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Tim Wohlforth

A History of Communism

(Fall 1962)

From International Socialist Review, Vol.23 No.4, Fall 1962, pp.124-125.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A Documentary History of Communism
edited by Robert V. Daniels
Vintage books, New York, 1962.
Volume I, 322 pp. Volume II, 394 pp.
Paperback edition. $1.65 per volume.

One by-product of the deterioration of influence of the United States throughout the world has been an increase in publication of Marxist works by commercial publishing houses. It seems there is a curiosity in what the opposition is thinking.

One of the more interesting projects of this kind is Robert Daniels’ compilation of original source material related to the broadly defined category of “Communism” over a fifty year period and including contributions from most countries of the world. Daniels is a professor at the Harvard University Russian Research Center.

Professor Daniels faced the choice, considering the space limitations imposed even within the framework of two reasonably plump paperbacks, to either reprint at length a few of the more well known classics of Marxist literature or to give a sampling of a greater variety of material even if this meant printing only brief passages from any one work. He chose the latter course with the inevitable result of giving the reader, time and time again, a tantalizing taste of something one would wish to feast on at great length. Daniels partially makes up for this serious limitation by his knowledgeable, and in general quite fair, choice of a very wide variety of material including a good deal of oppositional documents usually ignored by historians. If one were to criticize Daniels on his arbitrary selection of materials (any selection must be somewhat arbitrary), it would be to suggest that he has not been quite fair to Rosa Luxemburg. He included only two extracts from her writings, both of which are critical of Lenin. This tends to give a very slanted picture of her true role in this period as one of the staunchest defenders of revolutionary Marxism.

The reader can sample the actual writings of Lenin’s ultra-left opposition in 1909 led by Bogdanov, the Democratic Centralist and Workers Opposition groups of the 1920s and, of special importance, an interesting selection of material representative of the Trotskyist Left Opposition. Rather than relying on easily available material of Trotsky’s, Daniels has utilized the Trotsky Archives at Harvard and in particular the Russian Bulletin of the Opposition and therefore has included material previously unavailable in English. Thus we find such rarities as the Declaration of the Forty-Six which began the struggle of the Left Opposition in 1923, Preobrazhensky on industrialization from the 1926 period, and a series of very moving writings on bureaucracy by Christian Rakovsky. These latter writings are alone worth the price of the book.

Rakovsky’s writings in 1928 and 1929 will, perhaps, give one a feel of the best of the material to be found in these two volumes:

“Neither the working class nor the party is physically or morally what it was ten years ago. I think I do not exaggerate when I say that the party member of 1917 would hardly recognize himself in the person of the party member of 1928 ... Clinging to its unlimited apparatus absolutism, afraid of losing power, the party leadership has sacrificed the interests of the dictatorship of the proletariat, of the Soviet state, and of the world revolution, for the sake of preserving itself ... Centralism kills the real initiative of the masses ... Bureaucracy has castrated the class and revolutionary content of the trade unions ... The opposition in 1923-24 foresaw the vast harm to the proletarian dictatorship which stems from the perversion of the party regime. Events have fully justified its prognosis: the enemy crept in through the bureaucratic window.”

Another highly important document of interest to this day is the open letter of Ch’en Tu-hsiu, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party until 1927. To this day the Mao leadership seeks to blame the opportunistic line towards the Kuomintang of that period on Ch’en alone. Ch’en, in this document, sets the record straight:

“We must openly and objectively admit that the whole past and present opportunistic policy came and now comes from the Third International. The Comintern must bear the responsibility. The Chinese party, which had scarcely emerged from infancy, did not have the capacity to create a theory for itself and then establish a policy.”

It is these roots of opportunism that can be found in the Stalinist degeneration of the USSR that Mao to this day seeks to hide.

Also of considerable value is the material in Volume II of the collection which contains the writings of the various currents within the Stalinist camp in the postwar period. Such material, while brief, is helpful in an analysis of Stalinism and the internal stresses within it.

All in all these two volumes are a necessary addition to the library of serious Marxist students. To a person new to Marxist thought they offer a little taste of the richness of Marxist theory especially in the period before the degeneration of the Russian Revolution, as well as a feel of what the struggle against Stalinism was all about. Perhaps some day a bit more than fragments will be available of such great Marxists as Rakovsky and Preobrazhensky. I expect the brief extract in this volume will suffice for Bogdanov.

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