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Julius Falk

Quarterly Notes

Revelations and Explanations

In World CPs: Acquiescence Above, Ferment Below

(10 July 1956)

From The New International, Vol. XXII No. 2, Summer 1956, pp. 71–80.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

One of the means whereby Stalinists keep their various parties intact locally, and in harmony internationally, is their highly skilled manipulative use of language. The cliches employed by the Stalinists internationally and their constant repetition of favored terms assume the proportions of a separate tongue – a sort of Stalinist Esperanto. Accompanying this special language and giving it form and substance, the Kremlin has devised standardized rationalizations for its innumerable twists and turns tantamount to a special Stalinist school of “reasoning” – a sort of mumbo jumbo which, combining the best in jesuitism and voodooism, can prove yesterday’s Deity today’s Demon. Or vice versa.

Following the Twentieth Congress of the Russian Communist Party the Stalinist Esperanto has received many worthy additions: Cult of the Individual and Cult of the Personality will match the catchwords Social-Fascist or United Front From Below or Disruptor in Stalinism’s literary museum. But of all the new, standard terms there is one that is outstanding for its extensive use: “Revelations.” In the major documents of all Stalinist parties, in their letters, discussions and speeches the word invariably appears to describe Khrushchev’s uncovering of Stalin’s crimes.


It is as if the ominous storm clouds above Red Square dramatically parted-much in the manner as the Red Sea opened up before Moses – a shaft of clear, penetrating sunlight, breaking through the dark cumulus formations, suddenly illuminated Stalin in his tomb and for the first time it could be seen that where a halo was thought to be were two enormous horns. The man was a devil in subhuman form. It was the most significant and magnificent Revelation in the history of world Stalinism, one that by its very nature could only be witnessed first by the leading oracles of the Russian Communist Party. But once revealed the Revelation suddenly struck the leaders of the world Communist parties with more or less equal force at more or less the same time. In London, in Paris, in Rome, in New York and, of course, in all the satellite countries and China the Revelation was attested to by the Party leadership. Here and there, such as is reported to have been the case with Maurice Thorez, the Revelation was “resisted” – but only for a moment. For what was now seen so clearly by the Russian Politburo could not be overlooked for long by its international servitors. When the Revelation took hold of Foster he could see that Stalin was “pathological” (and where might that eventually lead Foster who was personally groomed by Stalin to take over the American party?), Togliatti acknowledges that Stalin had organized a reign of terror, Pollitt and Thorez now recognize the crimes of Djugashvili. The entire world leadership was seized with religious tremors following the miraculous Revelation on the Kremlin Mount and the devil is now being exorcized with ritualistic incantations against Stalin, “the cult of the personality,” “the cult of the individual,” “the reign of terror,” “errors,” “crimes,” etc., etc. Public penance and self-criticism is on the order of the day.

But is Khrushchev’s account of Stalin’s crimes accurate? Perhaps this Revelation is only a delusion, the handiwork of dark, malignant, disruptive forces? Woe unto the party leader who takes this view, who doesn’t recognize a Revelation when the Politburo asserts it in such gory detail and with such urgency! No one in the top leadership dares publicly and persistently to challenge the charge that Stalin murdered innocent people or dispute the thinly veiled charge that Stalin killed Kirov. For twenty-five years there was not a single critical word of Stalin or the Politburo in any Communist Party publication in any country. For twenty-five years the leaders of world Stalinism have “loved” their “genial Stalin.” What are the facts which have made such a fickle thing of their love? How do they know now that their entire lives were a monstrous lie as they now stand stripped naked, bereft of any personal dignity and deprived of that private psychological sanctuary that must have been sought by even the most calloused Stalinist leaders who paid daily homage to Stalin and Russia? Where are the facts?

But who needs facts? There has been a Revelation! a miraculous event of such force that by comparison the passion evoked by the vision of Joan of Arc was but a country girl’s passing fancy.

THE READINESS WITH WHICH the leadership of the world Communist Parties accepted the repudiation of Stalin the Criminal was Act I, the first phase of their reaction, i.e., acquiescence, to the Twentieth Congress. The curtain has already been raised on Act II and much of its performance concluded. The theme of this Act is: we are not wholly satisfied with Khrushchev’s report, please give us a good “Marxist explanation” for the rise of Stalin the Fiend. The text for the Act was largely written by the leaders of four non-satellite Communist Parties.

Here are a few excerpts from Act II:

All of the above lines were read within a week or so of each other. What perfect timing! What uniformity of language and criticism! And what independence of Moscow! It would be remarkable, in the realm of the miraculous – if only this display of independence were genuine and self- determined. But the “criticisms” of Moscow, the demand for “Marxist explanations” from Moscow, are so obviously predicated on the permission of Moscow, that it is almost painful to read of the “experts” on Russia and international Communism, who believe that Dennis, Togliatti, Thorez and Pollitt are leading – not beheading – a rebellion against the Kremlin.

In the first place it should be noted that the “criticisms” and “demands” made of Moscow by Western Communist leaders are much blander than has been suggested by editorialists and headline writers. The strongest prose used was by Togliatti in a statement to the Italian CP’s Central Committee and nothing in those portions reprinted in the American press (which, naturally, seeks the most lurid excerpts) bears out the false impression recently created that there are genuine and deep differences between Moscow and any Western Party hetman. “Questions” are asked, “problems” are raised, “skepticism” is voiced, greater party autonomy is suggested, but all in a tone of proper respect and cordiality.

ONCE THE LEADERS of the non-satellite Communist movements have accepted the Revelations they have proven conclusively that they are to remain in the service of Russian totalitarianism. If there is to be a break between Togliatti and Moscow, for example, it will be at the initiative of the latter only. An intimate of Stalin’s, he has been the sharpest in his condemnation of the Stalin reign of terror – on the instructions of the Russian Communist Party. An enemy of Tito, a man whom he hated, Togliatti was forced to do penance before him, and made to do so – by the Russians. To believe that this man is now defying Khrushchev is to believe that a mollusk is prepared to give battle to a shark.

Even the “criticisms” by the Western Communist leaders, if one wanted to take them at face value, could be interpreted as part of their efforts to ingratiate themselves with Khrushchev’s Politburo. For they are actually saying to Moscow: we are so convinced of Stalin’s crimes and the merit of your exposures that they need further amplification and explanation. You have informed us that we have lived the Big Lie for at least 20 years and we agree. But please give us a plausible explanation in the best Marxist phraseology. Thus, rest assured that we will not dispute your Revelations which have their source in your unimpeachable authority and be advised that your Marxist explanation will receive the same consideration.

But the leaders of the Communist parties would hardly choose public criticism of Moscow as its way of communicating its servility if that were its sole purpose. They have less subtle ways of demonstrating their fealty. Public criticism by the leaderships, no matter how sham it may be for them, is nevertheless a sensational event in the history of Stalinism, one that nobody would have or could have predicted a year ago. Its source lies primarily in the confusion, resentment, demoralization and disaffection which quickly followed the Twentieth Congress among rank and file party members and supporters the world over. Their god was destroyed, myths were discarded, the entire Stalinist folklore shattered before their bewildered eyes. Where the top leaderships of the Western parties feign independence of the Moscow hierarchs for not having exposed Stalin sooner, the rank-and-file of these same parties are genuinely indignant with their leaderships for not having seen through Stalin’s crimes, for having been puppets, for their complicity in Stalin’s monstrous acts. Thus the desanctification of Stalin and general efforts of the Russian bureaucracy to relax its control by terror found their unhappy repercussions – unhappy for the Communist parties – among the ranks of Western parties. If Khrushchev could denounce Stalin, why shouldn’t an aggrieved rank and filer in the United States feel free to take Foster to task for his complicity in Stalin’s rise to power and for any other special grievance which had been repressed until now? What is more, he must continue to reason, if our party was so closely tied to a country tyrannized by a maniac, then let our party be more independent in the future and avoid such hazards. Given the prevalence of such attitudes, had the leadership tried to stampede the rank-and-file and the secondary leadership into line, it would only have destroyed itself, its party or both in the process.

The criticism made of Russia by the top Stalinist bureaucrats is a forced response to pressure from below. But it was made with the understanding toleration of the Russian dictatorship. It has even been suggested by some that it was made at the Russians’ behest; perhaps – that cannot be excluded; but it is not necessary to go that far. Anyone who has a serious doubt of this, be it a befuddled Dulles or a sophisticated Deutscherite, exhibits a major gap in his understanding of Stalinism as a world movement and an inability to interpret what is made so obvious by the simultaneity of response and similarity of language used by the abject heads of the Communist parties in their temporarily assigned roles as “polycentric” (to use Togliatti’s term) independent thinkers and friendly critics of Russia.

DOES A MAN LIKE TOGLIATTI enjoy his assumed role as the chieftain of a “polycentric” Communist party? Does it awaken some nostalgia for the days when he was more man and less pup pet? Perhaps. Who knows? We are consoled in our ignorance of Togliatti’s psychological mechanisms by the knowledge that no one else knows either. At any rate it is of tertiary importance. What is important to remember is that Togliatti – or Thorez, or Pollitt or Foster in their native lands – is the leader of an Italian movement which seeks to reorganize Italian society on Bureaucratic Collectivist beginnings and that he is the representative of a strata within Italian society which aspires to rule as a Bureaucratic Collectivist class.

There is nothing in any rule of formal logic to exclude the possibility of a party of Bureaucratic Collectivism, such as in Italy or France, breaking with the ruling monoliths in Moscow, even before coming to power. (Where Bureaucratic Collectivism already rules the problem of its relations to the Russian ruling class is potentially more explosive.) Politically, however, it makes no sense at all. Togliatti, for example, as a representative type, cannot initiate a break with the Russians. There are many reasons for this.

In the first place, for reasons of mass psychology Togliatti cannot repudiate the Russian system or disavow the ruling Russian Communist Party. It is partially on the prestige and power of the Russians that the Italian Communist Party is able to maintain its grip over the Italian working class. With “socialist” Russia as its benefactor and ally, and added to it the enormous realm of the satellite “people’s democracies” and with the inspiring example of the Chinese “republic,” the Italian Communist Party is able to impart to the working class a feeling of confidence and a sense of involvement in the vast irresistible rush of historical “progress.” “Socialism has conquered capitalism in half the world,” the Togliattis say, in effect. “Our world movement and our national Communist party is invincible,” they conclude. To break with Russia, now, or in the foreseeable future, would eliminate from the arsenal of Italian totalitarianism one of its most effective political weapons.

Second, to foster or to permit a split, or, even to insist upon actual independence from Moscow, in any way determined by Khrushchev’s Revelations, would immediately endanger the position of the present leadership of the Italian – or any other – Communist Party which could hardly be certain of escaping retribution for its own complicity in Stalin’s crimes.

Third, to seek independence from the Moscow orbit now, as a reaction to the Revelations of monstrous violations of democratic rights in Russia, could only encourage and activate tire democratic instincts of many rank and file party workers and supporters. They might begin to question, to dispute, not only today, but tomorrow, insisting upon party democracy as their natural, permanent right. That would be anathema for a Bureaucratic Collectivist party, particularly a mass party such as exists in Italy or France. The leadership tries to create within the party the authoritarian atmosphere of a totalitarian state, whose level of authority, of course, is circumscribed by its limited, non-governmental character. It cannot execute dissenters, it expels them; it does not dictate repressive legislation, it promulgates manifestos which must be adhered to at the risk of losing membership status; it does not exercise a state police authority over the masses, but it does aspire to achieve an iron discipline and unthinking acceptance of the latest party line. A microcosmic precursor of the totalitarian state, the party cannot abide an extended democratic, internal life.

But isn’t there dissension in the Communist parties now? Aren’t the leaders of various Communist Parties permitting differences to appear in the party press? Hasn’t that miserable agglomeration at the head of the American Communist Party organized a “Discussion Committee” which fills the pages of the Daily Worker with auto-lacerations, inviting the membership to take a turn with the whip? Isn’t this taste of internal discussion and criticism of the Russians unique?

We repeat: the top leaderships of the Communist Parties have been forced into this position against their wishes. Ferment among the rank and file produced by the Revelations could not be coped with by standard operating procedures. In permitting a relaxation of internal discipline the world Communist Parties are leading from weakness, not strength. They are trying to make the best of a bad situation, to forestall mass disaffection and bring the party to its more accustomed techniques without too many casualties.

It is axiomatic that in the relations between the Kremlin and the Communist Parties, particularly in the West, there can be no independence and no equality. But Moscow needs the support of the Italian and French working class. It can dispense with the services of a Togliatti or a Thorez – which it may yet decide to do – but its mass base in Europe is another matter. To maintain its influence over millions of European workers the Kremlin has given the national leaderships the green light to criticize. Some of these leaders may have used this green light to bypass the normal show of uncritical devotion to the Kremlin with unseemly speed. But the Kremlin is sure of such types as Thorez and Togliatti. It is not so sure of the French and Italian parties’ memberships. It had no alternative to authorizing the national committees of these parties to go along with the rank and file, to harmonize with their moods, even to simulate disapproval.

Thus the stage for Act III was set (an act only insofar as it concerns the subordination of the leadership of Western parties to the Kremlin). The theme of this act is Explanations: good Marxist Explanations for the rise of Stalin’s reign of terror. Following the Explanations, which will be mulled over for a moment or two, the performing hirelings at the head of the Communist Parties will then murmur their lines, in some cases with the necessary affected hesitations: “Well, comrades, we demanded a Marxist explanation and here it is.” Fissures in the national parties will be sealed, it is hoped, with the rank and file appeased by Moscow’s explanations and by the show of independence of leaders locally. That this is Moscow’s tack should have been clear to anyone with a modicum of understanding of Stalinist totalitarianism and of the relationships of Moscow to its subordinate agencies in other lands. But with the events of the past few days it is barely a matter for theorizing or speculating. On June 27th, Pravda printed, without comment, a recent report of Eugene Dennis, high potentate of the American CP. In Dennis’ report to his national committee were “criticisms” of Khrushchev’s report and a plaintive call for a Marxist explanation for Stalin’s rise to power. Dennis did not have long to wait. A week later a “Marxist explanation” was given by the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party, and others are likely to follow. Alongside absurdities in its explanation of Khrushchev and Co.’s forbearance of Stalin’s crimes, e.g., Stalin was too popular to be removed, the present collective leadership did not realize the extent of Stalin’s crimes, etc., there appeared much that is incontrovertible. The rise of Stalin is related to the fact that after the Bolshevik Revolution, Russia “was like a besieged fortress situated in a capitalist encirclement.” “In the shortest space of time, our country, without any economic help whatsoever from abroad, had to liquidate its centuries-old backwardness ...” In order to raise its technological level and “liquidate” its backwardness this “besieged fortress” had to make extreme demands on its populace, calling for “iron discipline, ever-growing vigilance and a most strict centralization of leadership which inevitably had a negative effect on the development of certain democratic features.”

Now, however, the report argues, Russia is no longer isolated, it is surrounded by friendly “People’s Democracies” and the Chinese “Republic.” Its productive forces are much greater than after the Russian Revolution. Thus, the social-economic base for an all powerful maniac no longer exists. Very “Marxistical.” Terribly “scientific.” Most convincing – to the CP’s top hacks.

The report singles out the criticisms of Togliatti by name. The monarch of the Italian party, whose rule is made uneasy by his own past, by disquiet in the ranks and his endangered alliance with Nenni’s PSI (which made serious inroads in the CP support during recent elections) had asked if Russian society has not reached “certain forms of degeneration?” Togliatti is told “There are no foundations for such a question.” He is even quoted against himself to show that he doesn’t really mean it. And what is the response of this tiger of Italian Stalinism? It is that of a well-fed and well-trained pussycat. The ink is barely dry on the “Marxist explanation” before Togliatti rushes into print with a statement of his own printed in Paese Sera voicing “unreserved approval” of Moscow and praising the “Marxist explanation” as a major step “toward clarification of questions that have been raised in the international workers and Communist movement.” And not far behind Togliatti is the statement of the Central Committee of the French Communist Party “warmly approving the resolution of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union that shows how the cult of the personality of Stalin has been surmounted in the USSR.” The French leadership is now “fully satisfied” that Russia remains the land of victorious socialism. And here, in the United States, Eugene Dennis dashed onto the front page of the Daily Worker of July 4th with a statement. Its opening sentence: “The Soviet Communist Party’s resolution is a most welcome development in the friendly interchange of opinion among Marxists of the world,” the concluding thought: “In my opinion the resolution of the CPSU goes a long way in explaining – while clearly not justifying – what has become known as the growth of the cult of the individual and the unforgivable violations of socialist legality and principles that took place in the latter period of Stalin’s leadership.” The Russian party’s statement was made known on July 1st and excerpts were printed in the New York Times the following day. The complete text was not printed in that paper until July 3rd, the same day that Dennis wrote his statement! Dennis the “independent,” Dennis the “critic” of Khrushchev’s report, Dennis the bold, demanding of Moscow a Marxist analysis thus provides us with a true measure of the depth and sincerity of his critical attitude.

For the first time the totalitarian Communist movement is faced with the possibility of internal disintegration. Its membership is both shaken and indignant. The Kremlin is forced to offer “Marxist Explanations.” But the explanations might not stick. Compounding its difficulties the Kremlin has been obliged to tolerate a breath of “democracy” in its international parties. At least one is now permitted to look crossly at the “collective leadership” and its local satraps. Compared to what existed before, this is “democracy.” For the leadership of the Communist Parties this “democracy” must be a short-lived expedient. But for the ranks this novel taste of “democracy” might become an ever more demanding habit. Such habits are deadly – for totalitarianism.

Let us not underestimate the cleverness of the Kremlin-ruled Communist movement. With the indispensable help of bourgeois politicians, the Kremlin may calm its turbulent waters, turning today’s retreat to tomorrow’s advantage.

Coincidental with the Revelations of the Twentieth Congress the Russian-directed Communist Parties embarked on their new popular front policy. The new strategy is to turn the cold war into a “smiling war,” to borrow an apt phrase from the New York Times. Where socialists, liberals and bourgeois politicians were all coupled and all condemned a short while back, their good graces are now sought. United Front is on the order of the day. Mollet is backed in the French Chamber and the Democratic Party looked at wistfully in the United States. To sell the liberal and social-democratic world once again its rotten wares the Kremlin needs to soften them up. It is here that Moscow is attempting to turn its internal world crisis to its own advantage. With Stalin denounced, Russia now ruled by the cult of collective leadership, with differences manifested within national Communist parties and between various party central committees and the Russian Politburo, the totalitarian Communist movement is attempting to pass itself off as one of amiable, independent, peace- loving democrats. Incredible as it may seem the attempt has achieved some measure of success. From many sources one now begins to hear barely audible whispers, hints, suggestions that perhaps there is really a fundamental democratic change taking place, not only in Russia, but in the structure and attitude of various Communist parties. With short memories, weaker insights and an enormous gullibility and bureaucratic mentalities, the confused liberal, the kindly pacifist and the overwhelmed social-democrat is, here and there, sucked in by the Kremlin’s New Look. And not only they. An authority no less than the Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, has given mankind the benefit of his expert analysis which must have earned him at least one round of wild applause from the Russian Politburo. In a widely heralded TV interview Dulles analyzed the division between Moscow and its Western parties as follows:

The Communist parties in the United States, France, Italy and the United Kingdom have all made statements which indicate their dissatisfaction and their belief that something must be done to make the Communist party, or international communism, more broadly based to prevent such concentration of power and provision for terrorism as existed during the Stalin era.

There is no agreement yet as to what shall be done, but there are demands arising from all quarters that something has got to be done about it.

The Secretary of State, a few moments later, underscores the above:

I think the statements issued by the various Communist parties show a very high state of dissatisfaction with the present leadership of the Communist party as exemplified by the Soviet Communist party. There is a good deal of criticism of the Khrushchev speech and a feeling it does not properly evaluate the situation, and that the trouble with Communism is much deeper than is indicated if you merely attribute it to the so-called aberrations of one man.

Is it possible that the leaderships of Western parties criticized Khrushchev with permission, possibly at the invitation, of the Russian Politburo? Dulles categorically replies:

I reject that theory. To my mind the evidence is so strong the other way that, to me, it is quite conclusive that this is coming about as a result of real differences, and that there is not a prearranged pattern in this matter at all.

“Real differences” between whom? Between Moscow and Togliatti or between Moscow and the CP rank and file? There is no doubt that Dulles means the former.

With these insights the Secretary of State continues to build his now solidly rooted reputation as nobody’s fool but his own.

Those who, like Dulles, accept the sincerity of, say, Togliatti’s “criticisms” and demands of assurances that Russia will be protected from a reincarnated Stalin must also ask us to credit Togliatti with a genuine ignorance of Stalin’s crimes. What Dulles asks of us is to believe that Togliatti on learning the truth about Stalin from Khrushchev, became so indignant, that he turned on this portly Russian who had just enlightened him and wagging his finger at Khrushchev said: “Look here, Khrushchev, better give me a Marxist explanation for how that murdering Haggard, Stalin, got so much power, and give me some security that it won’t happen again, or we’re through.” How delighted Togliatti and Khrushchev must be with this view of Dulles’, which, in effect, absolves the Togliattis from responsibility for Stalinist crimes committed during the “Stalin era.” Also they could ask for nothing better than to have the U.S. Secretary of State announce to the entire world that there are, in Dulles’ phrase, “real differences” between Togliatti and Khrushchev. More than that, if it is true, as Dulles assures us, that the Western Communist parties (not merely the rank and file membership) are beset by doubts, “that the trouble [sic] with Communism,” they now feel, “is deeper” than one-man rule, that they are determined to prevent such a concentration of power and provision for terrorism as existed under Stalin, then isn’t it true that the Communist parties, as such, are moving toward democracy? And if they are moving in this direction is it unreasonable for a peace-loving, democratic minded individual or group to respond positively to the new CP appeals for a United Front for Peace?

Dulles’ analysis is an involuntary, but signal service, to the latest political strategy of the Kremlin.

AS NEVER BEFORE the possibility exists for socialist parties throughout the world to win to themselves entire sections of the Communist rank and file. The disturbing and potentially disintegrating effect of the Revelations on the Communist parties is without precedent. Even the Stalin-Hitler pact was passed off as a maneuver. It was all a clever trick to stall Hitler until Russia was ready to smash him. It did not involve a repudiation of the past, it did not mean the smashing of idols, above all the Idol. While thousands, hundreds of thousands of Popular Front recruits and peripheral apologists broke with Stalinism after the Pact, the Parties were able to keep their hardened core, their experienced and most devoted members in line with its mumbo jumbo. Unlike the Pact the events of the Twentieth Congress hit at the very core, the hardened cadres, rank and filers, branch secretaries, district leaders, etc. Everything they have said and done of importance in the past, if not repudiated entirely, is now, at best, of suspect merit.

For socialist parties to capitalize on the ferment inside the CPs, however, there are two preconditions: one, there can be no compromising the fight against the Kremlin dictatorship and no let-up in exposing the hypocrisy and sham criticisms of the party leadership; second, the socialist parties must offer a militant, fighting alternative to the now vulnerable memberships of the Communist parties. The French Socialist Party can gain tremendously from the CP – but not so long as it pursues its present crass imperialist policies so repugnant to the French working class. The Italian social-democrats can make a significant dent in the CP but only if it abandons its political apologias for Western imperialism; and Nenni’s Socialist Party (PSI) might become the party of the Italian working class but only if it decisively repudiates the Italian CP and Russian totalitarianism. Political independence from the two war-camps, and a socialist democratic aggressiveness can reduce Stalinism in Europe to impotence today. Otherwise we are faced with the dreadful prospect of these totalitarian parties recovering with relatively minimal losses.

July 10

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