From International Socialist Review, Vol.27 No.4, Summer 1956, pp.79-83.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
The following article is based on a speech given in New York City, June 15
THE Soviet Union is today in a stronger position in relation to the capitalist world than at any point since the revolution of October 1917. It is sufficient to mention that 600 million people of China after expelling the imperialists and overthrowing the capitalist regime of Chiang Kai-shek, are now allied to the Soviet Union.
Economically, the USSR has attained with unprecedented speed the status of the second industrial power in the world.
The authority and prestige of the Soviet Union is at an all-time high among the colonial and semi-colonial peoples who are fighting for their independence.
It would seem that the regime in power in the USSR should be enjoying its greatest stability and popularity. And yet, there is unmistakable evidence that the very progress the Soviet Union has made, the improvement of its position in relation to world capitalism, and the enlargement of its orbit of influence, has brought about the eruption of the deepest contradictions in Soviet society.
What are these contradictions? How will they be resolved? What place does the present turmoil in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe have in the struggle for world socialism? These are the questions before us.
The most recent clue to the nature of the crisis unfolding in the land of the October Revolution is the revelations issuing from the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union last February and in particular the report on Stalin made by Khrushchev to the closed session of the Congress.
Let us therefore consider the most important revelations contained in Khrushchev’s speech:
In the first group are those pertaining to Stalin’s regime of mass murder and terror. On this point Khrushchev admitted:
The second group of Krushchev’s admissions relate to the question of nationalities. As you know, the Soviet Union is a federation of numerous Republics. The October 1917 revolution gave freedom and autonomy to the national minorities, who had lived under the oppression of Great Russian chauvinism in what was called “the Czarist prison of the peoples.”
Under the Stalin regime, Khrushchev revealed a number of small nations were subjected to mass deportations to faraway places in the course of which millions perished.
The third set of revelations deals with Stalin’s crimes and blunders as a war leader: Here Krushchev recounts how Stalin ignored all evidence of political reality and refused to believe Hitler would attack the Soviet Union.
Thus, Khrushchev points out, the Soviet Union was unprepared economically and militarily for the fascist onslaught in 1941.
Moreover, thousands of the best officers of the Red Army, from the company level up to the general staff had been liquidated in the purges and this badly disorganized the army.
Stalin, according to Khrushchev, was demoralized and helpless in the first stage of the war. Later he exerted his authority to commit military blunders that in one instance alone cited by Khrushchev cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of soldiers.
In short, Khrushchev shows that contrary to his own words at the Nineteenth Congress, in which he assigns the credit for the victory of Russia in the war to “Stalin’s genius,” the truth was that Stalin’s regime brought the USSR to the edge of disaster during the war and cost the lives of millions of soldiers and civilians.
The fourth group of Khrushchev’s counts denouncing Stalin pertain to the “cult of the individual.”
Khrushchev goes into considerable detail on this point. He describes how Stalin replaced the government, the party, the Central Committee and the courts and established a one-man system of rule. He describes how Stalin demanded of one and all, not merely obedience to his command, but the utmost servility. Those who failed to shower Stalin with declarations of unbounded praise for his Godlike genius were immediately suspect and subsequently fell under Stalin’s terror.
In connection with the cult of the individual Khrushchev relates how Stalin personally edited histories and biographies to falsely depict his role as the all-wise, infallible, genius-leader.
The fifth group of revelations concern the relations of the Stalin regime to other workers’ states, notably Yugoslavia. It is likely that a fuller text of the speech will reveal a lot more regarding China. But the evidence contained in Khrushchev’s speech, plus what is already well known, establishes fully that Stalin adopted the same attitude toward the new workers’ states outside the Soviet Union as he did toward the national minorities within the USSR.
The sixth and final point of Khrushchev’s indictment of Stalin deals with Soviet agriculture. Khrushchev shows that contrary to the myth that Stalin was a deep student of the agrarian question and the leader of the great social transformations in Russian agriculture since the revolution, he was in reality abysmally ignorant of the problem. According to Khrushchev, Stalin’s only contributions to the solution of agrarian problems consisted of sabotaging
all serious efforts to alleviate severe crises and proposing fantastically unreasonable taxation. (At one point Stalin proposed to tax the peasants an amount greater than their total income for the given period.)
There are many things that Khrushchev did not reveal in his report. The atrocities against the leaders of Jewish culture were not mentioned. Neither was Stalin’s international murder-machine. Nor was anything said on how this machine was used in Spain, how it was used to liquidate Trotsky’s secretaries, and how it was used to assassinate Leon Trotsky himself. We can expect that more revelations will come and more details will be given on what was already admitted.
The truth, as is well known, makes its way slowly, for long periods of time – but once it gains momentum it moves with great speed.
Now it is irrefutably established that the Trotskyist movement told the world working class the truth about the crimes of Stalinism. Each and every crime revealed by Khrushchev was exposed by the Trotskyists many years ago. Any fair-minded person can verify this by consulting the record of our movement – merely by looking through the files of The Militant since 1928.
* * *
The Twentieth Congress disclosed one gigantic fact: The Russian workers are beginning the historic work of overthrowing the bureaucratic caste and restoring the democratic foundations of the revolution. This is the basis for a Marxist understanding of the feverish movement on the surface and at the summits of Soviet society.
The US State Department propagandists are attempting to depict the Khrushchev revelations as a proof of the “inherent evil of communism.”
* * *
In the first place this pitiful effort rests on accepting the Stalinist falsehood that socialism has been victoriously achieved in one country – the Soviet Union, On that premise, it is, of course, not difficult to prove that socialism is not what the founders of the socialist movement said it would be.
However, Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky and the whole Bolshevik party, including Stalin up to 1924, never dreamed of a reactionary utopian concept like achieving socialism within the boundaries of one country. The Russian Revolution established a society transitional to socialism. Socialism itself will be achieved only on the premise of the victorious revolution over capitalism in its main centers. The socialist society will be founded on the highest technological achievements of capitalism, as a world-wide productive system liberated from the fetters of national boundaries and capitalist private property.
But let’s take the State Department propagandists on their own premise for a moment. If the crimes of the Stalin cult are the expression of the “evils of communism,” what is the exposure of these crimes ? Why are these crimes being repudiated?
The New York Times, US News and World Report, and other authoritative spokesmen for Big Business, agree that the only plausible explanation for the repudiation of the Stalin cult – the only factor that can explain why the present rulers would take the grave risk of destroying the very keystone of the whole Stalinist structure, is the movement of the Soviet people from below. But they don’t dare say that this movement is pro-capitalist in its thought or direction!
Any hopes they had, that an uprising against Stalinism in Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union would favor the return of capitalism were smashed by the June 17, 1953 insurrection of the East German working class. This working-class insurrection, highly organized and magnificently disciplined, and embracing the entire East German industrial working class was anti-capitalist and socialist through and through.
As a matter of fact, only the Stalinist bureaucrats, tried to pin the label of a pro-West, imperialist-inspired movement on this revolutionary uprising. The capitalists knew better, as all the evidence shows. They were therefore unable to intervene.
Evidently, therefore, the so-called “evils of Communism” are being countered by an insurgent movement of the working people who have no thought of returning to capitalism but are bent on removing the barriers in the path to the free society of world socialism.
And then, if the bureaucratic degeneration that gripped the first workers state in history are to be depicted as the “evils of communism” what term will the State Department propaganda flunkeys use to describe the two world wars, the world depression, the ten-year hell of Hitlerism, the 20-year rule of Mussolini and the dictatorship of the fascist butcher Franco? Are these not the expression of the “inherent evils of capitalism”?
Correctly understood, Stalinism itself is an expression of the evils of capitalism besetting an isolated workers’ state. While the October Revolution established the foundations of a new social order, the weight of the Czarist past and the pressure of capitalist encirclement of a backward country imposed a cruel burden of bureaucratic parasitism and terror on the Russian people.
* * *
Khrushchev opened his speech with a dissertation on the views of Marx, Engels and Lenin on the “cult of the individual.” But although he uses the term “Marxist-Leninist” in practically every other paragraph of his speech, Khrushchev’s method has nothing in common with Marxist thought on this question.
He reduces the question to one of modesty versus vanity. Marx was modest, he tells the audience. So was Engels; Lenin was very modest. But not Stalin. Stalin ceased to be modest and raised himself above the party and what is worse the Central Committee. Then he began to murder people who disagreed with him, and then still others for no reason at all. He began to commit all kinds of hideous crimes – all because he forgot that a Marxist-Leninist is modest.
Khrushchev says: “It is clear that in the situation of Socialist victory there was no basis for mass terror in the country.” Then why the mass terror?
Khrushchev answers the question of “Why the Stalin cult?” with an empty tautology. The Stalin cult arose because Stalin raised himself above the Party and the Central Committee. It’s the same as explaining the crimes of Stalin by his criminal conduct.
If a socialist society has been established, this signifies that mankind has raised its productive powers to the point where the class division of society has been eliminated. The elimination of the class struggle eliminates the need of a state with its special body of armed men to impose by force the rule of the dominant class.
If the Soviet Union has indeed entered the domain of socialism, then, how explain the fact that instead of witnessing the withering away of the functions of the state, it experienced, during the last three decades, the enormous growth of an oppressive state apparatus that maintained its rule by perpetrating the most heinous crimes against those subjected to its rule.
Surely, a Marxist-Leninist must see in such phenomena the expression of extremely acute, social contradictions. But, no, Khrushchev views the phenomenon of the growth of a repressive state which practiced mass murder for 22 years according to his reckoning, as a result of an erroneous theory, that somehow got into Stalin’s head, namely, the theory that precisely with the advent of socialism class strife sharpens.
How did this theory get into Stalin’s head despite the achievement of a socialist society? Apparently it is associated with Stalin’s tendency to lack modesty and to raise himself above the Central Committee. Purely arbitrary and half-baked idealist constructions! In Khrushchev’s explanations there is not a trace of the Marxist method of materialist dialectic in which the role of the individual in history is regarded as a function of the struggle of classes and social strata within classes.
The method of the cult of the individual is not abandoned in this type of explanation – it is only turned inside out. Instead of a god – we are presented with a devil. Contrast to this method the method of Trotsky, who 20 years ago, in his basic work The Revolution Betrayed, explained the Stalin cult as follows:
“The increasingly insistent deification of Stalin is, with all its elements of caricature, a necessary element of the regime. The bureaucracy has need of an inviolable super-arbiter, a first consul if not an emperor, and it raises upon its shoulders him who best responds to its claim for lordship. That ‘strength of character’ of the leader which so enraptures the literary dilletantes of the West, is in reality the sum total of the collective pressure of a caste which will stop at nothing in defense of its position. Each one of them at his post is thinking: L’etat – c’est moi. [I am the State.] In Stalin each one easily finds himself. But Stalin also finds in each one a small part of his own spirit. Stalin is the personification of the bureaucracy. That is the substance of his political personality.”
The “personification of the bureaucracy” – that is the clue to understanding the role of Stalin. The bureaucracy that rose to power after the Russian Revolution is an historically illicit force. It came to power on the wave of reaction – in a country exhausted by years of imperialist war, revolution and civil war.
The vanguard of the proletariat was bled white. The great ocean of petty peasant enterprise predominated over industry. The initial defeats of the European revolution further sapped the strength and revolutionary vitality of the Russian workers. With every defeat of a workers revolution abroad the bureaucratic tendencies in the Soviet Union were strengthened and with the strengthening of the bureaucratic caste in the Soviet Union it was able to crush the revolutionary wing of the party of Lenin. And then utterly crush the party itself.
The bureaucracy expressed its hunger for privilege amidst universal poverty in its adherence to Stalin. Stalin had the best qualifications for the job. His record as an old Bolshevik provided the necessary disguise for the process of bureaucratic usurpation.
That’s why Khrushchev must say over and over again in his speech that Stalin was politically right as against Trotskyism. He means by that to justify the triumph of the bureaucratic caste over the Bolshevik party of Lenin and Trotsky.
Fundamentally that is what the great struggle was about. It was a struggle between a bureaucratic reaction which lifted the Stalinist oligarchy to power and the proletarian Left Opposition led by Trotsky that fought to defend the Bolshevik party, the Soviets and the trade unions from strangulation by the bureaucracy. It was the re-enactment on a vast historical scale, of the same kind of struggle that has taken place in many unions, which started under fighting leadership, practiced wide internal democracy, conducted a policy of militant class struggle, reached out the hand of solidarity to workers in every industry – but subsequently, under different social conditions, with the receding of the class struggle, became bureaucratized and headed by what Daniel DeLeon described as the “labor lieutenants of capitalism in the ranks of the working class.”
“We must affirm that the party fought a serious fight against the Trotskyists, rightists and bourgeois nationalists and that it disarmed ideologically all the enemies of Leninism. The ideological fight was carried on successfully ... Here Stalin played a positive role.”
The facts refute Khrushchev as completely on this question as on the later frame-ups in the Moscow Trials.
Khrushchev says that Stalin was right in the fight against Trotskyism because without that fight Russia would have failed to industrialize or collectivize agriculture. One is almost compelled to stand in awe before the sweep and audacity of this lie.
Actually, it was the Trotskyist opposition that as early as 1923 proposed that the Soviet Union embark on a central industrial plan and that a struggle be opened to collectivize agriculture as a weapon against the growing kulak (capitalist) element in the countryside. This proposal was hooted down derisively by the Stalinist faction. Trotsky was called a fantastic super-industrialist, a dreamer and a charlatan. Stalin, the great expert on agriculture, said what the Russian peasant needed was not a plan but a good rain.
For his proposal to fight the growing power of the rich peasant kulak, Trotsky was accused of “underestimation of the peasantry.” In a bloc with the right wing of the party, led by Bukharin, the Stalin faction conducted reactionary propaganda among the kulak elements to incite them against Trotskyism. They didn’t even refrain from using anti-Semitism in this campaign.
Thus, while leaning on the social pressure of the capitalist elements, the bureaucracy throttled the opposition and expelled it from the party, drove the workers who supported the Left Opposition out of the factories and opened a reign of terror.
Within months after the expulsion of Trotsky, the position of the Left Opposition was confirmed to the hilt. The kulak threat, which the Stalinists claimed did not even exist threatened to engulf the Soviet regime. The Stalinist faction then made a 180-degree turn. They took over Trotsky’s program, and applied it. Industrialization? The first five-year plan was launched and it quickly confirmed the Left Opposition’s estimates of the possibilities of planned economy. However, the bureaucracy gave its own distorted version to these measures – relying not on the creative power of the masses but on bureaucratic decree.
These historical questions are of urgent importance to the revolutionary movement. Not a single question confronting the radical workers today can be understood without tracing the struggle waged by Trotskyism from 1923 down to the present day. And the struggle of Trotskyism was only a continuation of the line of struggle of Marx, Engels and Lenin as it was tested and enriched by the October revolution.
Take the question of peaceful coexistence and the peaceful road to socialism – these so-called new theories of the Twentieth Congress, revising Lenin’s conception of our epoch as “the epoch of imperialist war, proletarian revolution and colonial uprisings.” Khrushchev and Company have not announced new theories, as the Stalinist leader in the US, Eugene Dennis, would have us believe. Peaceful coexistence between capitalism and socialism is the basic theory of Stalinism. That question was fought out in the great dispute over the theory of “socialism in one country” versus the Leninist-Trotskyist conception of permanent revolution.
The peaceful road to socialism? A bloc with the liberal capitalist? A multi-class coalition government? That was the program of the reformist right wing of the Second International which was vigorously opposed by Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg and Liebknecht.
In the Russian workers’ movement these were the questions that demarcated Bolshevism and Menshevism since 1903.
It was the essence of Menshevism to seek to ally the working class with the liberal bourgeoisie. Such an alliance results in the defeat of the proletariat, with the liberals turning up in the camp of reaction.
The essence of Bolshevism, defended by Lenin and Trotsky from 1905 through 1917 and to the end of their lives, was to organize the working class independently, against the parties of capitalism.
The arguments of the CP leaders about why we must work in the Democratic party are the very arguments, the sophistries of the lesser evil, that Lenin waged a life-long struggle against. It is all the more important to go back to the basic teachings of Lenin on these principled questions because his name and authority are invoked by the Stalinist falsifiers – to support the very theories and arguments Lenin demolished.
The question of class collaboration versus class struggle – this is at bottom the question dividing Stalinism and Trotskyism in the United States, in the Soviet Union and throughout the world.
The Daily Worker editors berate themselves for having blindly and subserviently parroted all the lies of Stalin. Why don’t they ask themselves: How did it happen that a revolutionary party, which by its very nature must be headed by critical-minded independent leaders, tested in the class struggle, became headed by spineless bureaucrats who defended every crime, no matter how monstrous, that issued from the Kremlin?
The answer isn’t hard to find. The CP in the US, like all Communist Parties, was destroyed as an independent revolutionary party, following the expulsion of the Trotskyists in 1928. The Stalinist bureaucracy used its power and prestige to pervert the Comintern into its factional instrument. All communist leaders who opposed this were bureaucratically driven out of their respective parties. Those who were willing to become the creatures of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR lost their capacity to be revolutionists at home. They lost their class bearings. They became capable, as a matter of course, of any deed of treachery.
The position of the Soviet Union in relation to the capitalist world has, as we stated in the beginning, become considerably stronger since World War II. At the same time the power of the Stalinist regime has been undermined. For those who identified the destiny of the Soviet Union with Stalinism, this comes as a completely unexpected and bewildering phenomenon.
The Trotskyists, however, foresaw and were completely prepared for this development. They alone analyzed the basic contradiction in Soviet society as the contradiction between the new property forms of nationalized and planned economy established as a result of the October revolution and the domination of the workers’ state by a bureaucratic oligarchy.
This contradiction, Trotskyism taught, manifested itself in the struggle between the Soviet working class and the dictatorship of the bureaucratic caste. The fate of the struggle between the workers and the bureaucracy was tied to the fate of the world-wide struggle of classes. Stalinism, the politics of the bureaucracy, was born and prospered in an epoch of defeats of proletarian revolution – it was the refraction of capitalist pressure and reaction within the Soviet Union and the world workers’ movement. A major factor in promoting defeats, Stalinism became strengthened by them.
But despite the obstacle of Stalinism the anti-capitalist forces in the world and the Soviet Union have become enormously strengthened. The Soviet working class, now 50-million strong and augmented by the industrial working class of Eastern Europe, expresses this profound shift in the world relationship of forces by a revolutionary resurgence. The Twentieth Congress heard the echo of this revolutionary thunder in the halls of the bureaucracy. Everything they did there and everything they have done since is in the nature of panicky preparations for the onrushing revolutionary storm.
The world revolution and the world working class movement have entered a new stage marked by the appearance of the Soviet masses in the political arena. This stage can only culminate in the downfall of the Soviet bureaucratic caste, the victory of Russian bolshevism and the triumph of the world socialist revolution.
Last updated: 28.1.2006