handily settled for us, now and forever, just as in the past. “Now, however, upon the initiative of the leaders of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the Stalin undemocratic cult is being liquidated root and branch.” (Political Affairs, September 1956) What more do you want; let us go on to “constructive” work and leave such things to our highest “leaders.”

Everything could have easily been straightened out by Foster, given a little time to think up a good apology and to acquire a prefabricated Marxistical explanation. As he puts it (Political Affairs, October 1956):

“Although the situation created by the Stalin revelations presented certain problems no doubt the Party could have overcome them without great difficulty, absorbing the immediate lessons from the Stalin exposure and studying the long-range implications of this important matter.”

Just a bit of a problem, nothing different from what he juggled successfully many times before. But alas, it was not to be because there were Gates and the others.

To quote from Foster (Political Affairs, October 1956): “This Right tendency is now menacing the Marxist-Leninist foundations of the Party.” And “If it were desired to liquidate our Party no more effective means could be used to this end than the current discrediting of the Party and its leadership by ascribing to them endless ‘errors,’ many of which never happened.” And “These wrong views included bitter attacks upon the Soviet Union, upon our Party, and upon its whole leadership.”

There is no doubt in Foster’s mind where the crisis originates; the cause can be pinpointed exactly: it is the rise of the Gates-Daily Worker tendency.

The solution? It follows inexorably, from Foster’s bizarre conception of what is happening in the world and in the Party, that the way out of the crisis, for him, is the defeat of the Gates tendency and the return to “normality.”

Remember that we are dealing with the keeper of the seal, the man who will countenance no deviation from “Democratic Centralism” and who longs for the “monolithic unity” of the Party – whatever it means to anyone else, we know what it means to him. For Foster this discussion can be nothing but an annoying, unavoidable overhead.

What follows from his line and from his whole conception of the nature and solution of the Party crisis is that the Gates group must be smashed and the buds of Party democracy cut off.

“This time,” says Foster (Discussion Bulletin No. 2), “there will be no Duclos article to bail us out of our folly.” A thought scented with nostalgia for the good old days when everything could be decided by a nod from above, or a letter.

Not only that, things have gone far enough; that is: too far. “Such an exaggeration of mistakes as we have had in our Party during recent months would not be tolerated in the Communist Party of the USSR, Peoples China, Italy, etc.,” he warns. Why then tolerate them in your Party, Foster? Doubtless he asks the same question of himself and has an answer ready for the proper time.

Everyone pays lip service to inner-Party democracy. In keeping with the spirit of things, all kinds of constitutional changes, organizational devices and structural novelties are advanced to safeguard the rights of members. But the real test will come in the fate of the opposing tendencies.

Can democracy win out in the Party, can the Party advance if Foster and allies take it in a stultifying grip? The most ornate constitution devised by the human imagination could hardly maintain democracy if the Gates-Daily Worker tendency comes under his heavy hand. If they are penalized in any way for their views, or removed from posts of responsibility, or their right to speak bridled, what will be the fate of the Party then?

Nelson, Gates and the others take on nothing less that the task of defending democracy in the Party and its reputation outside. Before they can face the working-class public, they must face their own Party.

Can they tolerate an appeasement of Foster’s Stalinist conceptions? There is the first hurdle.

A Peaceful Road

A FIGHT OVER DEMOCRATIC socialism is at the heart of the problem in the Party discussion; it is the crux of at least three questions which pose the relationship between socialism and democracy, 1. peaceful transition to socialism in the United States, 2. the right of every nation to its own road to socialism, 3. Hungary.

Everyone assures everyone else that a “peaceful road to socialism” is possible in the United States; no one protests. By a process of natural selection the question should disappear.

Yet it does not. Debate continues; more accurately, two debates: the real debate and the fake one.

Knowing Foster’s methods, we expect him to steer the discussion up a blind alley. We are not disappointed.

As far back as the first CP Smith Act trials, he posed the possibility of “achieving socialism” in the United States by peaceful means if democracy prevailed at home and world capitalism continued to decline. He, at least, should have little objection when others speak of the same possibility. But we are dealing with a Foster. Where there is no real difference, he is ready with a false substitute.

True, he admits, a peaceful development is possible. But you, you compromisers, he cries to the dissidents, insist that the peaceful road is inevitable? That’s the difference: is it merely possible or is it inevitable? And there follows from him and his imitators an interminable flow of disquisitions, complete with digressions, on overestimating capitalism, revisionism, class-collaboration, etc. – all of which is presumably contained, tightly compressed, in this simple original difference.

It is all arrant nonsense; it is an argument concocted out of nothing but sheer malice. And if fog settles in a shadowland, if everyone gropes about blindly, so much the better! That is the ground on which he prefers to fight.

His task is made easier by those on the other side; for they do not make clear what they are driving at, or they are not able to say.

In the December 1956 issue of Party Voice, Norman Schrank contributes an article entitled Strengthen the Draft Resolution. By title alone we locate him in the political spectrum. He is for the Party’s Draft Resolution as a beginning but he sees the need for a deeper analysis and more extensive changes in Party policies.

“Sometimes I feel,” he writes, “the stand-pat dead-center comrades are still too much hynotized by the international movement. They wait for distant winds to blow.” And he concludes: “the charge that we move to extremes is being used today by those who hold the stand-pat position who want no change and by those who want to return to old policies. Under today’s conditions, this criticism which was once sound becomes harmful. It becomes a pernicious thesis against change!

All this is simple truth. What is even more significant is this: “I believe,” he says, “there is a serious omission in the resolution’s failure to describe the socialism we seek as democratic socialism.”

Democratic socialism! If this phrase is conceived in all its depth and not as a catchword, it summarizes the whole crisis in the Communist movement and points the way out. The crisis derived from a failure to come forward truly as a democratic socialist movement, and the solution lies in moving toward it.

It seems to us that when the Gates-Daily Worker tendency speaks of the peaceful road to socialism it is already reaching toward an even deeper concept: the democratic nature of socialism, in general. Perhaps that is what really irritates Foster.

Notice how Schrank returns to the point in the same piece:

“Given the democratic, peaceful and constitutional path to socialism in America, what is wrong in characterizing the socialism we seek as democratic socialism? Is the socialism we seek undemocratic?” (His emphasis.)

In his mind, then, the peaceful, constitutional road is virtually synonymous with the democratic road to socialism.

IT IS TRUE THAT A PEACEFUL road to socialism is possible and desirable in the United States. As humanitarians and champions of civilized methods in every respect, socialists will do everything to make this possibility a reality. There are countries ruled by dictatorships where a “peaceful road” is barred, not only the peaceful road to socialism but the peaceful road to almost anything else of importance to the people! But even where the peaceful road is blocked, socialists hold to the democratic road; that is the only road to socialism. For the democratic way to socialism is not necessarily dependent upon parliaments and constitutions where these do not exist.

In November 1917 when the Bolshevik Revolution took place in Russia there was literally no constitution in existence. Yet the revolution became a triumph of democracy; it was based upon the support of the masses of soldiers, workers, and farmers, and was not imposed upon them. In 1933 Hitler came to power in Germany under the forms of the old Weimar Constitution. Yet this “constitutional” method was the road of totalitarian dictatorship.

Socialism remains democratic under all conditions and under all constitutions. The road to socialism in the United States, with its democratic institutions, will be vastly different from that in Spain where a dictatorship suppresses every democratic right. But in both countries, as in all, socialism must come with the support of the majority of the people. Without such support, it will not come; or what will come will not be socialism!

Socialism always and everywhere insists upon the rights of democracy. And more: it seeks its objective not against the will of the people, not over them, but with their support. That is why any authentic socialism is democratic socialism.

National “Roads to Socialism”

EVERY NATION FOLLOWS its own “road to socialism.” This truism is repeated on all sides, especially since the Russian leaders consented to legitimize Tito. By now, it has been uttered so often that it becomes a commonplace, its content slurred over; it becomes a clot on thought. What does it mean?

“Roads to socialism” are not picked out and ground to taste like brands of coffee on a supermarket shelf. Did anyone imagine that socialism would come to Britain exactly as to India; was it conceivable that to imperialist nations and colonies, big nations and small, farmers, workers, semi-serfs socialism would come cut to one master pattern? What is the latest discovery? That each nation strives for socialism under conditions peculiar to it, guided by its own traditions? Such an elementary, even primitive, conception could hardly become the basis for a clear division of opinion. Naturally, the Foster-Dennis wing reduces it, like everything else, to a downright absurdity; they pick up what they say from Pravda and repeat it mechanically. That’s good enough for them.

But for the Daily Worker group, it was quite a different matter. “Many roads to socialism” as a programmatic idea became the first “legal” device for raising the banner of independence from the USSR, for themselves and for the Party. The Party membership hesitant and confused was encouraged to take the first necessary steps without revolutionizing its entire outlook. In effect, they were told, we want nothing different from what Tito demanded and what Khrushchev conceded to him.

Russia has its road to socialism; we have ours. It was a simple enough beginning. But complications came. For the Gates-Daily Workerites were not hunting for a tidy formula just for their own puzzled members. (For Foster that is the beginning and end of everything.) They wanted a bridge to people who sympathized with socialism but who rejected everything that smacked of totalitarianism. They were confronted with basic questions. “Russia’s road to ‘socialism’ is dictatorship, one-party state, anti-democracy. Is that what you propose?” It was easy to find a reply. “No, we insist upon our own democratic road.”

“How do we know you are sincere,” came the rejoinder. “Why don’t you criticize dictatorship in Russia.” And that became the great dividing line in the Party. Members became increasingly critical; they openly questioned the “necessity” for a one-party state in Russia; they suggested that perhaps democracy might be proper, even in the USSR. It is this that Foster will never forgive.

Still, as matters stood up to yesterday, each nation’s road to socialism was equally legitimate. But big events brought harsh questions.

In Poland a revolutionary surge among the people brought a new government to power, the Gomulka regime, against the will of the Russian rulers.

Russian troops were mobilized menacingly against the Gomulka regime which threatened to order Polish troops to open fire if the Russians marched. The two countries teetered on war; an open armed battle was averted only by a last minute compromise. What was at stake? Was the USSR trying to impose its “road to socialism” upon Poland which defended its own “road to socialism”?

Now, Pravda demands that “proletarian internationalism” supersede “nationalism.” But its internationalism is nothing but the right of the USSR to dominate the peoples in its orbit without regard to their nationality and indifferent to their national needs and feelings. Genuine internationalism is not imposed by bayonets; it is possible only when every nation is free to associate or not with any other; it is totally alien to the forced dependence of small nations upon powerful ones. When Russian troops marched toward Poland they did so not to subordinate “bourgeois nationalism” to “international socialism”; or “national communism” to “proletarian internationalism.” They say “proletarian internationalism” when they mean Russian foreign domination. Troops moved to impose the rule of the USSR over Poland.

NOTHING IS MORE EMPTY IN THE EYES of the Daily Workerites than mere “dogma” – and they are right. Yet, in all the struggles and conflicts between nations in the Communist bloc and in the struggles inside them, they detect nothing more than a conflict of doctrine, a difference of opinion, varying conceptions of the doctrine of “roads to socialism.” Doctrinairism is no substitute for dogma. If life will not submit to Foster’s dogmas, neither will it be limited by bookish doctrine. In Eastern Europe, they talk of doctrines; but they fight against exploitation and national oppression.

Two distinct questions are hidden in the formula, “own roads to socialism.” 1. the right to national freedom, 2. democracy and the road to socialism.

Yugoslavia and Poland defended their independence from foreign domination and here, as everywhere, socialists stand on the platform of self-determination, support those who defend their own nationhood, and congratulate them upon their successes. What kind of socialist and what kind of socialism would deny small nations their right to free, national existence?

The sympathy of socialists for the national aspirations of Poland and Yugoslavia is no less, even though inside each country the fight for democracy goes on! All roads to socialism lead through democracy. In Poland, any democratic socialist worthy of the name will support those who demand full democracy, free elections, free parties, and who reject all apologia for dictatorship. Not to turn the means of production back to capitalist exploitation, no socialist wants that, but to give social and political power to the working people.

Under Tito, it is said, Yugoslavia has the right to its “road to socialism.” But that is only the beginning of the question: for now, Milovan Djilas, former partisan fighter, former President of Yugoslavia, former member of the Communist Party, stands up and demands to be heard. He is truly a democratic socialist and a courageous one who will not be cajoled or coerced into silence.

We know from his article in the New Leader (November 19, 1956) where he stands on democracy under socialism. On Poland, he writes:

“Given independence from Moscow, Gomulka took a historic step forward. But with half-hearted reforms he will soon reach a dilemma – which Moscow had foreseen. He will have to choose between internal democracy, which has become inseparable from complete independence from Moscow and the ties with Moscow required to maintain the Communists’ monopoly of power.”

He explains why the USSR decided it had to crush Hungarian resistance:

“Had the Hungarian Revolution not only brought political democracy but also preserved social control of heavy industry and banking, it would have exercised enormous influence on all Communist countries, including the USSR. It would have demonstrated not only that totalitarianism is unnecessary as a means of protecting the worker from exploitation (i.e., in the ‘building of socialism’) but also that this is a mere excuse for the exploitation of the workers by bureaucracy and a new ruling class.”

Tito’s rule in Yugoslavia, he said, was based upon “narrow ideological and bureaucratic class interests.”

Tito, with his “road to socialism” had only one reply, the classical reply of the offended dictator: Djilas was arrested, tried, and sentenced to jail for three years. In the United States, we protest against the Smith Act convictions of Communists who are sent to jail for the sole “crime” of advocating their political opinions. Can we do less for Djilas who is jailed for nothing more by a government that calls itself socialist?

To its credit, the Daily Worker protested, if only mildly.

“We deplore the fact that he was tried for his opinions,” it editorialized on December 14, “We do not believe he should have been convicted. We do not think he should go to jail ... In the worldwide battle for the minds of men, we hold that believers in socialism, such as ourselves, cannot accept in the name of government necessity actions that are a denial of the things for which we fight.”

What now of Yugoslavia’s “road to socialism”? Djilas demands democracy. Tito throws him into jail. Who then truly represents the road to socialism inside Yugoslavia? The answer of every democratic socialist should come instantly: We are for Djilas and we are for his road.

Yes, every nation will take its own road to socialism. Does that mean then that the road to socialism in Russia is through a one-party dictatorship? That in China the road leads through the illegalization of all opposition parties. That in Yugoslavia it leads through an independent one-party dictatorship. But that in the United States, fortunately for us, it leads through real democracy?

That would be a serious distortion of the “road to socialism” and a perversion of the meaning of socialism itself. But leave that aside. Who will believe it? If “socialism” comes through dictatorship everywhere else, or at least everywhere it presumably has come, then who will give credence to your assurances that in the United States the democratic way will be held open. Only when a movement demonstrates that it supports the democratic road everywhere can American workers have faith in its attachment to the democratic road in the United States.

Revolution in Hungary

IT WAS IN HUNGARY that the fight for national freedom, democracy, and socialism reached its climax. It was here that the Gates-Daily Worker tendency began to mobilize Party opinion for a fundamental change; but it settled for a compromise that disarmed it. Foster rose to clamor loudly against the bogy in his own imagination: a “fascist” revolution. The Daily Worker was finally trapped into the vain task of stimulating support for a question mark.

Russian troops entered Budapest on October 24 and fired on crowds demonstrating in support of the Gomulka government in Poland. In the first days of November, the Party National Committee disavowed responsibility for the action of the Russian tanks in a public statement, from which we call attention to these excerpts:

“The events in Poland and Hungary cannot be explained as the result of reactionary pro-fascists plots or the operations of Project X. Such an explanation flies in the face of well-established facts.”

It condemned the policies of the Stalin regime as responsible for the peoples’ discontent which led to their uprising: “These policies ran counter to the whole philosophy and outlook of Scientific Socialism.”

Of the Communist movement in Hungary, it declared:

“At the last moment instead of meeting the legitimate grievances of the Hungarian working class and people, they again resorted to repressions. Their calling in the Soviet troops stationed in Hungary to put down the popular demonstrations was a tragic error. This dramatized the bankruptcy of a policy which was not based securely upon the national needs and sentiments of their own country – of the working class and popular masses of Hungary.”

Who should rule Hungary? “The Hungarian people have now had 11 years in which to test parties and leaders. They alone have the right to decide whether to change or retain them.” They alone! Mark that well.

Where was the Hungarian rising going? The National Committee had no doubts those days:

“We are confident that despite all the difficulties and temporary setbacks, the Hungarian people will find their way to Socialism, based on their own national traditions and requirements and secured by the will of their own working class and people.”

And what of the promises made in abundance?

“The events in Poland and Hungary show that despite the promises of the 20th Congress which aroused these great expectations, these principles [equality of nations] are yet to be fully applied in practice.”

On Nov. 4, after throwing the Hungarians off balance by holding out the hope of ending the occupation, Russian tanks and soldiers shot their way back into Budapest and installed Kadar as puppet ruler over the masses who hated him. The universal Hungarian resistance began: general strikes; armed fighting; extension of Workers’ Councils; demonstrations. A seething and irrepressible hatred of the occupation and its stand-in government.

The Party National Committee statement had already been adopted. On November 5, as the first news of the re-entry of Russian tanks into Budapest was flashed to the world, the Daily Worker hardly wavered and held to its position. In an editorial, it declared:

“The action of the Soviet troops in Hungary does not advance but retards the development of socialism because socialism cannot be imposed on a country by force; it does not help but damages the relations between socialist states ... We are for the withdrawal of all troops from all countries to their own borders. We are for the right of all people, the Hungarian people as well as those of Cyprus, of Egypt, of Israel, of Kenya, of Okinawa – the list could be greatly extended – to rule themselves in complete independence. We oppose the use of force against those people no matter who originated it.”

No matter who originated it! And the editorial continues:

“The use of force by the Soviet troops in Hungary will bring no lasting solution to that country’s problems. That is why we support the Hungarian masses who sought to solve their own problems as they were settled in Poland without violence, without foreign troop intervention and without allowing the supporters of the old fascist regime to remain in power.”

While Soviet tanks were rumbling into Budapest the Daily Worker could write, “We support the Hungarian masses.”

Criticism of Russian intervention was in a “comradely” spirit; the errors, it found, were the wrong way to build socialism! While declaring support for the Hungarian masses, both the National Committee and the Daily Worker still assumed that the Russian army was an instrument of socialist policy, even if tragically misdirected. They said only the least that could be said. BUT THEY DID SAY IT. They opposed Russian intervention in Hungary! Looking back, we know now that a significant section of the Party had been making a determined effort to begin taking an independent policy. But it wasn’t until they spoke out on Hungary that their course became clear to others. The editorials in the Daily Worker and the Committee statement were, in effect, a declaration of independence.

But, having made its declaration, the Party began to slip back under the pounding of Foster and Dennis.

Until events in Poland and Hungary, it was easy enough to talk of an independent policy; but revolutionary events tested everyone and compelled them to come forward with their real policies. Foster and Dennis were revealed as true Stalinists, in policy and in methods. They denigrated the Hungarian revolution and whitewashed Russian intervention. Their technique is succinctly and perspicaciously described by Max Gordon of the Daily Worker as the process of blind apologetics, defined as “this process which starts with the assumption that all Soviet action must be championed and then erects its own structure of ‘fact’ to accomplish that aim.” (Daily Worker, December 17, 1956) We feel free to speak more bluntly than Gordon: they lie to cover up for the policy of the ruling Russian bureaucracy.

We saw the process of “blind apologetics” in action when the Stalinist wing went openly to work.

On November 21, Foster wrote on the Hungarian situation in the Daily Worker. He was blandly ready to admit “that the Communists in Hungary, both Soviet and Hungarian found it necessary to conduct an armed struggle against a mass movement which undoubtedly had the backing of the bulk of the Hungarian people.” (The bulk? It was one united people against foreign armies.) Yet, this mass movement of the majority had become “fascist.”

“When the leadership of the mass movement was thus seized by reactionaries, which happened under the Nagy regime, the basic issue was changed from one of a just struggle of the people for more democracy and for national independence, to an attempt by the reactionary forces, stimulated and organized by American money, to transform the Hungarian Socialist regime into one of fascism.”

How and when did a struggle for democracy by the majority become transformed instantaneously into a struggle for “fascism?” No need to scrutinize the question closely. All Foster has to know is that Russian actions must be justified and he will find a way. If an outright lie will help, so much the better, as “It was ... upon the request of the Kadar Hungarian government that the Soviet Union, under the terms of the Warsaw Pact and the Potsdam agreement stepped in to restore order in Hungary ...” Upon the request of the Kadar government! But everyone knows that there was no Kadar government until Russian troops entered Budapest, drove out the Nagy regime and imposed Kadar over the Hungarians.

On November 15, James Allen made his contribution:

He justified the reentry of troops because, “in the face of a counter-revolutionary attempt, force has to be used to safeguard socialism” and “a counter-revolutionary government would have been installed if Soviet troops had remained passive.” And here, when the first mass struggle for democracy had burst out in Eastern Europe he learned only that “Hungary has shown how the general, abstract idea of democracy can be made to serve the purposes of counter-revolution.”

On November 28, Benjamin Davis:

“The second use of Soviet troops, after fascist elements had gained or were gaining the upper hand, was in my opinion a grim and painful necessity ... and he wanted “a more positive attitude toward the Kadar government.”

The Daily Worker and the National Committee had spoken out for the “masses,” against Soviet intervention, confident that the Hungarian workers themselves would defend socialism. From the Stalinist wing came the old song: the uprising was now “fascist,” Russian intervention was justified. It was doubtless under the impact of this Stalinist-type campaign of slander and abuse that the Party retreated. On November 19, the National Committee adopted a new statement in the form of an Open Letter to CP Members. Presumably it was a “compromise”; it gave way before the Stalinists, attack. And in vain. Their abuse against the Daily Worker continued without let-up.

A mass struggle was in progress. On one side a united Hungarian people fighting for democracy; on the other nothing but Russian arms. The Open Letter tried to straddle the barricades:

“We do not seek to justify the use of Soviet troops in Hungary’s internal crisis on November 4. Neither do we join in the condemnation of these actions. Was there no alternative? Was it a grim necessity? There are no ready answers and we are in no position to give final judgment on the Soviet action. On this there are different viewpoints in the national committee and in the Party. With the unfolding of events further clarity on this point will be achieved.”

But “with the unfolding of events,” Hungary was allowed to slide out of sight.

While the Open Letter was ready to write a question mark over Russian intervention – it was neither for nor against – it did give support to the slanderous accusations of Foster, Dennis and the other Stalinists:

“The role and influence of the reactionary elements within Hungary were bolstered by an influx of exiled fascists, interventionists and agents of Project X across the Austrian border. The Nagy government retreating before the reactionary pressures lost its capacity to govern and was unable to halt the lynchings, anti-Semitic outbreaks and reign of terror against Communists and progressives.”

Meanwhile, the vast majority of worker Communists and progressives, in fact the whole Hungarian nation was up in arms against the interventionists and an irrepressible general strike gave evidence, against all the lies, that the working class was united for democracy and socialism.

Why the compromise in the Open Letter? It was the product of suicidal “diplomacy.” Those in the Party who want independence were ready to appease the Party Stalinists – or did they thus compromise themselves on the ground that it was necessary to stall for time in the internal fight?

But what about the “fascists” in Hungary? For that, we must turn to the story of the “exiled fascists” who presumably crossed the Austrian border to fight for reaction.

But first, let us make a few things clear. Those who called the movement “fascist” are the same men who were ready to denounce Tito as a fascist upon demand of Stalin. They lied then; they lie now. The whole story is a pure fabrication; a blatant falsehood, a cynical trick! And the staff of the Daily Worker knows it well.

First fact: On November 23, the Daily Worker wrote:

“On November 8, the Daily Worker ran a story culled from the London Daily Worker by foreign editor Joe Clark, which reported that since last April when the Austrian-Hungarian border was opened to tourist traffic an estimated 60,000 counter-revolutionaries had entered Hungary. As far as we’ve been able to discover, no other English language daily paper published this news item. Yet several people have demanded to know why we’ve ‘suppressed’ it.”

There’s a lesson here. You help manufacture a story but get no gratitude in return. We’ve learned, so far, that only the London Daily had discovered this story; how, no one knows. For it refused to print the accurate account sent to it by its own Budapest correspondent, Peter Fryer. Still, what about the 60,000?

Second Fact: On December 4, Clark told the full story himself in a reply to Dennis, an account which so utterly destroys the whole basis of the “fascist” slander that we will quote it at length:

“Dennis accuses my typewriter of writing off the danger of fascist attempts in Hungary. But the sole specific ‘fact’ about such fascist danger which Dennis cites came from my typewriter. Dennis names forces of Horthyites and ‘60,000 diverse other fascists agents and bands which infiltrated Hungary via the Austrian border.’

“Now the story of the 60,000 appeared in the Daily Worker via my typewriter and it was picked up from the London Daily Worker. The dispatch in question did not come from Hungary because at that time the Budapest correspondent of the London Daily couldn’t get his on-the-spot reports into his paper. It was based on dispatches from Prague, which mentioned 60,000 as the total number of persons who crossed the Austrian-Hungarian border over a period of months. These included all tourists, delegations, and persons whose policies ranged, from Communist to Fascist.

“To cite this as evidence that the 800,000 members of the Hungarian Communist Party and the millions of organized Hungarian workers and the Hungarian army of 250,000 could not prevent fascism is to deny facts and the class struggle.”

Enough said. The only question that remains is this: why did Clark peddle the story? Obviously just to appease Dennis and the others. But it does no good. When they insist on apologetics, they want the real variety.

The Hungarian revolutionaries weren’t fascists; that’s clear now. But what were they? That is clear, too. The struggle in Hungary, to this day, is led by fighting democratic institutions of the working class, Workers’ Councils as it was in Russia in 1917. And their goals are fundamentally the same: socialism and democracy. Here are excerpts from the monitored broadcasts from Hungary during the revolutionary days:

October 27: over Radio Gyor. The local Defense Committee of the Hungarian Workers (Communist) Party demanded:

“They must insure that Soviet armed forces in Hungary cease fire and leave the country, being granted free departure. This is not a counterrevolution but the national movement of the Hungarian working people. The workers and peasants in Gyor-Sopron County do not want the restoration of the power of manufacturers and landlords, the national revolution is not aimed at the restoration of the old regime.”

October 30: Radio Miskolc:

“We have proposed a socialist state form which will guarantee the full development of our people ... We are fighting for peace, for socialist truth, for the guarantee of the free development of our peoples. Help us in our fight.”

November 7: Radio Rackoczi: appeal to Soviet troops.

“Your state was created at the cost of bloody fighting so that you could have freedom. Today is the 39th anniversary of that revolution. Why do you want to crush our liberty? You can see that it is not factory proprietors, not landowners, and not the bourgeoisie who have taken up arms against you but the Hungarian people, who are fighting desperately for the same rights you fought for in 1917.”

November 12: Slogan from Manifesto of Armed Revolutionary Youth “For a neutral, independent, democratic and Socialist Hungary.”

November 12: From the demands of the Workers Council of the 11th District of Budapest.

“We wish to emphasize that the revolutionary working class considers the factories and the land the property of the working people.”

And there is the evidence of Peter Fryer, Budapest correspondent of the London Daily Worker who resigned when the paper refused to print his eyewitness accounts. This is from his letter of resignation;

“... power was in the hands of the armed people, and they were fully aware of the danger of counter-revolution and were themselves fully capable of smashing it.

“The great mass of the Hungarian people have no desire to return to capitalism, and want to retain all the positive social achievements of the past 12 years.

“Nor did the Soviet troops who entered Budapest on November 4 fight fascism; they fought workers, soldiers, and students; and they could find no Hungarians to fight alongside them.

“These are the conclusions I reached after hundreds of interviews ... No honest Communist can now ignore the truth about Hungary. The Hungarian people were the victims of tyranny and oppression masquerading as socialism.”

We have irrefutable documentary evidence of a senseless capitulation to the Foster-Dennis wing when we put two issues of the Daily Worker side by side and watch how it turned tail in analyzing the Warsaw Pact and events in Hungary.

Daily Worker, November 5: NC Statement:

“The response of the Soviet authorities to the request for armed intervention also cannot be justified by the argument that they had the legal right to do so under the Warsaw Pact. This was not a matter of formal rights. It violated the essence of the Leninist concept of national self-determination because the call for the troops was not in accord with the wishes of the Hungarian people.”

Here, then, the Warsaw Pact did not justify intervention. Now read on ...

Daily Worker, December 2: Editorial on America and Hungary:

“Of course, the issue isn’t the same in those two countries [Egypt and Hungary]. Foreign troops – British, French and Israeli – are in Egypt as a result of one of the most brazen acts of aggression in the long sordid history of imperialism. Foreign troops – those of the Soviet Union – are in Hungary by agreement between the two countries under the Warsaw Pact, counterpart of NATO, as well as under the Potsdam Agreement; Hungary was part of the fascist Axis.”

We note only this: Now the intervention is justified by the Warsaw Pact.

What caused the switch in line? Again, we can think of only one answer: appeasement of the Stalinist wing in the Party.

Socialists talk of brotherhood, of democracy and of the working class and its ceaseless striving for human dignity and socialism. “You and your workers,” laugh the cynics, scoffers and bandwagon jumpers.

“Look at them in their pitiable state. See how they fall for the crude trash of the bourgeois press in the United States. See how they swallowed the farcical tales of Stalinism in Russia. Watch how they come to heel when ordered about by real power. That’s the stupid, common herd for you. That’s your ‘democracy.’ Better to take care of yourself and to the devil with them!” Isn’t that the theme song of many who passed through the socialist movement on their way to greener pastures, coming from all political directions fanning out into all others?

Yesterday, the snobbish gentry, contemptuous of all mass movements for human freedom, might have pointed to Hungary as a typical example of the degradation that humans will suffer like so many beasts of burden. We owe to none other than William Z. Foster a picture of the regime under which they groaned. According to his account (Daily Worker, November 21), the government “lowered living and working standards”; it was guilty of “bureaucratic blunders and tyranny” and “excesses and brutalities” and “great-Russian chauvinism.” Moreover, “the national independence of the Hungarian people was virtually liquidated” and “they were stripped of their civil liberties and subordinated to the vicious domination of the secret police”; they suffered “needlessly severe economic strains.” And “the several political parties ... were either emasculated or liquidated.” Finally, “these harsh and unjust measures, alien to the principles of Socialism could not be justified.”

If one does more than simply put words down on paper but feels what they mean and understands the misery and oppression which they represent in life, he can only rejoice with all his heart that the Hungarian people revolted. They proved themselves men and not stolid cattle. So long as the spirit which inspired them lives on, socialism will be invincible.

Democracy and socialism won a triumphant vindication. And not for the first time! From 1914–1917 the cynics of their day pointed, too, with scorn at those who called for international socialist democracy. “Internationalism? How absurd! Watch while the workers of every nation plunge bayonets into one another at the command of their rulers. Where is your internationalism; where is your democracy?” In the great Russian Revolution of March 1917 and again in November they received a fitting reply. The way opened for a rebirth of socialism.

In 1956, the vindication of mankind’s struggle for freedom came in Hungary. The Hungarian Revolution is not a passing incident that must regrettably be fitted into a discussion of other things. It goes to the very heart of all discussions of democracy and independence.

And what a rising. For months, the united population of a small nation refused to bow before the military power and deceptive ruses of one of the two biggest military powers.

It was more than a victory of the spirit of democracy, It was a true triumph of socialism. The heart of the resistance was the working class which created its own parliament and its own leaders in the Workers’ Councils. And they defended their rights under the very turrets of Russian tanks, by perhaps the most heroic and united general strike in the history of the world working class.

They did not have to improvise. The Hungarian workers followed the path outlined in 1917 by the Russian workers; the Hungarian Workers Councils were a replica in 1956 of the Workers Councils of Russia in 1917, the Soviets.

And yet, the foreign occupiers, the destroyers of their nationhood and freedom, the Russian armies were dispatched in the name of “socialism.” What a terrible blow to the name of socialism; and it is this travesty upon it that makes it imperative to speak out loudly and clearly on the events in Hungary so that no one can mistake the anti-democratic intervention of the Kremlin for socialism in any respect whatsoever. In defending the Hungarian Revolution, then, we do nothing less than defend the very name of socialism itself. We defend it while the Stalinist wing in the Party defames it.

Inside the Party, one tendency demands independence and a democratic policy; presumably if it wins it is ready to fight before the world for its program. But can it take itself seriously unless it is ready to fight without deference to the Party Stalinist apologists. No apology for the apologists! Hungary has become a test for socialism. Its people fight for free parties, free elections, free press, national independence, and socialism. Foreign troops dominate their country and suppress their rights. Are you with them in the fight for democracy? Can a democratic socialist mumble in reply?

Socialism Without Democracy?

WE HAVE EMPHASIZED THE NEED to hold uppermost that which must be resolved soon and not let it be buried in a mass of disputation. True, the stimulating course of controversy has uncovered a forest of neglected theory, principle and practice. But before the whole forest can be explored, as it must, the first roads and trails must be cleared. What should guide those who seek democratic socialism inside the Party at this stage has, in the main, governed the presentation of views here as part of the discussion. This is not an effort to present, at last, complete in all detail, a “finished program” on all the issues of world and domestic politics. It is a contribution toward a discussion of next steps for socialism in the United States as reflected inside the CP.

However, dogmatism in general and many dogmas in particular have been subjected to searching, even scathing, criticism. This is all to the good. It is fitting, then, to confront the discussion with one unmentioned dogma. If, like all the others, it cannot be “settled” now, it must be faced along with them, in time.

It is the dogma of dogmas; it is sacred and untouchable; it is sacrosanct and inviolable; it is so holy a holy that everyone talks of it only with reverence; even the most ardent protestant against all other dogma shrinks from casting the doubting light of dispute upon it.

That dogma, of course, is the thesis that “Russia is socialist.”

It is impossible to begin without instantly touching the fundamental question for every socialist tendency today: the relation between socialism and democracy. Those who assume that Russia is socialist today insist that it remained socialist all through the Stalin era. Yet, it is conceded by all, that for decades democracy in all forms was wiped out and the country fell prey to terroristic dictatorship. When and how? Before answering that question, another must be faced. If Russia under Stalin was ruled by a police dictatorship-then for that period if for no other was it socialist? If your reply is “yes,” you are confronted, swiftly and inexorably, with what follows: can you have socialism without democracy?

Do not reply hastily for there is too much at stake! If socialism is truly possible without democracy, what happens to your professions of the “democratic way”? Your attachment to democracy becomes a matter of taste, a praiseworthy preference but a bit of luxury. Democracy becomes not the living heart of socialism, inseparable from it and essential to it, but a piece of fluff, the frills and furbelows with which it is decorated by well-meaning people. You and I, no doubt, are men of good taste. But others speaking in the name of socialism, explain that democracy may very well be discarded, and justify its extermination in the name of their “socialism.” In your view, is what they strive for “socialism” as well as yours? If so, how can the people know, with confidence, where socialism as a movement, leads: toward democracy or away from it?

In referring to socialism, we include all possible popular political variants and synonyms for it, like: workers state, deformed or degenerated workers state, etc. Can the working class rule without democracy?

Russia is not a capitalist society ruled by a bourgeois state; the basic means of production are nationalized; the capitalist class was expropriated long ago, wiped out, disappeared from sight if not from the imagination of some; prospects for its return are as dim as the dinosaur. It is not capitalist. But is it a socialist society ruled by a workers government?

“Yes,” comes the reply, “for despite everything, the means of production remain state property and that is socialism (or workers rule).” But is it? Many matters are up for reconsideration. Consider, then, the quintessential difference between the nature of working class power and the power of all exploiting classes.

The basis of bourgeois rule is private property, in particular the private ownership of the basic means of production and exchange. Through this, the power of capital, the capitalist class extracts surplus value, amasses great pools of wealth and by consequence is able to dominate the political life of the nation. Economic power guarantees its political power under all forms of government. As long as its possession of the economy is maintained, it can rule under democracy; not because of democracy but despite it. It makes up in the power of money for what it lacks in the power of numbers. Democracy under capitalism is limited and restricted because the bourgeois can “purchase,” so to speak, the basis for political power. Under certain conditions, it might prefer democracy but democracy is never essential to it. As long as it keeps a tight grip on its property, it can rule under dictatorship as well as under democracy. Sometimes even better! The form of government, then, is not decisive to its rule.

But how different is the working class!

The proletariat can become the standard bearer of socialism because it owns no property in production. If the bourgeoisie dominates the state by virtue of its domination of the economy, the proletariat can dominate the economy only by its domination of the state. The working class cannot “evolve” into the ruling class by slowly taking possession of the means of production; for first, it must make a radical change in the state power so that it can become an instrument of working class rule and socialism.

The workers cannot own the means of production directly as does the capitalist class which holds them as personal private property. It can “own” them only collectively. Between the workers and the means of production stands the State. If the working class gains control of the State, and if the State, in turn, moves toward possession of the means of production, then a workers social revolution has taken place and society takes the road to socialism.

To dominate the economy, to rule society, the working class must have control of the State. For when the State takes over the means of production (or is in the hands of those who seek to take them over) the key question becomes: who “owns” the State? The working class as an unpropertied class, can “own” the State, i.e., control it, only under democracy; its power lies in numbers and in organization and in class consciousness, not in ownership, and this power can be fully expressed and exerted only where it has the right to organize, and to choose its own government. That is, under democracy. The working class cannot be indifferent to the form of government for it can rule only under democracy. That is its peculiar class nature. Wipe out democracy and you have wiped out workers rule.

If the workers are denied the right to control the State-which-owns-the- property, then State power passes into the hands of other social groups or classes and becomes an instrument, not of socialist evolution, but of exploitation.

Thus, in the most precise and scientific sense we must say: no genuine democracy without socialism; and no genuine socialism without democracy.

That, tragically, is the story of Russia in capsule form. In 1917, the Russian working class won state power; it became the ruling class and took the road to socialism.

Under Stalin, democracy was ruthlessly wiped out; consequently, the working class lost state power. How? When? Why? Each question is burdened with a thousand lessons for socialism. But even without an answer to everything, the basic fact is there to see.

Everyone asks the one question that cries out for a reply: how is it possible that the power of one man could subject a whole nation to systematic police terror? Pravda answers that Stalinism was the product of deep material pressures acting upon the Soviet Union; but it assures its readers that the socialist system survived despite Stalin.

We suggest a totally different reply: Profound social forces acting in Russia brought Stalin to power and destroyed the rule of the working class at the same time. Stalinism was not the rule of one man but the rule of the new bureaucratic class which ousted the working class from power by destroying democracy. If under Stalin, the loftily placed members of the Political Buro felt helpless and without power, what was the status of the lowly worker, as an individual and as a class? In no sense could the workers under such conditions be considered a “ruling” class but only a subjected, exploited class.

In the Soviet Union there is still no democracy! Some people believe that tomorrow a change will come. Perhaps, they hope, as a free, peaceful gift from above. Are such hopes illusions? We think so; for we are convinced that in Russia as everywhere democracy must be wrested and won by the masses below in struggle. And it will be. But leave that aside. The fact is that there is no democracy today in Russia.

Whatever it may be without democracy, it is not socialist.

Can we have been wrong for so long in accepting such a “dogma”? If you consider yourself a democratic socialist, you must face the question; for, to repeat, it raises one of the most fundamental problems for Marxists in our time: the relation of socialism to democracy. In the socialist movement it will force itself to the fore and in the end will have to be faced squarely and unambiguously. That, regrettably, cannot be expected in the Party today as it is. But changes will come.

Socialist Regroupment

AN UPHEAVAL IN THE PARTY comes because serious people know that it is impossible to continue in the old way. There is no unanimity, nor could it be expected, on what must replace it but a fresh start must be made. Communist Party members, necessarily preoccupied with an inner debate, may imagine that the search for a new way is prompted exclusively by their own dilemma But it is not. Every alert socialist tendency avidly talks of a new beginning, of a regroupment, of a resurgence and reorganization of socialism. The wide-ranging discussion in the Party, opening up every question, has not created the new potentialities but it has reinforced them.

Fresh winds blow everywhere. Not a country on earth but the people demand national freedom and democracy. Empire building belongs to the dead past; the future belongs to the struggle against oppression in every form. Every big power feels the whip lash of popular power: in North Africa, French imperialism can never reestablish its hold; in the Near East, the pressure of world opinion forced Britain and France to abandon their Suez adventure in ignominy and pressed the United States to look for a niche of neutrality; in Yugoslavia, in Hungary, in Poland – each in its own way – stands up for national freedom. At the bottom everywhere is the rising of people against oppressive rulers. If after the dangerous days of cold war, the imminent world war is thrust back and an era of peace looms, it is not because the two blocs of Big Powers have suddenly become reasonable, peace-loving, and wise. Peace is possible because neither of the two blocs was able to rally the peoples of the world unitedly behind it and each felt the hostility of peoples even among its allies. Resistance of masses everywhere made dangerous adventures unwise. Russia in Hungary; England and France in Suez felt the backfire of world opinion.

The United States is not an untouched island of conservatism in a rising sea of world democracy. The witchhunt era of McCarthyism is fading; people take courage and speak out. For the first time, the industrial working class is organized in its majority and united. It remains tied to bourgeois politics but its political consciousness is at the highest point in history. Side by side with the great movement of the working class, a movement of Negro people for equality arises: irrepressible, destined to be victorious and thereby to revolutionize the whole structure of politics in the United States. The rule of Southern reaction is doomed and with its doom, democracy the nation over, can only rise. The Supreme Court decision on school segregation was only a token of the unconquerable struggle for equal rights in every sphere. These are great days. Now is the time for socialism to rebuild.

But the socialist movement is fragmented into splinters and sects, each with its own program or ideology, each with its own origins and history. Not one has the strength or the authority to speak in the name of any significant section of the working class; and none, by itself, is on the verge of attaining such influence. Meanwhile, the Communist Party of necessity turns inward to reorient itself; in the midst of an undisputed rise of the workers and Negro movements, its influence declines.

A new generation of socialists cannot simply be ordered into ready made forms and cramped into custom-built complete and “finished” programs conveniently prepared for them. They will embrace Marxism in time, we confidently expect, but they will have to find their own way to Marxism. The rebirth of socialism calls out for new forms, new methods, a new appeal.

In Time for a Change (Political Affairs, November, 1956) John Gates writes:

“The advance of the American workers to socialism is impossible without a conscious and organized vanguard. In all candor we must admit that we are not that today. Nor are we likely to be the exclusive channel through which such a leadership will come into existence, but I do think we are an important and essential part of this process and can make a decisive and distinctive contribution if we face up to our present crisis and make the necessary changes to surmount it.”

And he adds:

“To achieve this, we need to create an atmosphere which welcomes all new ideas no matter how unorthodox they may be and debates them on their merits without resort to name-calling as a substitute for thinking.”

Note that he does not insist that workers must rally round the CP as the vanguard; the Party can make its contribution but only if it “surmounts” its crisis and considers all new ideas; that is, it must change its policies.

As an immediate step, but not a final solution, he proposes that the Party be transformed into a Political Action Association to point up the new orientation. Naturally, his critics, captained by Foster, rush in to charge that he wants to resurrect the Browder line and to re-establish the Browder form of organization. It is to be expected; they will never face the issues; their charges are pure diversions.

Browder’s policies were not a private idiosyncrasy; they represented a Party tactical turn which left the fundamental basis of its line rigidly intact. The best evidence of this fact is that Browder and Foster alike continued to act as the blind apologists for the Stalinist policy in Russia and everywhere else. The formation of the Communist Political Association was a mere organizational device. Gates proposes not a minor shift in organizational form but sweeping changes in every respect including organization. If he did not, it would be a trivial proposal.

Gates’ line is not the old Browder line in any important respect as Lillian Gates, legislative representative of the New York State Party, explained at a Jefferson School debate. The form of organization, she pointed out, was secondary. First comes the need for a new outlook. It is not sufficient, she said, for the Party to correct its errors; it must seek to unite with all socialist tendencies in the United States; it must prove that it is based on the interests of the American working class; it must prove that it stands for democracy and can solve the “problem of democracy in a socialist society.” It must throw overboard the uncritical acceptance of Soviet policies. What all this could have in common with Browder’s CPA remains a mystery.

Another Party leader who sees the way is Steve Nelson.

Nelson looks toward A New Party of Socialism (Political Affairs, November 1956) uniting all currents, including the Socialist Party; although he realizes that the actual formation of such a party “is some distance away.” To those who oppose raising this proposal he says:

“This view refuses to concede that there were any serious mistakes in policy and that there ever could have been anything wrong with our organizational concepts. Those who take this view tend to play down the present discussion in the world Communist movement and treat it as a surface phenomenon. They apparently draw the conclusion that no fundamental problems are to be reconsidered anew. Everything in the past is taken for granted as if everything was answered for all time.”

Thus, the way out of the Party crisis leads through socialist regroupment.

There are those who treat everything “as a surface phenomenon.” Take someone who imagines, after all that has transpired, that the Party remains the guardian of sacred truth; that after the 20th Congress; after the repudiation of Stalin and the shame of those who apologized for him; that after events in Poland; that after the bloody suppression of the Hungarian revolution by Soviet troops – after all this, take someone who is convinced that the Party need only fix things up a bit here, make a slight alteration there, a twist, a turn; take someone who anticipates that socialists, organized workers, embattled Negroes will then gaze upon his trifling work, pronounce it good, and that the Party will be on the road to “overcoming its isolation” – in other words, take William Z. Foster.

Foster, immune to life, demands the impossible: to go on as before.

“Almost certainly,” he writes (Political Affairs, October 1956), “in the United States the fight for socialism will be made not by the Communist Party alone, but by a combination of economic and political groupings among which the Communist Party must be a decisive leader. The present immediate path as the workers proceed to the building of a mass socialist movement in this country, therefore, is the strengthening of the Communist Party upon the basis of Marxism-Leninism and the development of broad united-front mass struggles.”

There it is, unchanged. The Party must be the decisive leader. It could have been written two years ago or ten. It overlooks only this: it is impossible today! He is willing to pay lip service to a new movement but cautions, “The resolution also should de-emphasize the slogan for a new mass party of socialism from its present implications of immediacy to the status of a possible long-range objective.”

Eugene Dennis is another. He hit upon the slogan of a “Mass Party of Socialism” in his report to the National Committee in April 1956. For him, it was a handy maneuver. Purpose? To avoid drawing up a balance sheet before the socialist public. But he is utterly dismayed to learn that Gates, Nelson and others take the idea seriously. Now he issues a stern warning against his own formula:

“To reject the perspective for a new united party of Socialism would weaken the possibilities of unity of action of all socialist-minded forces in the coming period ... On the other hand, to attempt to realize this perspective immediately would be to abort it, to create a sectarian caricature of what it should be and to disperse our ranks and negate our vital role.” (Political Affairs, October 1956.)

Of course, we committed gross errors in the past; of course, we defended Stalin’s crimes against socialism; we have admitted it and naturally you will now rally to us. To prove how fundamentally we have changed, we will now proceed to reaffirm everything; then we will permit you to unite with us – under our leadership of course. That is the Foster-Dennis line. Will anyone do more than laugh?

Declaim as it may against “liquidationism,” the Foster-Dennis line leads swiftly toward liquidation of the Party into an isolated Stalinist sect. Foster voted against the Draft Resolution; Dennis, for. But they are united on what is basically a Stalinist policy in the most scientific sense of the term. They differ only on how best to preserve a Stalinist-type organization. Once it was possible to build a mass Stalinist movement in the United States. But no more.

Thousands of Communists have devoted their full mature lives to the fight for a world of socialism, as they saw it, risking personal well being, gaining experience in the class struggle. Are they now to be scattered to the winds and squandered; are they to waste away in a hopelessly Stalinist sect, justly scorned by the working class? That, and that only, is the grim and inexorable result of a victory for the Foster-Dennis line, a victory which would bring a spurious vindication for them as Party officials, but at what a cost! It would mean the destruction of the potentialities and possibilities already created inside the Party by the discussion.

If the Party makes the necessary changes in policy and outlook (and in this Gates, Nelson and the others, are a hundred per cent correct) Communists will be able to make their contribution to the new socialist movement that is destined to come.

Stalinism Doomed

THE FORMATION OF A GENUINE SOCIALIST PARTY of the working class, and not an illusory, self-deceiving substitute for one, is not the matter of a moment. The working class will not suddenly rally to the call of some self-appointed saviors and that is a good thing! It requires a long period of political experience in which the working class is able to test socialism and socialists; a new socialist movement can gain the confidence even of a significant socialistically conscious sector of the working class, only by its participation in the living class struggle and by permitting events to test its platform and policies.

Under the best of conditions, it would be foolish to expect socialism to emerge quickly as a leading force among the workers. With all their insecurity, with pools of unemployment, with the dislocations of automation – the list of evils and shortcomings could be extended at will – American workers compare their lot with the workers in other nations and realize that on the whole they enjoy a standard of living and economic and political rights above the others. And they are not receptive to those who propose a fundamental social change, even in the name of socialism and democracy.

A majority of the workers distrusts socialism; even the socialist-minded minority remains aloof from existing groups. And not because they are unthinking dupes of capitalism. The American working class distrusts big business; it rejects all politicians who are obviously the outright representatives of the capitalists as a class. A working class which is organized into gigantic class unions; which is led into politics by these unions; which casts its ballot on the basis of class interest as it interprets it; such a working class has no confidence in the bourgeoisie as a ruling class. It accepts capitalism without reconciling itself to the domination of big business.

If the majority accepts capitalism, there is the minority. Always ... always in the history of the labor movement in the United States, in good times and bad, in prosperity and depression there has been a strong minority, avowedly anti-capitalist in outlook. At one time, it was led by the old Socialist Party of Eugene V. Debs; sections were led by the old I.W.W.; and closer to our day, big sectors once looked to the Communist Party.

With justice, one points to the strong position of U.S. capitalism at home and abroad to explain the weakness of American socialism. But that is only one side of the question. Despite its relative weakness, measured against socialism in other capitalist nations, there was always a significant, if minority, anti-capitalist, pro-socialist tendency in the United States. What has happened to it?

Let us face it squarely. Yesterday, it looked to the Communist Party. Today, it does not. It has not disappeared; it has become disorganized, and disoriented. Because this socialist tendency has been cut loose and is drifting, a socialist realignment is absolutely indicated even inevitable.

At bottom, the decline of the Communist Party was not just the inevitable by-product of cold war and witchhunt, although these played a part. To explain its precipitous loss of influence on that basis would be sheer evasion. As we have said, Communists withstood such pressures before. The question is: why did the witchhunt succeed this time?

The truth is bitter, but it must be faced. Increasingly, unionists, Negroes, liberals became convinced that the Party acted as a blind apologist for Russia; that its turns, this way and that, could be explained by a mechanical determination to fall in line with policies over which it had no control and which were made and unmade in a twinkling by the Politburo.

Hold on! Do you mean to say, it will be protested, that the CP is weak because it apologized for Stalin’s Russian tyranny? Who are you to talk; what about you and your movement? If we have lost strength, we are by far the strongest of those who profess to stand on the platform of socialism. Weak as we are, it is added, we are stronger now than you have ever been.

Such objections have been put many times in the course of the discussion, by all tendencies. For example, Steve Nelson argues:

“At the same time, it may be worthwhile to call to the attention of those who attach so much importance to the matter of being ‘hopelessly compromised’ that other socialist groups did not grow even though they were not so ‘hopelessly compromised’ as we were.”

Nelson is arguing against those who want to “solve” the crisis by simply dissolving the Party; we would agree: what is necessary is not that the Party just vanish off the political scene but that its members work their way through to democratic socialism in the course of this serious discussion. What is “hopelessly compromised” is Stalinism and all those who defend it. By truly turning away from it, Communists can play their part in reviving socialism in the United States. But we are not talking of this but of the question implied by Nelson: you rejected Stalinism, why didn’t you grow? The question is a weighty one and deserves a serious reply.

To understand the causes of the Party’s weakness today it is necessary to understand its sources of strength yesterday. Despite what is said by anti-socialist ideologists, socialism has powerful traditions in the labor movement, traditions which offer a rich soil for socialist renaissance. For a time the stream of socialist sentiment flowed toward the Communist Party and made it a real mass movement.

The Party was born with the Russian Revolution but it was during the depression years of the early thirties that it assembled and trained the basic cadres that carried it into the CIO and toward mass influence. Even with a fantastic “leftist” policy on every conceivable question, in fact despite its policies, the Party could lead thousands during the depression in mass struggle and win their confidence. In the late Thirties, with the rise and expansion of the labor movement, the Party gathered enormous power and became a significant mass movement. This, despite a policy that became “right-opportunist.” Thus, come “leftism,” come “rightism” the Party moved forward because it received an enormous impulse from the outside, despite itself!

And that was the USSR. In truth, the Party’s attachment (even its unthinking attachment) to Russia was a source of great strength in those days. In those days but not today – that is what has changed. Anyone who cannot understand this change instantly removes himself from effective politics today.

Remember that the Communist Party rose in the United States (as did the CIO) at a time when the world socialist movement and the international working class was suffering one defeat after another and was beset with imminent reaction! Mussolini had taken full control for Fascism in Italy in 1926. Hitler wiped out the organized working class movement in 1933. Dolfuss wiped out Austrian socialism and set up a clerico-fascist regime in 1934. Franco seized power in Spain after a three-year civil war 1936–39. Late in 1939 the Second World War erupted. In this series of setbacks and defeats only two consoling elements seemed to stand above the mountain of disappointment: the Soviet Union under the Stalin regime and the United States under Roosevelt. Stalinism and the New Deal. It was between these two stones that the socialist movement in the United States was pulverized. Those who remained anti-capitalist looked to Stalin’s Russia as a source of strength and hope. Most of those who were disenchanted with Russia lost faith in socialism and became liberal New Dealers. The anti-Stalinist socialist movement was fragmented into small sects of varying sizes and fortune, but ultimately on the decline. The Communist Party, which was pro-Stalinist, thrived, grew and prospered as the vehicle for anti-capitalist sentiment.

All that is done with! Gone, finished, ended, no more – and never to return!

Now people see not the continuing downfall of democracy but its rise; not the further defeat of socialism but its resurgence. They look at Russia now and see dictatorship while all the world fights for freedom; they see their proud and strong unions; they strike with confidence to improve their own conditions. In the USSR they see only state-controlled labor groups, without the right to strike, without the right to speak freely, without the right to fight. Is this your “socialism”? they ask. If so, we want no part of it. And they are right. A renewed socialism will be democratic, independent, anti-Stalinist and anti-capitalist.

This is a new period, with new problems, new opportunities. It is no longer possible to build a movement which depends upon Russia or any other power. And, as Foster will learn, it is impossible to build anything that is presented as a twin substitute for Stalinism. Those who speak of a new mass movement for socialism are on the right track. Those who oppose it are doomed: if they refuse to see, they are just as used up and finished as the period in which they once lived.

All-Inclusive Democratic Socialism

IT WOULD BE LUDICROUS TO SEARCH for worked out recipes and hallowed formulas prescribing a form for organized socialism good for all time. Nor could anyone predict in elaborate detail what forms a revived movement may finally take in the United States. To attempt either would be a pointless pedantry. Whether it be called a party, an association, a federation or a league is not now decisive. What is decisive is that it be suited for the tasks of our day; not for days gone by and not necessarily for the distant future; but for now.

The reconstitution of an effective socialist movement will not come overnight; yet, it is not an abstract dream but a concrete possibility. A fluid situation calls for a flexible approach. No one, at this time, can do more than indicate tentatively and only in general outline, the conditions and characteristics that would make it possible for a renewed movement to grasp the opportunities arising for socialism in this country.

We begin with what we have. It is not a question of political trading, each group giving a little and taking something from the others; nor of attempting an impossible reconciliation of diverse theories; nor of concocting a new program by extracting small pieces from everyone. No one could possibly be satisfied with such a melange and everyone would be disoriented. It is a question of finding a minimum basis for socialist political collaboration, a basis which permits a viable regroupment and not one which is destined to fly apart after a day. No group can be asked to discard its own views or to capitulate to any other. A minimum platform, and that is what we are discussing at this point, should serve two ends:

  1. To permit every democratic socialist tendency to live within a unified movement and retain its own theories and principles;
  2. Establish the necessary political basis for building a healthy socialist movement in the United States.

Reunification is an urgent task for all socialists and it is imperative to find the foundation for a viable, healthy and lasting regroupment. Could a common program be found in the realm of theory, Marxism or non-Marxism; or in a mutually acceptable interpretation of historical questions; or in an estimation and re-estimation of old questions which have been debated time and again in the world socialist movement? We, ourselves, base our program upon a Marxian view of social questions and try to analyze the historical past as well as the tasks of the day from that standpoint. But it must be recognized that all such questions have divided the movement for decades and are not likely to be resolved promptly after any concentrated course of discussions. If we await final clarification of fundamental theory we may indeed wait forever. A renewed movement could not take form around theoretical and historical questions if it is to include all those who rightly should rally to it. It is a question of unifying all those who genuinely adhere to a political platform which is unambiguously for democratic socialism and against Stalinism and who are ready to participate in the common fight to apply such a platform to the issues and struggle of the day.

We do not propose to establish a discussion circle or a mere educational society. A socialist movement must engage in the struggles of its time; it must give support to the workers in their fight against exploitation; it must support the Negroes in their struggle for equality; it must give moral and political aid and encouragement to all those in the world who strive for freedom.

This is not to say that theoretical, even historical questions, are of little importance. Quite the contrary. They merit serious discussion and will be attentively pursued in any intellectually alert movement. But they cannot be put on the same plane with immediate political tasks if the movement is to emerge from its present fragmentation. In the past, such questions led to bitter factional conflicts and splits. It would perhaps be better not to try to unify if it were to be merely the prelude to new splits; the movement has endured enough splits and more would only further discredit it. To reconstruct a new movement on firm foundations and give it a chance to root itself among the people it may be necessary by common agreement to leave certain questions “open,” or to postpone others. In any case, all discussion will have to be conducted in an atmosphere which protects the unity of the movement and its maximum effectiveness. If this means that a series of questions are left unclear, unanswered or ambiguous, it will not be fatal. There will be time to discuss everything in a fraternal spirit.

But what about Russia? Isn’t it necessary to take a forthright position? It is here that the line of division between all groups which stand on a socialist platform becomes sharpest. For our part, we would distinguish between two quite different aspects of the question. One aspect deals with the theoretical and historical questions; these need not be settled as a condition for political collaboration but could be very well left open. Another, however, deals with pressing political tasks; these could be left ambiguous by a movement only at the cost of mortal injury to its chances of survival.

In a renewed movement in the United States, as in the socialist parties of other countries, different tendencies will define differently the nature of the social order in Russia and other Communist countries and will estimate differently the tasks of socialists within them. Some will refer to Russia as a “state of the socialist type”; others, a “workers state”; others, “state capitalism”; others, a “bureaucratic collectivist” state; others, a “managerial society.” Some will call for the “reform” of the regimes; others will look for a “gradual evolution to democracy”; some will favor a “political revolution”; still others, “a political and social revolution.” Likewise, a whole rainbow of theories and tendencies will be evident on the nature of the Russian Revolution of 1917, on the evolution of the Russian state, and on the causes for the triumph of Stalinism.

A broad movement can encompass all these views and all these tendencies can live together as they do in the European socialist movement provided proper conditions are observed by all. And all these questions can be discussed on the proper plane of theory and history.

But if a movement is to have any impact upon the American people, its platform cannot be ambiguous or silent on one question: if it characterized the Russian regime as socialist it would be instantly discredited and would meet the suspicion and hostility of the American people. It would have to make clear that no despotic regime can be a socialist regime; it must emphasize over and over, that socialism and democracy are indivisible. Without democracy in Russia, there can be no socialism.

There is no socialist worthy of the name, and we know of none, who suggests that the achievement of democratic socialism in Russia requires the denationalization of industry and the conversion of the means of production into the private property of capitalists. That would be as absurd as it would be reactionary. What is required is democracy.

The movement must be for democracy everywhere.

For Democracy Everywhere

It will not be difficult to agree on an attitude toward democracy under capitalism. Socialists must be for democracy and equality in the United States. For democracy and national freedom in Algiers. For democracy in Spain. For freedom for the colonies of capitalist imperialism.

In raising the standard of democracy, we refer not to the illusive plaything of sociologists and political jugglers but to basic palpable rights: the right to form parties, trade unions, and other mass organizations free from state domination and free to oppose the government and free to replace it at will by democratic means; the right to publish an independent press and to hold public meetings, for critics and oppositions as well as supporters of the regime; the right to free elections.

“Yes, we know that you want democracy here; but are you for it there?” will come the insistent question that any socialist movement must answer without evasion. By there, we mean of course the nations now ruled by Communist governments. Every tendency without exception, whatever its distinctive theory must be ready to call for democracy now in every country and to give moral and political support to those who fight for democracy within them and to disassociate itself unequivocally from the opponents of democracy. For all countries! For capitalist imperialist countries; colonies; Russia; all the countries now ruled by Communists.

If you are not for democracy now where you insist socialism is in power today, who will believe you when you insist that democracy will prevail when socialism wins power in other nations tomorrow? Who will trust a movement that calls for democracy only where it is a minority?

In sum, a socialist movement must be a genuinely democratic socialist movement, avowedly against capitalism and against Stalinism and not ashamed of that view but proud of it. With less, no movement can make even a serious beginning in America.

Even if it were possible or desirable to initiate some combination of forces that proclaimed to the world that Russia is “socialist” it would be under a cloud of suspicion and its future would quickly be in doubt. It might, perhaps, serve as a convenient, if temporary, resting place for some existing groups and sects as they are but it could hardly be of any significance in reestablishing a viable socialist movement. To our working class, the Russian system is the symbol of everything dictatorial; any movement which puts it forward, in any sense, as an example of what it strives for – that movement is doomed.

For Internal Democracy

IF OUR TASK IS TO FACILITATE a peaceful coexistence of a wide rainbow of tendencies, the organization form must be one of full unrestricted inner democracy.

If the political basis is a concrete declaration for socialism and democracy, a platform for regroupment rather than a worked out theory and a “finished program,” then it requires a loose organizational structure rather than a tightly disciplined one. It requires, too, a wide autonomy for its sections and an emphasis upon decentralization rather than centralization. It would not simply permit but encourage the issuance of books, papers, magazines, pamphlets, scholarly works and popular educational material by its adherents as individuals and as cooperative groups without necessarily subjecting them to rigid censorship and organizational control. It would rely upon and stimulate the individual initiative of all. It would be a product of a new mood and at the same time it would create a new atmosphere, a concentration upon a new audience; the diffusion of socialist education.

Such a movement, intellectually alive, encouraging freedom of thought and expression could attract the most serious and talented professionals and intellectuals as did the Socialist Party of Debs.

It would mean the end of warfare among the sects and groups and the beginning of the battle for the minds of the people; the beginning of a movement which would support the organized workingclass in its struggles; encourage every tendency toward class independence and suffuse it with the ideals of socialism.

For a Movement Like the Debs Socialist Party

A LOOK OF AMAZED DISBELIEF will spread over the faces of many Party members. What about iron discipline, monolithism, centralism? All the dogmas they took for granted seem to rule out every one of our propositions without exception. Is it possible to build such a movement?

It is not only possible; it is necessary. It is not only necessary it is virtually inevitable Let us ask a question in return. How else, after theoretical and programmatic disarray, after the fragmentation of socialism, do you think that it is possible to reconstruct the socialist movement now?

It is not an idle dream. There was just such a movement in the United States. What we are describing is nothing less than the Socialist Party of Eugene Debs. We need such a movement brought up to date; one which takes into account the reality of today’s politics on the national and international arena.

There is a shop-worn fable that the old SP was a futile do-nothing outfit that could accomplish nothing. Dismiss it from your mind! Let us not genuflect before the memory of Debs but learn from what he and his comrades were able to accomplish. It was Debs and the all-inclusive Socialist Party which he helped to build that brought a whole generation of workers, intellectuals and professionals to socialist consciousness. It was this party which broke out of the sectarian isolation of the tightly-knit, closely disciplined, “monolithic” Socialist Labor Party and brought socialism to millions.

In some ways, our task today is similar. Once again we must unite socialism; end a sectarian form of existence, and win over a new generation to socialism, a generation which must reach socialism in its own way.

This is the opportunity that awaits us. Are you ready to grasp it? Others will. Will you make the necessary transformation in your policies, organization and outlook? As you answer these questions you are deciding the fate of your movement and the future of its membership. You are deciding nothing less than this:

Toward democratic socialism or back to Stalinism?

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Last updated: 24 October 2019