From International Socialist Review, Vol.22 No.2, Spring 1961, pp.44-47, 54.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
THE Moscow-Peking dispute over “peaceful coexistence” is a fresh indication that the Kremlin’s monolithic control exercised in Stalin’s heyday over the Communist parties throughout the world is disintegrating. Nothing but good can come from this for the cause of revolutionary socialism, as Moscow’s control has been wielded essentially for the preservation of the status quo. That is the real meaning of the Stalinist conception of “peaceful coexistence,” which Khrushchev seeks to perpetuate and which the Chinese CP leaders – though they don’t depart from the basic Stalinist policy – challenge in its current application.
Stalin imposed his reactionary foreign policy on the Communist parties thirty-five years ago as an extension of the bureaucratic totalitarian rule he had imposed on the Soviet Union.
Once Stalinism secured its grip on the Soviet workers state, destroyed the democracy of the Bolshevik party, the Soviets and the trade unions, it was only a matter of time before his police regime extended over the Communist parties everywhere else. The Communist International was scuttled as a revolutionary force. Supinely subservient to Stalin’s bureaucratic machine, the Communist parties substituted class-collaboration for class struggle and reformism for revolution.
The international working class has paid heavily for the domination of the Stalinist monolith over major sections of the working-class movement. Many revolutionary opportunities were lost, and many actual revolutionary struggles were betrayed. Fascism came to power as a result of the Stalinist course, and the second world war was rendered inevitable. The fascist onslaught in that war nearly destroyed the Soviet Union.
The Stalinist policies of class collaboration achieved their crassest expression during World War II. The Communist parties desisted from all class-struggle activities in those “democratic” imperialist countries allied with the Soviet Union and from national-independence activities in the colonial possessions of the “democratic” imperialists. On the other hand, Stalin’s chauvinist propaganda – so alien to the spirit of Leninist internationalism – lumped the German people together with their Nazi overlords. This repelled the German workers and helped prevent them from making common cause with the Soviet Union.
The opportunist policy of the Kremlin was based on the “Grand Alliance” of Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill. Stalin undertook to help stabilize the capitalist system throughout the world under this arrangement. All Communist parties were strictly to refrain from any threats to the capitalist order. In return, the victorious imperialist powers were not to threaten the Soviet system in Russia nor to interfere with Moscow’s political control of Eastern Europe. In this way, the world was to be divided among the Big Three on a status quo basis. This was the essential content of the agreements concluded at the Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam international conferences between 1943 and 1945.
To the best of his ability Stalin kept his promises. Several examples will bear this out. Thus, in Greece, a revolutionary struggle against the Nazi occupation was in progress during 1943 and 1944. It was conducted by the ELAS, primarily a workers and peasants partisan movement, led by the Communist party. ELAS victories over the Nazis, raised the perspective of a workers and farmers government in Greece. But British imperialism didn’t cherish the prospect of winning the war against the Germans, only to lose Greece (a virtual British colony prior to the war) to the workers. The revolutionary Greek workers looked to the Soviet Union for guidance. They identified Stalin’s regime with the Russian Revolution and hoped, by extending this revolution to their own country, to open new, liberating vistas. But in accordance with Stalin’s pledges to his imperialist partners, the Greek Communist party leaders were instructed to allow the British to re-occupy Athens and to place their puppet once more on the Greek throne. Stalin’s service to British imperialism won him a compliment from Churchill. “Stalin always carries out his agreements,” Churchill said.
The French partisans also had state power within their grasp as they fought the Nazi occupation. Many capitalists who had collaborated with the Germans (it was among the capitalists that the Nazi occupiers found their principal support) fled the country in fear of retribution at the hands of the workers. Others went into hiding until the arrival of the US troops. It was common for the newspapers in those days to describe France as a “power vacuum” and to express fears as to how the “vacuum” would be filled. But Stalin kept his promise that communism would not take over. After the Nazis evacuated Paris, the French CP told the workers, who had been the main force in the partisan movement, to give up their arms. The CP leaders joined in bolstering a new government headed by De Gaulle.
One more example should be cited – that of the policy pursued by the Communist party of this country during World War II. The right-wing labor officials, as might be expected, lined up behind the American capitalist class during the war. They imposed a “no strike” policy on the unions. And the Communist party collaborated to the hilt with the right-wing bureaucrats. They even outdid the latter in trying to enforce the no-strike pledge. In addition the CP leaders told the Negro people that now was not the time to fight for civil rights – “Don’t you know there is a war on?” they truculently asked. They also endorsed the government’s attacks on civil liberties.
But the capitalists showed Stalin no gratitude in the postwar period. They launched the cold-war against the Soviet Union and began a merciless witch-hunt against the Communist party in the US The right-wing labor bureaucrats – the Stalinists’ erstwhile partners in curbing the unions ranks – of course promptly enlisted in the cold war and in the witch hunt.
The foregoing examples disclose what the Kremlin’s “peaceful coexistence” policy looks like in practice. But Stalin’s hopes for an indefinite preservation of the status quo – one which would allow the privilege-seeking Soviet bureaucracy to rule unhampered at home – was rudely shattered by the course of history. Not only did American imperialism break the status-quo arrangements by launching the cold war, but in a number of key areas of the globe the revolution broke through despite Kremlin policy and made impossible any lasting world stabilization by agreement between the Kremlin and imperialism.
Stalin lived up to his Teheran-Yalta-Potsdam commitments as long as he could. He even attempted for a time to maintain his deal with the imperialists in Eastern Europe. Capitalism was to be preserved there through a coalition of the Communist parties with the bourgeois parties, although these countries were recognized to be clearly within a Soviet zone of influence. To preserve capitalism meant that the working-class movement had to be curbed. And the Red Army commanders actually threatened the workers with reprisals should they undertake to change the property relations. But the East European capitalists had no stomach for the Red Army occupation even on those terms. They fled to the West with whatever wealth they could salvage hoping to come back one day in the wake of imperialist armies. The West, through the Marshall Plan, attempted to retrieve the concessions they had given Stalin, thus breaking their end of the “peaceful coexistence” bargain. It was only then that the Kremlin responded by abolishing capitalism in Eastern Europe and by establishing planned economies.
This social transformation was carried out by military and bureaucratic methods, preventing the working class from accomplishing the change in its own name and with its own revolutionary objectives. The development of the Eastern European countries was further distorted when the plans were so drawn up and executed as to serve principally the needs of economic reconstruction in the Soviet Union. In plain words, the Kremlin fleeced Eastern Europe. Nevertheless the economic aid which the industrialized sections of East Europe are now able to provide for the struggling underdeveloped countries was made possible by the new property relations.
Moreover, the new mode of production – despite the Stalinist tyranny that had been imposed alongside of it – won firm adherence from the East European working class. The new social relations gave rise to the demand for socialist democracy, and this demand led, in 1956, to revolutionary upheavals against bureaucratic despotism in Poland and Hungary. In the creation of workers councils in these two countries during the revolutionary events, informed observers saw the revival of the institutions of workers’ democracy – the Soviets – which in October 1917 replaced the institutions of capitalist rule in Russia. Thus by transcending his policy of “peaceful coexistence” in Eastern Europe, Stalin unwittingly laid the basis for new revolutions which though aimed immediately against his brand of dictatorship, promised to carry the anti-capitalist struggle onto higher and firmer ground.
But even before the explosions in Hungary and Poland, the Yugoslav Communist Party had brought the conflict between the Kremlin and revolution to general public attention. The Yugoslav CP had led the working class and peasantry in their struggle against the Nazi occupation. The Yugoslav king was in exile in London, waiting for the British to return him to his throne. To accomplish this, the British armed and financed a highly publicized “partisan” force under the reactionary General Michaelovitch. This outfit spent most of its energy fighting not the Germans but the Proletarian Brigades organized by Tito and his associates. Stalin, in accordance with his agreements with the British, ordered the Yugoslav Communists to disband the Proletarian Brigades into an amorphous partisan movement and to establish harmonious relations with Michaelovitch, the British agent. He also ordered the Yugoslavs to confine their objectives to defeating the Nazis militarily.
The Yugoslav Communist party had been under Moscow control up to that time, but under the given circumstances the leaders found it impossible to carry out Stalin’s orders. The struggle against the Nazis could not be waged without rousing the proletarian and peasant mass against all their exploiters – the native capitalists and landlords (most of whom collaborated with the Nazis) as well as the fascist occupiers.
The Titoists subsequently learned that Stalin’s sabotage of their struggle consisted not only in trying to foist a ruinous policy on them – which fortunately they disregarded. Stalin also refused to send them arms and medicines and actually sent this vitally needed material aid to Michaelovitch. And while the Tito-led partisans fought the Nazis at the front, Michaelovitch shot at them from the rear – with Russian as well as British-made bullets.
To win their national-liberationist struggle the Yugoslavs had to carry through a socialist revolution. By 1948, the Yugoslav CP had established a workers state and launched a planned economy. Unlike other CPs in Eastern Europe, it did not owe power to Soviet military occupation. Stalin feared the potential independence that possesion of a popular base in the country gave Tito and his associates and began maneuvering to get rid of them so as to absorb Yugoslavia on the same terms as the other East European countries. When the Yugoslav leaders resisted, this led to near military collision between the two countries, and the Titoites were once more compelled to mobilize the working masses in defiance of the Kremlin.
Tito’s later deals with imperialism in no way diminishes the principled significance of the earlier struggles. The Kremlin had clashed with the Yugoslavs when the latter were moving left. The Yugoslavs had successfully defied the Kremlin and thus established the first great schism in in the Stalinist monolith.
The next big open break appeared in June 1953, a few months after Stalin’s death. Two million East German workers organized a general strike for economic improvements and democratic rights. The presence of 300,000 Kremlin troops did not deter them. The German Communist party was temporarily shattered by this uprising. Sections of the bureaucracy turned toward the strike movement; other sections stood aside waiting for its force to spend itself so that they could inflict punitive action on the workers. The Stalinist military and police terror had temporarily lost its effect.
The East German workers did not win that round of the struggle, but the repercussions of their revolt spread throughout the world. All of Eastern Europe was shaken. And in the Soviet Arctic Circle, the political prisoners in the Vorkuta concentration camps waged a political strike upon hearing the news from East Germany.
New and insistent demands were made on Stalin’s heirs by the Soviet workers and students. The pressure of fifty million Soviet workers on the ruling bureaucracy was unmistakably evident at the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist party in February, 1956. It forced Khrushchev to make his “secret-session” speech denouncing Stalin. Khrushchev sought to shift the blame for bureaucratic tyranny from the shoulders of the parasitic caste of privilege-seekers, in whose interests Stalin had ruled, to those of the individual dead leader. He wanted to prevent the Russian workers from organizing against the bureaucracy and to raise their hopes that conditions would steadily improve now that Stalin was out of the way. The result of Khrushchev’s admissions about Stalin’s true role was to create new cracks in the world Stalinist monolith and to deepen the fissures already opened by the extension of the revolution.
It was in the wake of the Twentieth Congress that the Polish and Hungarian uprising broke out. In both countries sections of the Communist parties supplied much of the leadership to the insurgent workers and students. As monolithic structures, these parties disintegrated in the red-hot fires of revolt – with their worker and intellectual adherents lining up against the bureaucrats. In Hungary, the Soviet bureaucracy was able to defeat the workers and youth only through the naked armed force of the Russian troops. In Poland, Khrushchev allowed Gomulka, one of Stalin’s purge victims, to take the helm of the country but prescribed strict limits within which reforms might be carried out. The threat of Russian military intervention kept the Polish revolutionaries from pressing their demands for a regime of workers councils. Since October 1956, when Gomulka came to power, his government has taken back many of the freedoms and economic concessions won in the revolutionary days. However, the Gomulka regime still retains a measure of independence from the Kremlin, testifying to the continuing tendency of world Stalinism to produce cleavages within itself.
There was hardly a single Communist party anywhere in the world that was not shaken to its roots by Khrushchev’s revelations at the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist party and by the Hungarian and Polish upheavals. American, Italian and Chinese party leaders openly criticized the Soviet leadership for not going far enough in attacking the Stalin cult or for its handling of the Hungarian uprising. In the Soviet CP itself, the Twentieth Congress and its aftermath touched off two major power struggles within the bureaucracy from which Khrushchev emerged victorious both times.
By the end of 1957, the unity of world Stalinism as well as the unity within the separate Communist parties had been more or less restored. But many genuinely revolutionary forces who had heretofore been held captive in the Stalinist movement were liberated from it as a result of the crisis that shook the monolith in 1956. In this way new gains for the revolution were made possible. For example, in Japan last year, the leadership of the magnificent demonstrations against US imperialism was in the hands of left-wing formations which had broken off from the CP sometime after the Hungarian events. (One of these groups had fused with the Trotskyists.) Significantly, too, the schisms in international Stalinism had weakened the influence of the Japanese CP and thereby lessened the effect of the party leaders’ attempts to place a brake on the demonstrations. Thus as a direct result of its international crisis, Stalinism was being outflanked on the left.
An even more outstanding example of this outflanking is the victory of the socialist revolution in Cuba, which by-passed the Communist party entirely. Unhampered by Stalinist ideology, the cadres led by Fidel Castro learned from experience that their revolution could not be confined within a bourgeois-democratic framework, that the realization of their objectives required the creation of a workers state and a planned economy. The Cuban revolution in turn widened the already existing fissures in the Stalinist movement, permitting fresh, revitalized forces to regroup and push toward new revolutionary victories.
Meanwhile, the unity of the world Stalinist movement, recemented in 1957, has again been disrupted by the current Moscow-Peking dispute over summitry. This dispute began in the summer of 1958, but manifested itself as a difference of doctrinal pronouncements in September 1959. The Chinese CP leaders insisted then that any peace-like moves of the US government were in reality designed to screen imperialist war preparations. The Soviet CP leaders, on the other hand, praised President Eisenhower for joining with Khrushchev in establishing the so-called “Geneva spirit” and declared that his intentions were of the best. After the U-2 incident last year disrupted the “Geneva spirit” the Soviet CP leaders have aimed at restoring it at a new summit conference with Kennedy. The Chinese leaders, on the other hand, have denounced the Democratic administration in the same terms as its predecessor. Moscow has emphasized the need to revise Lenin’s teachings that imperialism breeds war, whereas Peking has reaffirmed them. Moscow also proclaims the possibility of peaceful evolution to socialism in “democratic” capitalist countries, whereas Peking upholds the classic Marxist-Leninist standpoint that the capitalist class will seek to block, by violent means if necessary, the change to socialism anywhere in the world.
Although the Soviet CP leadership and the Chinese CP leadership forego naming one another in their denunciations of “dogmatism” and “revisionism,” and although they have joined in common resolutions, their dispute is known to be bitter and deep-seated. And if Moscow now elevates “peaceful coexistence” to the status of a new Marxist “scientific” principle and Peking publicly subscribes to this doctrinal pronouncement, the struggle between them will nevertheless continue, muffled but irrepressible. Its roots are too deep to be covered by new terminology. Indeed, though waged between two groups of Stalinist-type bureaucrats, what underlies the conflict is once more the clash between revolution and the reactionary nature of Stalinism. For the Maoists, in leading China’s revolutionary upheaval – second in importance only to the Russian Revolution of 1917 – had their own set of “experiences” with the Kremlin.
Stalin had a consistent policy of opposition to the socialist revolution in China dating back to 1925. Moscow at that time forced the Chinese Communist party leadership to support Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang, a policy which resulted in a counterrevolutionary bloodbath of workers and peasants, as Chiang established his brutal dictatorship.
Again, at Potsdam, Stalin agreed that China should be a neutral country under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek. In 1945, the Soviet government recognized Chiang’s regime as the lawful government of China although he had already opened civil war against the Chinese Communist party. As the civil war unfolded, the revolutionary workers and peasants of China rose to free themselves from ancient feudal enslavement as well as from the exploitation of foreign and domestic capitalists. Chiang, acting for the imperialists and the landlords, sought to crush the revolution by means of a liberal supply of US arms. All to no avail. The revolution proved to be more powerful than American imperialism, than the Kuomintang – and than the policies of Stalin.
The Chinese CP leaders, though they sought at first to abide by Stalin’s deals, had to violate them or face defeat in the civil war. After their conquest of state power in 1949, Mao and his associates still tried to keep the revolution within bourgeois-democratic channels, in accordance with the established Stalinist policies for underdeveloped countries. But in 1950, American imperialism counterattacked. It intervened in the Korean civil war, hoping to use Korea as a base against China. US troops massacred millions of Koreans and Chinese in the effort to halt the tide of revolution in Asia. This, however, accelerated the revolution in China forcing the Chinese CP to expropriate all foreign capitalist holdings and to turn in the direction of a planned economy.
Although the hot war in Asia came to an end. the Chinese CP leaders have remained locked in struggle with American imperialism to this day. Washington refuses to extend diplomatic recognition to Peking and uses the Chinese territory of Taiwan – ninety miles from the mainland – as a staging area for further attacks on the Chinese revolution. The Kremlin, in the last few years, has evidently sought to conclude “peaceful coexistence” deals with American imperialism without giving the Chinese the slightest guarantee that such agreements would provide for the end of US non-recognition of China. Nor does the Kremlin seem to have been seriously pressing for the evacuation of American forces from Taiwan and the Taiwan Straits. The Chinese CP leaders, as a result, don’t trust Khrushchev to protect China’s interests in his negotiations with imperialism and have put his policy of seeking summit conferences with imperialism in question.
In this way, the problems of the defense of the Chinese revolution, whose victory Stalin’s policies never provided for in the first place, have created a new fissure in the Stalinist monolith. Every Communist party in the world is bound in time to be affected by the Moscow-Peking division.
For nearly four decades, the working class struggle for socialism has been perverted by Stalinism. It seemed to many people that the Soviet bureaucracy, through its manipulation of the Communist parties, possessed an unassailable monolithic structure capable of indefinitely maintaining its control over the revolutionary sections of the proletariat. The post-war period has seen the overturn of capitalism in Yugoslavia, Eastern Europe, China and, most recently, Cuba. As a result, the Stalinist monolith has been fractured in many places – although it is certainly not yet shattered. The fate of the world revolution is tied to the further disintegration of Stalinism and its eventual pulverization.
Ever since 1924, the Trotskyists, equipped only with the ideological weapons of Marx and Lenin have fought against the Stalinist bureaucracy. Today the power of revolution is delivering hammer blows against it. This will help immeasurably in assembling forces within a genuine world revolutionary socialist party whose ascendancy in the working-class movement is essential to the victory of world socialism.
Last updated: 29.1.2006