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Arne Swabeck

The Decay of the Stalinist Party

(July 1934)

From New International, Vol.1 No.1, July 1934, pp.20-22.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

ONE of the great American contradictions finds its expression in the backward ideology of the working masses existing alongside of the advanced technology of the country. But the crowning height of this contradiction is attained by the official Communist party. An examination of its position made in the light of a comparison with the gigantic tasks of the American revolution will reveal it beyond a shadow of a doubt as the one party in the Stalinized Comintern which is the least equipped with the indispensable weapons of Marxism.

It is necessary to remember that Marxism both interprets the world and teaches how to change it. Without the Marxian interpretation and estimate of world events, there can be very little hope of finding the correct road for the change. Nor will there be a possibility of deepening and extending the revolutionary practise. Lacking these prerequisites the official party has already become a force of disorientation and working class defeats in the day to day struggles as well. Marxism does not exist in its theory or practise, neither in the sense of interpreting the world nor in the sense of teaching how to change it. It would be difficult to conceive of a party which more stupidly parrots the trite formulae, devoid of revolutionary realism, of Stalin, Manuilsky and Molotov. The pernicious mistakes of the Third International on a world scale it duplicates on the national scene – and in worse form. All that is needed to prove this is furnished by the party itself.

With the world crisis, American capitalism arrived at a fundamental turning point in its political history. The economic self-sufficiency formerly proclaimed and the American provincialism which resulted from it, together with the celebrated “rugged individualism”, are, historically speaking, at an end. In their place we will have a more centralized monopoly capitalism assisted by a definite system of attempted governmental control of class relations. This change is perhaps most clearly typified in the contrast between the Hoover regime and the Roosevelt regime. The Hoover regime was the last staunch representative of the past while the Roosevelt regime represents the beginning of new methods in the course of American capitalism toward its more complete world hegemony.

From this the question arises: To what extent has the official party taken notice of or made a theoretical analysis of the deep going changes in class relations that this new situation presents? Has it taken notice of the vast new problems facing the working class vanguard? It has, of course, been cognizant of the increasing misery and lowered standard of living imposed on the working class by the crisis. It is true that it has also recognized the increasing and multiplying difficulties that now confront American capitalism. But that is still far short of a theoretical analysis of the fundamental changes involved. Such an analysis would be obligatory upon a revolutionary general staff, for without it there can be no correct conclusions at all for the tasks that are pending. This, however, cannot be expected from the official party which in all of its practise remains entirely true to the empiricist methodology of the epigones.

Instead of an analysis we have the pompous proclamation of the discovery of Fascism in both the Hoover and the Roosevelt regimes. In the Fascism of the Hoover regime was included, according to the seventh convention thesis of 1930, the AF of L, the Socialist party and the Muste group. The latter two, said the thesis, were covering their Fascism with pseudo-revolutionary phrases. It may be granted that the party is now trying to make a distinction by specifying the Fascist methods of the Hoover regime and the Fascist economic system of the Roosevelt regime. But that is only so much nonsense. Of course, the official party qualifies its “theoretical” conclusions by saying that it is not speaking of developed Fascism, but Fascism nevertheless. In this respect the American party leaders only repeat the fatal errors of the German party and the Stalintern as a whole. And from such premises it would be impossible, even in the remotest sense, to make a sound estimate of what Fascism actually is, of the conditions under which it arises, its special characteristics as a social phenomenon of a certain epoch, or its historical role.

In view of this, the speech made by Browder to the party plenum in January 1934, is not at all surprising. After the usual attempt at justifying the capitulation of the German CP by explaining that the social democracy still held the majority of the working class under its influence, he projects the question, which he says has been asked by many: Why did the German party not lead the revolutionary section of the German working class in struggle against Fascism? And listen to the wisdom of his answer: To hold such a position, he says, would mean

“nothing but capitulation to the social democracy. It is a complete acceptance of the social democratic understanding of the significance of the rise of Fascism and of Hitler. Along with it necessarily goes the view that the victory of Hitler inaugurates a protracted period of Fascist reaction and long time defeat of the revolution”.

Browder has no such view, and he could therefore declare nonchalantly to the Cleveland convention in discussing the question of the rise of Fascism in the United States,

“it [Fascism] destroys the moral base for capitalist rule, discrediting bourgeois law in the eyes of the masses; it hastens the exposure of all demagogic supporters of capitalism, especially its main support among the workers – the Socialist and trade union leaders. It hastens the revolutionization of the workers, destroys their democratic illusions, and thereby prepares the masses for the revolutionary struggle for power”.

What is said here is full of false and dangerous propositions. It is the covering of one’s tracks in the most treacherous manner. It is said to justify the criminal capitulation in Germany and to maintain the fiction that the German party is consolidating and strengthening itself as a political force. According to this statement, Fascism does not denote a new period existing on the ruins of the working class organizations, requiring entirely new methods of struggle, particularly the struggle for the democratic demands, and under much greater difficulties. Fascism is a mere incident. It is really not different from any preceding regime, except that it hastens disillusionment and speeds up the revolution. That the proletariat will conquer ultimately, even in spite of Fascism, is incontestable. But what Browder is attempting here is an advance justification of the capitulation of the party to Fascism. There is really no point to the Leninist demand for the united front to crush Fascism before it overcomes the proletariat and destroys its organizations.

In regard to the question of changing class relations in the United States the official party position is no less astounding and no less stupid. Already in 1930 it saw a “revolutionary upsurge of the working masses of the United States”, which was “opening the road to the Communist party for organizing and leading these masses into struggles”. This was evidenced among many other things “by increasing militancy of the workers in resisting the violent suppression of strikes and demonstrations ... by the mass interest in revolutionary trade unionism” and “by the rapid growth of the Communist party in membership and influence”. This is quoted from the seventh convention thesis presented in March 1930. But at the eighth convention, held recently, we are informed that the party at that time did not grow at all. And what the interest in the “revolutionary unions” amounted to at the time might as well not be mentioned. It was nil. Suffice it to recall that the “revolutionary upsurge” had been announced by Molotov when he inaugurated the “third period” at the tenth Comintern plenum, and this upsurge therefore had to be discovered everywhere, including the United States. Such was the “theoretical” analysis and evaluation of class relations made by the official party in 1930. Would we not be justified in assuming that conclusions for a general strategy should have been made therefrom which would be in accord with this perspective of revolutionary upsurge? Marxism would impose such a duty upon a revolutionary party leadership. But the perspective was false and Marxism was non-existent in the party. History completely refuted this perspective. Apparently, then, so much the worse for history. The adventurist commands which were issued for the “capture of the streets” in the daily “revolutionary” practise of the official party led only to futile and isolated exercises.

In the thesis of the eighth convention the official party outlines the same perspective as in 1930, even though in foundation it is stated a little more circumspectly. Meanwhile, gigantic events have intervened on a world scale: the conquests of Fascism in Germany and Austria, its growth elsewhere, and the collapse of the Second and the Third Internationals. However, in the eighth convention thesis this is not even mentioned. Not the least trace can be found to indicate that a single lesson has been learned from these world-shaking events. Again it is necessary to remember that Marxism both interprets the world and teaches how to change it. That is the weapon which is already forged. Actually applying Marxism, however, would mean first of all to learn the bitter lessons from all of the criminally false policies and the final capitulation which helped Fascism come into power and brought about the destruction of the workers’ parties. The party bureaucracy could not even begin to permit that. It would have meant its own undoing. Therefore it pursued the opposite course and with worse consequences to the party.

In view of this it would be ludicrous to expect a correct theoretical analysis of the changes now taking place in class relations in the United States. The crisis has been a great levelling process, reducing economically the various working class strata much nearer to one common low level. The turn in the economic cycle finds the masses entering the trade unions in numbers running into hundreds of thousands with the unions extending into the very heart of the basic and the mass production industries. There is a surging revival of the AF of L unions, a radical change in its position and composition and new processes are beginning within its ranks. Back in 1930 the official party proclaimed the AF of L a company union and moribund. It had only one regret, that it “did not sooner clearly analyse and characterize the open Fascism of the AF of L” (1930 convention thesis). From this it drew the conclusion that its “most fundamental task in mass work is the building of the revolutionary unions of the Trade Union Unity League”.

The party had entirely forgotten the warning of the Communist Manifesto that: “They [the Communists] do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.” History has made a mockery of the official party prognosis. A whole series of false policies foisted upon a party membership which has been denied the elementary right and privilege of inquiring into reasons, and has lost the ability to distinguish, has brought its cruel retaliation. While the mass unions are experiencing new growth and, regardless of the desires and policies of the reactionary leaders, are drawn into the vortex of new great class battles, the TUUL unions remain paper institutions, devoid of life, an obstruction in the path of working class advance. In the present sharpening of class lines in the United States events in the trade union field are of a decisive character. The question of correct trade union policy is at present the key to the working class problems. A workers’ party which cannot approach a solution of this problem cannot be counted upon at all to lead the proletarian revolution in America. It will function instead as a brake and a force for disintegration and defeat.

Is it any wonder that the official party is now compelled to bewail the results of its handiwork in the following admission penned in the eighth convention thesis?

“The leadership of the party in the trade union work remains extremely weak despite the Open Letter and control tasks adopted by the CC and the Districts. The majority of the party members remain outside of the unions in most of the districts (including such concentration districts as Chicago, Detroit): in the party as a whole the important progress made was with but a small section of the party membership active in the economic struggles. Communist fractions, without which there can be no real leadership by the party in the work of the trade unions, remain weak and receive little attention.”

Further proof – if further proof is needed – of the bankruptcy of the party is furnished in the Open Letter referred to above (July 7, 1933). There we are informed that:

“The clearest expression of the failure to carry out this concentration is the fact that during the past year the majority of strikes were led by reformists ... In fact the reformists in Eastern Ohio, a concentration district of the party, succeeded in taking over the leadership of miners who had previously carried on a heroic strike under the leadership of the National Miners Union.”

Finally it must be said that in the splendid class battles of most recent date, in Minneapolis and Toledo, the official Communist party was no political factor at all. The inspiring influence and conscious direction given came from other political forces in the country. The official party appeared as far as these battles are concerned only as a demoralizing and disorganizing factor.

A comparison today between Stalinism and social democracy will reveal that within the latter, including the American Socialist party, serious repercussions have been produced by recent world events. New tendencies and new groupings are emerging which acknowledge the defeats and the collapse of the workers’ parties. Hazily some of these groups are beginning to draw conclusions in a revolutionary direction. Within the official Communist party, however, “unanimity” prevails. Its theoretical level is unquestionably the lowest ever recorded. With implicit faith the celebrated “general line” is adopted again and again no matter what history records. Utterly incapable of reasoning otherwise than according to its own bureaucratically constructed dogmas, alien to Marxism, but accepted by the membership in a spirit of religious fervor, the party stumbles into ever greater contradictions. While the American workers in ever greater numbers become attracted to Communism, thousands leave the official party ranks. From 1930 to February 1934, Browder admits in his eighth convention report, the party had recruited 49,080 new members, but the actual membership in this period rose only from 7,645 to 24,800. These figures attest the membership turnover. But there would be little grounds for accepting the announced gains at face value when we recall that the 1930 convention thesis estimated the party membership to be, not 7,540 but “approximately 15,000”.

The bureaucratic triumph of the little epigones recorded at the eighth convention climaxed in the one and only infallible general secretary, apparently presents the party as having reached new and hitherto unknown heights. But stripped of all the pompous convention trimmings, the exact opposite is revealed. What remains is a picture of theoretical decline, bankruptcy and degeneracy. It is high time to clear the road for the new revolutionary party.


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