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Julius Falk

Youth and Student Corner

[Stalinists in City College]

(25 April 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 17, 25 April 1949, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“How strong are the Stalinists in City College?” “If the Stalinists control a student action, should you support it?”

These are two questions one hears from all sides today and they deserve serious answers.

The Stalinists at City College do NOT control the strike, though they are very influential in it. The strike is run by the Student Council, in which the Stalinists are a definite minority.

However, they are a large minority and a well-organized one, giving them a serious advantage over any single anti-Stalinist force on the campus. The anti-Stalinists at City College range from the conservatives who oppose the strike to militant socialists. Only a small group of anti-Stalinists are aware of what Stalinism really means and are programmatically capable of fighting it on a healthy basis. The bulk of the anti-Stalinists – the majority of all student organizations – do not understand their totalitarian opponent, and they are programmatically incapable of conducting a genuinely progressive fight against it.

The confusion among the student leaders on the nature and aims of the Communist Party is exploited by the Stalinists; the confusion permits them to exert a seeming influence far beyond their actual extent of control.

The City College strike committee has issued excellent strike directives, insisting that political parties must not be allowed to utilize the strike for their own partisan ends, demanding a maximum of order on the part of pickets, and instructing students not to interfere with those who wish to attend classes. The first mentioned order is certainly indicative of the Stalinists’ inability, so far, to control the strike. The other two instructions intelligently meet the given situation, which (we must remember) is a student strike and as such does not necessarily employ the same tactics as a trade-union strike.

If The Stalinists Control

But even if the Stalinists at City College did control the leadership of the strike lock-stock-and-barrel, that in itself would not necessarily determine our attitude. A socialist cannot base his activity on a concrete issue merely on the degree of Stalinist control.

The demands of the City College students are justified demands and IF the Stalinists were leading this strike of many thousands of students it would still remain the socialist’s responsibility to participate in the strike. But it would then be his additional responsibility to oppose the leadership of the strike, warning the students against the danger of the strike turning into a demonstration for Stalinist partisan interests.

On the other hand, IF the Stalinists at City College were to take over the leadership of the strike and maintain that leadership, then the original purposes of the strike would tend to give way to the propaganda speeches and slogans of the Communist Party. In that hypothetical situation the popular base of the emasculated strike would certainly dwindle and it might be incumbent upon socialists to withdraw their support. Speculations on these matters cannot be more definite.

The Stalinists are an important factor in the City College strike. There can be no doubt that they arc particularly anxious to gain control of it. This follows from the exclusive emphasis the Stalinists are giving to civil-rights issues on and off campus. It is obvious Stalinist policy in the schools is to avoid meetings on world political events. Instead, the activities of the CP-dominated clubs are devoted to social activities (folk-song festivals, square dancing, film presentations) and to campaigns and rallies on civil-rights issues.

Keep Away From Politics

The reasons for this approach merit elaboration.

The Stalinists cannot expect any worthwhile response for their position on world politics from the student body. Meetings devoted to justifying the Russian role in Berlin, the purges and trials behind the Iron Curtain or conditions within. Russia will boomerang. Precisely because the campus Stalinists are on the defensive in this field they have become extremely aggressive and “militant” on civil-rights issues.

This is designed to deflect attention from their role as agents of an unpopular totalitarian power and to deflect student concern from the brutal, undemocratic conditions in Russia and its satellite neighbors. The Stalinists hope to be in a position where they can effectively say to the student: “Why are you so concerned with reports about the lack of democracy and the existence of slave labor in Russia, when democratic rights are being abrogated at home?”

The Stalinists on campus, in order to make this abrogation of civil rights more vivid to the student, try to find local campus violations of academic freedom. Their question can then be posed: “Why listen to stories about conditions in Russia when democratic rights are being violated on your own campus?” This search for academic-rights issues is accompanied by conscious Stalinist efforts to make its members and front groups the victims of reactionary school administration regulations. This victimization is planned to give them further prestige and to facilitate their control of academic-rights struggles and their pretense to be the only real defenders of student rights.

CP Strategy

This strategy has another purpose. Not only is it intended to deflect attention from criticism of Russia but academic-rights issues can be used as a springboard from which the Stalinists can bring in most especially the government trials of the 11 Communist Party leaders. We can be sure that wherever the Stalinists, gain the upper hand in a student action for democratic rights that the trial of the 11 will eventually eclipse the immediate issues at stake.

Another important motivation behind the campus Stalinists’ campaigns on civil liberties is the more obvious organizational one: it is the easiest way they can win student sympathy, which in turn can be channelized into more direct organizational support for the CP fronts on campus.

In City College the Stalinists were particularly anxious for a prolonged strike as against the more realistic proposal of a one-day stoppage. A prolonged strike required more preparation and should not have been called before the Easter holidays. The Stalinists, with their smoothly operating machine inside of the Student Council, managed to push through a strike referendum which was so worded that even though a minority of those who voted were in favor of a prolonged strike, the extended strike was nevertheless called. The Stalinist pressure for a prolonged strike was motivated by the strategy described. This strategy will continue to be frustrated for the most part as long as they do not control the strike policy.

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