Howe Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Irving Howe

World Politics

(6 May 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 18, 6 May 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Since the end of the war, the international Stalinist movement has adopted a more aggressive “left” political line, to the point where certain superficial observers have seen a return to the “policy of world revolution.” Nothing of the kind is true.

It would be a serious error to identify the current “left turn” with the notorious Stalinist Third Period in the early thirties, when it was really pursuing an ultra-left policy. At that time, before Hitler came to power, though the Stalinist parties were thoroughly dominated by the Russian bureaucracy, the full weight of degeneration inside Russia had not yet been felt and the Stalinist parties still functioned more or less as revolutionary working class movements. They made scandalous errors, they were already bureaucratized, but they still had a certain connection with the Marxist tradition and were still somewhat responsive to the needs and pressures of the workers.

The Motivation of Stalinist Policy

If one sees in the first Moscow Trial the final culmination of a process of degeneration inside Russia; or if one chooses the failure of German Stalinism to resist Hitler’s rise to power as the point in time where Stalinism as a parasitic bureaucracy can be seen to have been transformed into a new ruling class; or if one chooses any other time – this much is clear: Stalinism can be understood only by accepting the proposition that it functions today essentially as a vassal of the Russian collectivist bureaucracy and all of its basic policies are determined by the needs of that bureaucracy. The various Stalinist parties may have interests and aspirations of their own, but thus far these have been subordinated to the requirements of Russian foreign policy.

In view of this characterization of Stalinism the terms “left” and “right” as traditionally used in the Marxist movement are really inapplicable to Stalinism. When, for instance, one says that the Norman Thomas Socialist Party has recently moved to the right, there is a specific meaning which that description suggests to people acquainted with politics. But the terms “left” and “right” are in that sense not very useful when considering a totalitarian movement like Stalinism which is a new and unique historical phenomenon, and to which the descriptive terms of the traditional working class movement apply only in a most limited and analogical sense. When one says that the needs of Russian foreign policy makes the Argentine Stalinists first with dictator Peron, or that the needs of Russian foreign policy make the American Stalinists criticize Truman; then we are talking about something that is much more clear than if those policies are described as “left” or “right.”

During the war the American Stalinists were bitterly opposed to any strikes, because they feared that strikes in war industries might hinder Stalin’s military campaigns. And no considerations for the needs of the American workers could force them to change their policy.

Now that the war is over, Stalin has allowed his parties to become more belligerent, to talk more “radical” politics, to revert to the language of socialism. There are two main reasons for this shift:

  1. The major international conflict is no longer the imperialist war, but rather a struggle among the victors of that war on how to divide the spoils. Serious quarrels have arisen among the Big Three. These quarrels are simply about one proposition: who is to get what? and how much? Resultantly, Stalin utilizes his puppet-parties in the Allied countries to apply pressure on his erstwhile war allies in order to gain a larger share of the war booty. That is the basic reason for the “left” turn of Stalinism, and it can be said that if some agreement on the division of the war spoils satisfactory to Stalin were worked out and the present strain between Russia and the Anglo-American bloc eased, then the Stalinist parties would become much more docile and would cease talking so “revolutionary.”
  2. The other and secondary reason for the “left” turn is that the Stalinist parties are aware of the moods of the masses of workers which is, especially in many countries, extremely restive; they know that a certain amount of “leftish” demagogy is essential if they are to retain their followers. As it is, this need fits in very nicely with the first reason we have given for their turn is that the Stalinist parties are aware of the mood of a conflict between their loyalty to the Russian bureaucracy and their political requirements in the capitalist countries will not become very great until the present diplomatic crisis sharpens to the point where war seems really imminent.

The “Left Issue” in Practice

But even this so-called “left” turn is still severely limited. In several European countries, such as France, Austria and Italy, they either are now or have recently participated together with capitalist parties in coalition cabinets which function within the framework of capitalism. They have participated in the same French government which brutally suppressed the Indo-Chinese nationalist revolt and have never said a word of criticism against “their” government on this matter. In America, they continue to play around with capitalist politicians: they supported O’Dwyer in New York City and are now fiddling with the idea of a third party to be formed together with the “liberal” section of the capitalist politicians.

In Argentina they have tacitly supported dictator Peron, merely because he, for his own reactionary reasons, was hostile to America. In Brazil they have flitted back and forth between the dictatorial Vargas political machine and its reactionary militarist opponents.

They have continued their wretched chauvinism in Europe by which they violated the ABC principles of socialist internationalism and even simple democratic rights. In Italy the Stalinists demand that Trieste be returned to that country; in Yugoslavia they demand that Trieste be annexed to Tito’s terrorist regime. On a basic question of European politics, the problem of the disposition of the Ruhr, their sections have pursued contradictory policies. The French Stalinists urge that the Ruhr be separated from Germany; the German Stalinists urge that it be retained within the German borders. Each thereby appeals to the narrowly nationalist sentiments of the most backward sections of the European populations.

For a hair-raising example of Stalinist policy in this connection, we refer our readers to the March 30 issue of La Victoire, a New York French language paper, in which Genevieve Tabouis interviews Karl Ulbricht, German Stalinist leader. Tabouis asks Ulbricht if the German Stalinists do not have to take indirect responsibility for the brutal uprooting of 8 million Germans from that territory which Poland is to annex from Germany, since this annexation is to be made at the instigation of the. Russians. And Ulbricht answers with a reply worthy of a true Prussian nationalist or a rabid Nazi:

“Certainly not! The country really responsible for this is Poland, THE ETERNAL ENEMY.” (Our emphasis – Ed.)

It is this wretchedly chauvinist poison which German Stalinism feeds.

In a sense, then, international Stalinism is in a period of transition: it may move to either a more reckless and aggressive role if relations among the Big Three become worse, or if some reconciliation satisfactory to Stalin is patched up, it may return to its old wartime docile self. But in either case, its policies will not be based on working class needs; in either case it will not hesitate to utilize legitimate working class aspirations or reactionary chauvinist prejudices to further the program of the Stalinist bureaucracy. That is the fundamental fact to be remembered in connection with its so-called “left” turn.

Howe Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 22 January 2019