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Tom Kerry

Maoism and the Neo-Stalin Cult

(Spring 1964)

From International Socialist Review, Vol.25 No.2, Spring 1964, pp.55-59.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

WITH THE publication of the recent Chinese indictment entitled: The Leaders of the CPSU are the Greatest Splitters of Our Times, the split between Peking and Moscow becomes definitive. The full text of the statement is published in the Feb. 7 issue of Peking Review. The text goes beyond the title by characterizing the Khrushchev leadership as the greatest splitters of all time, by asserting that “the leaders of the CPSU are the greatest of all revisionists as well as the greatest of all sectarians and splitters known to history.”

The statement purports to be a historical review of splits and splitters from the time of Marx and Engels up to the present day. Its central thesis had been previously projected in a speech by Chou Yang, vice-director of the Propaganda Department of the CPC Central Committee, delivered on Oct. 26, 1963 to a scientific gathering at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. To wit: That “revisionism” arose to plague Marx and Engels at the very dawn of the socialist movement. So it was at the beginning and so it will continue to the very end.

Chou Yang argues that inasmuch as every thesis must have its antithesis, the promulgation of the Marxist revolutionary doctrine [thesis] inevitably gave rise to its opposite [antithesis] revisionism. Not only were the founders of scientific socialism fated to combat revisionism but Lenin too, in his day, was compelled to enter the lists against the revisionists. And, according to the dialectic of Chou, such was the fate not only of Marx, Engels and Lenin, but “of Stalin too.”

“This phenomenon may seem strange,” Chou Yang opines. “How can certain people who had previously been supporters of revolutionary scientific socialism degenerate into counter-revolutionary anti-scientific revisionists? Yet it is not at all strange. Everything tends to divide itself in two. Theories are no exception, and they also tend to divide. Wherever there is a revolutionary scientific doctrine, its antithesis, a counter-revolutionary, anti-scientific doctrine, is bound to arise in the course of the development of that doctrine. As modern society is divided into classes and as the difference between progressive and backward groups will continue far into the future, the emergence of antitheses is inevitable.”

With all due apologies to Chou, a nagging question still persists in thrusting its way to the fore: What is the criteria for determining who is and who is not a “Marxist-Leninist?” Chou has a ready answer. The Khrushchev leadership has repudiated Stalin. “To repudiate Stalin completely,” Chou affirms, “is in fact to negate Marxism-Leninism, which Stalin defended and developed.”

According to the Maoist schema of historical development the split was inevitable from the beginning. However, it is still necessary to fix the exact moment in time and the precise issue which signalled the dialectical transformation of Khrushchevite Marxism-Leninism into its opposite, revisionism. The time and issue are pinpointed in comment number two on the Open Letter of the Central Committee of the CPSU, entitled On the Question of Stalin (Sept. 13, 1963). It reads as follows:

“Stalin died in 1953; three years later the leaders of the CPSU violently attacked him at the 20th Congress, and eight years after his death they again did so at the 22nd Congress, removing and burning his remains. In repeating their violent attacks on Stalin, the leaders of the CPSU aimed at erasing the indelible influence of this great proletarian revolutionary among the people of the Soviet Union and throughout the world, and at paving the way for negating Marxism-Leninism, which Stalin had defended and developed, and for the all-out application of a revisionist line. Their revisionist line began exactly with the 20th Congress and became fully systematized at the 22nd Congress. The facts have shown ever more clearly that their revision of the Marxist-Leninist theories on imperialism, war and peace, proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat, revolution in the colonies and semi-colonies, the proletarian party, etc., is inseparably connected with their complete negation of Stalin.” (My emphasis)

The aspect of the Sino-Soviet dispute about which this article is especially concerned is the attempt to revive, regenerate and reconstitute the “Stalin cult” on a world scale. The working class of all countries—I repeat, all countries—have paid a heavy price for the virus of Stalinism that has for so long poisoned the wellspring of Marxist thought and revolutionary socialist action. Millions of worker-militants who flocked to the liberating banner of Leninism in the aftermath of the Bolshevik-led Russian October revolution were corrupted, debauched and cruelly betrayed when the Stalin faction seized the power, strangled the workers’ and peasants’ Soviets, emasculated Lenin’s party and extended its malignant sway over the international communist movement.

To begin with, it is a gross exaggeration to assert that the heirs of Stalin now occupying the Kremlin have “completely negated Stalin.” For their own reasons and their own interests they have been constrained to lift but one tiny corner of the veil that has for too long shrouded the countless crimes committed by the genial butcher who defiled the name of Lenin and besmirched the proud banner of Bolshevism. Stalin was no Marxist-Leninist. He was a murderer of Marxist-Leninists—including some thousands of devoted Stalinists. The Chinese do a great disservice to their own cause in the struggle against the Khrushchev brand of “revisionism” and to the regeneration of Bolshevik-Leninism by attempting to lead a movement back to Stalin. For nothing in the revisionist views today advocated by Khrushchev were not at one time or another in the past promoted and advocated by Stalin.

* * *

THERE is today a growing mood of discontent and opposition to the flagrantly opportunist policies and practices of the Khrushchev leadership being manifested in Communist party formations throughout the world. A number of splits have already taken place and more are looming on the horizon. The questions raised by the Sino-Soviet dispute have been an important ingredient in this ferment. In their Feb. 7 document, Peking openly calls for an extension of these splits and encourages, promotes and supports the “schismatics.”

The back-to-Stalin gambit is designed to channelize the opposition to Kremlin “revisionism” within strictly defined limits governed by the needs and interests of the Maoist bureaucracy; to circumvent untrammeled discussion of the many basic issues raised in the dispute by insisting on establishing and maintaining the hierarchical order of progression—Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin-Mao. If successful it can only serve to substitute a Mao cult of infallibility for the now defunct Stalin cult in which all disputed questions of Marxist-Leninist theory and practice will be subject to the ipse dixit of the cult leader.

This tendency is already to be observed in the groups that have split off from the various Communist parties and embraced Maoism. In this country, for example, a small group which split from the American Communist party several years ago, after coyly flirting with Maoism for a period, has finally plumped for Peking as against Moscow. It modestly calls itself the Progressive Labor Movement. In the recently published winter issue of its magazine, Marxist-Leninist Quarterly, there appears a programmatic statement by the National Coordinating Committee of PLM which purports to meet the need of the American working class for a “revolutionary theory.”

We are informed in an editorial note that:

“During the past year the Progressive Labor Movement has been discussing the [Sino-Soviet] debate concerning correct Marxist-Leninist theory for our movement and for the international movement.”

We are availing ourselves of this opportunity to comment on those aspects of the “debate” that concern us here: Stalin and Stalinism. In making their Great Leap from Moscow to Peking the leaders of PLM faithfully parrot the Maoist line on the merits and demerits of Stalin. Along with Peking they flay Khrushchev for downgrading Stalin in his 20th Congress speech bcause:

“It did not place both his enormous contributions and his serious errors in their actual historical context, but offered instead a subjective, crude, total negation of a great Marxist-Leninist and proletarian revolutionist.”

In an almost verbatim paraphrase of the Chinese statement On the Question of Stalin, the PLM article draws a balance sheet of Stalin’s assets and liabilities and concludes that on balance, Stalin’s contributions are “primary” and his errors, “secondary.” What precisely were these errors?

“In the matter of Party and government organization, Stalin did not fully apply proletarian democratic centralism. He was in some instances guilty of abrogating it. There was a great development of centralism without the absolutely essential corresponding growth of proletarian democracy. This appears to have fostered an inordinate growth of bureaucracy which often resulted in reliance on administrative ‘diktat’ rather than the full participation of the party membership and people in making and carrying out policy.” (Emphasis added to underscore the method of introducing qualifying phrases intended to minimize Stalin’s “errors.”)

But let’s continue—the worst is yet to come! The PLM statement then plunges into a learned dissertation on “contradictions,” lifted bodily from Mao, to explain why Stalin fell into the “error” of presiding over the monstrous frame-up trials and purges which converted the Soviet Union into a veritable chamber of horrors.

“Stalin,” we are informed, “erred in confusing two types of contradictions which are different in nature. Thus, he did not differentiate between contradictions involving the Party and the people on the one hand and the enemy on the other, and contradictions within the Party and among the people. Consequently, he did not employ different methods in handling these different types of contradictions. Stalin was right to suppress the counter-revolutionaries. If he had not he would have been derelict in his defense of the Soviet State. Thus, many counter-revolutionaries deserving punishment were duly punished. But, because contradictions within the Party and among the people were not recognized as something totally different, something natural and even essential to the Party’s theoretical growth and development, no Communist method of principled inner-Party struggle, proceeding from unity through struggle to a higher unity, was developed. Many innocent people, or people with differences which could have been worked out in the course of principled ideological struggle, were wrongly killed.” (My emphasis)

Unfortunately, people who were “wrongly killed” are just as dead as those killed “rightly.” When Stalin was alive all were indiscriminately dubbed “counter-revolutionary” and summarily executed. Those who now deplore such “secondary errors” were among the first to applaud Stalin’s frightful atrocities as evidence of his not being “derelict in defense of the Soviet State.”

Who now is to decide which were the innocent and which the guilty? Who is to judge? As an aftermath of Khrushchev’s 20th Congress speech on the Stalin cult a few of the “wrongly killed” were “rehabilitated” and a few of Stalin’s crimes were disclosed. A few more rehabilitations and disclosures at the 22nd Congress. Instead of pressing for a full disclosure of all the facts of Stalin’s crimes and the rehabilitation of all of Stalin’s victims, the Maoists demand that Khrushshev call a halt to the “attack on Stalin.”

* * *

UNDER compulsion to settle accounts with their own Stalinist past, the authors of the PLM statement, present us with a bowdlerized condensation of the history of the American Communist party. We are informed that the CPUSA was cursed with “revisionism” from its very inception. We are further enlightened by the assertion that the one golden era of the American CP was the period following the expulsion of the Lovestoneite leadership in 1929 encompassing the early years of the Great Depression. In the entire history of the CP one doughty warrior against “revisionism” is singled out for special commendation: William Z. Foster.

To buttress this contention a companion piece to the PLM statement appears in the winter issue of Marxist-Leninist Quarterly, a eulogy of Foster on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of his birth, written by one Fred Carlisle. The PLM message to the American working class urging the need for a “revolutionary theory” is thus simplified: On the international arena: Back to Stalin. On the American scene: Back to Foster!

Before proceeding further we must comment on the outrageous jargon that is the hallmark of Stalinism and which has now been spiced by the turbid Maoism of the Chinese. Words which had previously been endowed with a precise definition in the Marxist vocabulary have been transformed into verbal abstractions capable, as the occasion demands, of being invested with the most diverse meanings. The term “revisionism” is a case in point. To Marxists, revisionism has been associated with the name of its most prominent advocate, Eduard Bernstein, author of a book entitled Evolutionary Socialism. Bernstein’s attempt to divest Marxism of its revolutionary content was designed to provide theoretical justification for the adaptation to capitalist parliamentarism of the right-wing bureaucracy, especially the trade-union bureaucrats, who became a power in the Second (Socialist) International during the prolonged period of imperialist expansion and “prosperity” in the latter part of the 19th century up to the outbreak of World War I.

The classic manifestation of revisionism was known as Millerandism, after Alexandre Millerand, a French lawyer and socialist deputy in parliament who in 1898 accepted an appointment as Minister of Commerce in the cabinet of the capitalist government. Millerandism became synonymous with parliamentary coalitionism. Millerand was the first Socialist to accept a ministerial portfolio in a capitalist government. His action engendered heated debate in the socialist movement of that time, which was divided into right, left and center. The left wing rejected coalitionism as a betrayal of socialism. The right wing chided Millerand only because he had not consulted the party. The center (Kautsky) introduced a motion at the International Congress held in Paris, in 1900, typical of centrist straddling, “allowing that socialists might, as an exceptional measure of a temporary kind, enter a bourgeois government, but implicitly condemning Millerand by saying that such action must be approved by the party.”

This compromise paved the way for the later coalition policy of the Social Democracy during and after the outbreak of the First World War. The lessons of the struggle in the Second International against coalitionism constituted an important ingredient influencing Lenin’s views on the nature of the revolutionary socialist party. Later, with the formation of the Third (Communist) International, a conscious and deliberate barrier was erected against the infiltration of reformist socialist and centrist muddleheads by the imposition at the Second Congress in 1920 of the 21 conditions for affiliation.

The People’s Front Variety

In the hey-day of Stalinism, coalitionism was dignified by the name “people’s front” and was consecrated as the official policy of all sections of the Communist International at the Seventh World Congress in 1935.

Lenin considered coalitionism a betrayal of socialism and fought against it the whole of his political life. To him it was the epitome of revisionism and he wrote his polemical work, State and Revolution, as a refutation of the parliamentary cretinism of the coalitionists, and in the process elaborated and refined the revolutionary essence of Marxism. Upon his return to Russia in April 1917, Lenin threatened to split with those Bolsheviks, including Stalin, who favored participation with the Mensheviks in the coalition government established after the February revolution.

One question: Do the Marxist-Leninists of PLM consider people’s frontism, the most odious form of coalitionism, as revisionist? They don’t say! However, they do extol William Z. Foster as the “best” of the fighters against the “revisionism” of the American CP; Foster, who preached and practiced people’s front coalition politics to the day of his death. And what of Mao? Can they find anywhere in his voluminous writings a forthright condemnation of people’s frontism? I don’t think so!

In China, coalitionism was first imposed by Stalin in the revolution of 1926-27. It there took the form of the Stalin-Bukharin formula of “the bloc of four classes,” under which the Chinese Communist party was subordinated to the rule of Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang. Under this formula, the Chinese workers and peasants were first disarmed and then butchered by the troops of Stalin’s erstwhile ally, Chiang Kai-shek. As a result of this experience, Chen Tu-hsiu, then leader of the CPC, broke with Stalinism along with a number of other prominent leaders. All of whom were expelled from the Stalintern as “counter-revolutionists.”

It was only after the Seventh World Congress of the CI enthroned the People’s Front as the prevailing “universal truth” of Marxism-Leninism that Mao Tse-tung was elevated to the position of party leader.

The Dialectic of Revisionism

According to the Maoist dialectic in which everything, including theory, divides in two—not three or four but exactly in two — the tendencies in the world socialist movement are neatly separated into two compartments: revisionism and Marxist-Leninism. Revisionism is elevated to the status of an abstract category in which the term assumes a generic character in which is subsumed all that is not accorded the sovereign title of Marxism-Leninism. Reformism, sectarianism, dogmatism, opportunism, ultra-leftism, each or all are included or may be inferred in the general term. What is revisionism today can become Marxist-Leninism tomorrow and vice versa. It has become, par excellence, a cult term. Only the initiates who are privy to the thought of the cult leader can be sure of what it means at any given moment. Instead of a precise word defining a specific tendency it has been transformed into an epithet to smite those bold or foolhardy enough to question or disagree with the latest revelation of the “leader.”

From time to time differences of interpretation may arise between even the most devoted disciples that might lead to serious doctrinal disputations. The system cries out for a final arbiter around whom must be draped the aura of infallibility. Just as the Catholic church requires its pope to interpret holy scripture, so does every bureaucratic formation in the labor movement require its “pope” to resolve disputes that arise as a result of the inevitable conflict of interest between individuals and groups within the bureaucracy. To submit such disputes to the democratic process of discussion and action by the masses would endanger the existence of the bureaucracy as a whole. The bureaucrats fear this course as the devil fears holy water. With the hothouse growth of the Soviet bureaucracy after Lenin’s death, Stalin was elevated to the position of supreme arbiter of the parvenu bureaucratic caste and invested with the divine afflatus of infallibility.

In this sense the Chinese are correct in twitting Khrushchev about his indiscretion in seeking to place sole blame on Stalin for the crimes committed during his reign. There is, however, method to Khrushchev’s madness. His condemnation of the “cult of the personality” is calculated to absolve the bureaucracy of all responsibility for Stalin’s crimes. His task is greatly facilitated by the fact that once the supreme arbiter is firmly esconced upon this lofty perch the illusion is created that the “personality” has achieved complete independence from the bureaucratic machine that created him and that it is the man who manipulates and rules over the machine instead of the other way around. Khrushchev attacks the “cult of the personality” in order to conceal the ugly visage of the “cult” of the bureaucracy which continues to rule as before.

* * *

LET us scrutinize, in the light of this brief historical review, the tendentious analysis of the Marxist-Leninists of PLM of what went wrong with the American CP, when it happened and what to do about it.

“From the earliest days of the communist movement in the United States to the present,” we are informed, “revisionism and its political manifestation, class collaboration, has been the chronic weakness.”

Not so. While the PLM theoreticians are prone to use the term “revisionism” in the generic sense indicated above, in this instance they define its concrete political manifestation as “class collaboration.” In the “earliest days” of the American CP class collaboration was decidedly not its “chronic weakness.” In the period following the Russian revolution of 1917 the dividing line between the various tendencies in the socialist movement on an international scale was their attitude toward the October revolution.

The revisionists who preached and practiced the doctrine of class collaboration were solidly lined up in hostile antagonism to the Bolshevik revolution. The earliest CP’s, both in this country and abroad, were formed almost without exception out of splits over this question in the various parties of the Social Democracy. In this country the several Communist parties were established as a result of a split in the American Socialist party led by the left wing. The left wing split-off from the SP, together with the foreign language federations, comprised the cadres of communism which then split into contending parties each seeking recognition from the Communist International.

Disease of Ultra-Leftism

The basic weakness was not class collaboration but ultra-leftism. The tendency toward ultra-leftism was not at all peculiar to this country but was a malady that afflicted a number of the early communist groups in Europe. In fact, it was precisely against this desease that Lenin polemicized in his now famous pamphlet: Ultra-Leftism: An Infantile Disorder. Class collaborationists were not welcome in the Communist International of Lenin’s and Trotsky’s day.

But let’s proceed with our perusal of the PLM statement for a clue to this bowdlerized version of history.

“After the expulsion [in 1929] of Lovestone,” we are told, “the party developed a militant pragmatic approach which appealed to workers during the depression and produced a mass base for the CP.”

In the article by Carlisle, eulogizing Foster, we are instructed that:

“During the 1929-33 years of deepest crisis,” the American CP “came closer to being a correct Marxist-Leninist program for the US than anything that had been developed during the past 70 years.”

This is incredible! The years singled out for special approbation by PLM encompass what has gone down in history as the “Third Period.” The Sixth World Congress of the CI was held in 1928 under the aegis of the Stalin-Bukharin bloc. Bukharin headed the right-wing tendency in the CPSU which included such prominent leaders as Tomsky and Rykov. For the whole period prior to 1928 the Stalin bureaucracy proceeded on the Bukharin formula of a casual romp to socialism in which “socialism” would be established “at a snail’s pace.” The slogan at the time was: Kulak enrich thyself! The Left Opposition, under the leadership of Leon Trotsky, had repeatedly warned that the differentiation among the peasantry in the villages under the Stalin-Bukharin policy was strengthening the grip of the Kulak (rich peasants) on the peasant economy and solidifying their political control over the middle and poor peasantry.

The program of the Left Opposition presented an extensive criticism of the Stalin-Bukharin line and elaborated an alternative program of planned industrialization in the economic sphere and a restoration of workers’ democracy in the Soviets and the party. Needless to say, the program, of the Left Opposition was suppressed and the adherents of the opposition were slandered, expelled, jailed, and, in Trotsky’s case, exiled from the Soviet Union. This did not forestall the development of the crisis predicted by the Left Opposition. It erupted soon after the Sixth Congress when the Kulaks engineered a strike against the Soviet government which threatened to starve the cities into submission and brought the Soviet regime to the very brink of disaster.

Recoiling in panic from the spectre of capitalist restoration spearheaded by the Kulaks, Stalin responded with a sharp turn to the left. In startling contrast to the previous line, Stalin decreed the immediate liquidation of the Kulaks, the “forced march” to collectivization and the first of his series of five-year plans of rapid industrialization. These edicts were carried out in an atmosphere of virtual civil war. The Stalin-Bukharin program adopted at the Sixth Congress was quickly jettisoned.

Stalin broke with Bukharin, who was retired in disgrace, and proceeded to purge the Bukharinists from their positions of leadership in the various sections of the Comintern. In this country Jay Lovestone was tagged as the scapegoat because he was identified with the Bukharin line. Although commanding a majority at the March 1929 convention of the American CP, Lovestone was summoned to Moscow where he was detained while the Stalin machine engineered a switch in leadership. Characteristic of Stalin’s machinations, Foster, who was then the most prominent leader of the CP, was sidetracked, and a political nonentity by the name of Earl Browder was tagged as leader of the CP. Being absolutely dependent on Moscow for his authority, Browder was considered a more pliable instrument of Stalinist manipulation and Foster was shunted aside. Foster never forgave Browder for this humiliation.

To buttress his “left turn” in the Soviet Union, Stalin proclaimed the advent of the “Third Period” which was to herald the end of capitalism on a world scale. In the world outside the Soviet Union the tactics of the Third Period rested on the twin pillars of the theory of “social fascism” and the “united front from below.”

The theory and practice of “social fascism” was a patent absurdity. Lenin had previously characterized the reformist Social Democrats as social chauvinists, or social patriots, etc. His intention thereby was to pillory the reformists as socialist in words, but national chauvinists in deed; or socialist in word, but bourgeois patriots in deed. But what could the epithet “social fascism” mean? That the Social Democrats were socialist in word and fascist in deed? But the Hitlerite fascists aimed at destroying the Social Democrats by smashing the independent unions upon which they were based, and made no bones about it. Germany was the major arena in which the battle was to be fought out. According to the theory of “social fascism,” the Social Democracy, which commanded the support of the majority of the German working class, was the “main enemy.”

The Third Period tactic of the “united front from below” was another of Stalin’s unique contributions which wreaked havoc in the world labor movement. The tactic of the united front was worked out and codified at the Third World Congress of the CI which convened in Moscow from June 22 to July 12, 1921. Contrary to the hopes and expectations of the Bolsheviks, the post-war wave of revolutionary actions subsided after a number of serious defeats. The slogan advanced after the October revolution of the “conquest of power,” was amended because of the change in the objective situation. The Comintern modification was summed up in the slogan “the conquest of the masses.” That is, to win for the Communist parties the allegiance of a decisive section of the working class in preparation for the next revolutionary wave.

The Social Democrats still commanded the support of a considerable section of the European working class. The tactic of the united front was designed to unite the workers in action against capitalist reaction and for the defense of their interests. The tactic was devised to compel the leaders of the Social Democracy to enter united front actions on concrete issues in defense of the interests of the working class as a whole. In the process of such actions it was considered that the non-communist workers would be won over to the Communist parties as they became convinced of the treacherous nature of their reformist leaders. To forestall the expected attempt of the Social Democrats to limit and derail the united front actions, it was insisted that each organization maintain its independence. As Lenin phrased it: We march separately but strike together.

Stalin took this concept and gave it his own twist—which converted it into its opposite. If the Social Democracy and fascism were “twins,” as he insisted, a united front agreement with the leaders became impossible. To get around this dilemma Stalin concocted the “united front from below.” That is, the workers adhering to the parties of the Social Democracy were called upon to break with their leaders and join in actions organized and led by the Communist parties. But if they were prepared to go that far, why bother about applying the circuitous tactic of the united front? It didn’t make sense. The result was that there was no united front at all. On the contrary, in the name of the “united front from below” the Stalinists preceded to split the labor movement down the middle.

American Version of Third Period

In this country, and others, the Third Period lunacy became a hideous caricature. Worker militants, members of the Communist party together with their supporters, were yanked out of the existing trade unions and herded into pure “revolutionary” paper organizations under the leadership of the CP acting through the front of the Trade Union Unity League. The trade-union bureaucrats were tickled pink. At one fell swoop they had gotten rid of their most militant opposition elements. Needless to say, the paper unions of the TUUL were 100 per cent “revolutionary”—and 100 per cent impotent.

In this country the Third Period idiocy made little difference one way or another. It was in Germany, the key to the whole international situation, that it exacted a heavy toll. By splitting the organized German working class, the “theory” of social fascism and the tactic of the “united front from below,” paved the way for Hitler’s march to power. So complete was the demoralization of the German workers that Hitler’s hordes seized the power without a struggle.

The victory of Hitler in Germany marked the end of the so-called Third Period. It led to a sharp rightward swing in which the “united front from below” was transmuted into the “people’s front” at the Seventh World Congress of the CI in 1935. If anything, the “people’s front” line was an even crasser mutilation of Lenin’s united front tactic.

Third Period Stalinism can be aptly characterized as “infantile leftism” gone berserk. And it is this aberration that PLM now advocates as a model for building a “new” Marxist-Leninist revolutionary communist movement in this country. This, they contend, was the “heroic” period of the American CP. This view goes far to explain the pronounced tendency toward irresponsible adventurism which characterizes their activity. You can never give birth to a movement — progressive or otherwise—by propounding and following a course of infantile leftism, but you can spawn a numerous crop of victims, which is just about what the Stalinist Third Period line accomplished.

The PLM statement, cited above, attributes the development by the American CP of its Third Period line to “militant” pragmatism. I must confess that the distinction between “militant” pragmatism and the non-militant variety, as philosophical categories, eludes me. The implication is that under the leadership of Foster, the American CP arrived at their line independent of the Kremlin. Unfortunately for the authors of the statement, Foster says otherwise. In his History of the Communist Party, published in 1952, Foster relates that during a discussion in the CI on the “American question,” following the March 1929 convention, Stalin criticized both the majority [Lovestone] and the minority [Foster] for their “fundamental error in exaggerating the specific features of American imperialism.”

“It would be wrong,” the Kremlin sage observed, “to ignore the specific peculiarities of American capitalism. The Communist Party in its work must take them into account. But,” he quickly added, “it would be still more wrong to base the activities of the Communist Party on these specific features, since the foundation of the activities of every Communist Party, including the American Communist Party, on which it must base itself, must be the general features of capitalism, which are the same for all countries, and not its specific features in any given country.”

Under this formula, Stalin cemented his monolithic control over all sections of the CI. Policy originated in Moscow. And woe betide those who pleaded “specific peculiarities” to warrant an exception being made for their own section. From then on every twist and turn in Kremlin policy was religiously echoed in every section throughout the world, special national “peculiarities” to the contrary notwithstanding. Foster got the message. When it came to twisting in conformity with the latest edict from Stalin he was without a peer. This earned for him in the radical movement the appellation, William “Zig-zag” Foster. This is the peerless fighter against “revisionism” whom the PLM statement commends to: “Young radicals [who] can learn from and emulate the devotion to the working class and socialism of such outstanding communists as William Z. Foster.”

Page From CP History

In his panegyric on Foster the self-avowed Marxist-Leninist, Fred Carlisle, explains that the main authority upon whom he relies for an evaluation of Foster is Foster himself. He neglects to add that whole sections of his eulogy were lifted bodily from Foster’s History of the Communist Party, for which the original author is not credited. “Foster’s historical analyses of these struggles,” Carlisle affirms, “are quite helpful, being more accurate and objective than other available sources.” Irony itself stands disarmed before such monumental naivete. At any rate, among the many examples of Carlisle’s historical scholarship, we select one which raises an important question—Lenin’s concept of democratic centralism as contrasted with that of Stalin-Foster.

“In 1928,” we are enlightened, “James P. Cannon was expelled form the CP for supporting Trotsky’s left-deviationist doctrine. Upon his return from the sixth world congress of the Comintern, which had turned down an appeal from Trotsky in exile, Cannon began clandestinely distributing Trotskyite materials. Though Cannon had been a member of their group, Foster and Bittelman preferred the charges against him of disseminating Trotskyite propaganda, advocating withdrawal from existing trade unions, abandoning the united front and fomenting disruption. Eventually about 100 of Cannon’s followers were also expelled and, under Cannon’s leadership, formed an opposition league which later became the Socialist Workers Party, affiliated to the Fourth International.”

The charge of “clandestinely” circulating “Trotskyite materials,” is supposed to convey the impression that Cannon was engaged in some sneaky, underhanded, criminal activity, warranting the most drastic penalty. Precisely what was the nature of this contraband which the sly Cannon was “clandestinely” distributing to leaders and members of the American CP? The slander that it consisted of “propaganda advocating withdrawal from, the existing trade unions,” and “abandoning the united front,” etc., characteristic of the Stalin-Foster Third Period insanity, is downright ludicrous. The “materials” actually consisted of Trotsky’s article, Criticism of the Draft Program, which had been presented for the consideration of the delegates to the Sixth World Congress and which they were bureaucratically deprived of reading because it was suppressed by the Stalin-Bukharin machine. The article, which came into Cannon’s possession through accident, was later published serially in the first issues of The Militant, then the American organ of the Left Opposition.

Does our learned historian even bother to ask himself the question why Cannon found it necessary to distribute such materials “clandestinely?” Cannon was a member of the top political committee of the CP; he had gone to Moscow as a delegate of the American CP to the sixth congress. Wasn’t he entitled to submit whatever materials he possessed pertinent to the decisions of that congress in a discussion presumably called for that express purpose? But, no! By that time the Stalin pogrom against Trotskyism raged throughout the communist movement. Trotsky’s views were distorted, mutilated, or suppressed by the Stalin bureaucracy. The most effective theoretical weapon in the arsenal of the bureaucracy was the mailed fist—and they wielded it with abandon. And all of this, of course, in the name of “democratic centralism.”

A Deadly Affliction

As he did with so many of Lenin’s contributions, Stalin twisted the Leninist concept of democratic centralism into its opposite, bureaucratic centralism. Under Lenin’s concept of democratic centralism, as practiced in his lifetime, all a minority was obliged to do was to accept the decisions of the majority after democratic discussion and debate, leaving to the unfolding events to determine who was right and who wrong. Stalin gave this concept just one little twist and converted it into bureaucratic law that a minority must agree with the majority.

It is a psychological impossibility to expunge from one’s head views, opinions, and thoughts which might be at variance with the views, opinions, and thoughts of others. The practice of bureaucratic centralism inevitably led to the obscene spectacle of individuals driven to public confession of their “errors” in order to avoid summary expulsion or worse. All of this was embellished and dignified under the heading of “self-criticism” which, as practiced by Stalinism, could be more accurately defined as self-flagellation.

Trotsky once aptly characterized Stalinism as “the syphilis of the labor movement.” To urge upon the American workers a return to Stalin-Foster is to counsel a course which could only induce an aggravated case of locomotor ataxia. And that is one affliction we would not wish on our worst enemies.

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Last updated: 27.1.2006