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John G. Wright

Stalin Calls “Party” Conference

Will, Like All Previous Ones, Be Preceded
by Mass Purge

(28 December 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 52, 28 December 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Stalin has summoned a Party Conference to convene on February 15, 1941 according to an Associated Press dispatch dated Moscow, December 20. The curtly worded dispatch states that the agenda of this, the Eighteenth Party Conference, will be limited to two points:

  1. Discussion of the Party’s “work in transport and industry”;
  2. “Organizational questions.”

The mere calling of a Party Conference would in and of itself constitute news of primary importance, and denote a major move on Stalin’s part. It is the first Party Conference called in nine years. The preceding Conference – the Seventeenth – took place in January 1932. Coming as it does on the heels of recent Soviet developments, the significance of this call cannot be exaggerated.

If under Lenin the Party Conferences were milestones in the revolutionary history of the Bolshevik movement, then under Stalin every single one of the five Conferences already held was filled with a counter-revolutionary content.

In Lenin’s lifetime twelve Party Conferences were convened – the Twelfth and last in August, 1922 when he was gravely ill. The most famous of them is the April Conference at which Lenin presented his April Theses. Since Lenin died, five Conferences were called and held prior to the one scheduled for February 1941. Each of them marked a new stage in the degeneration of the Russian Communist Party; each one of them served Stalin to consolidate power more and more firmly in his hands.

In the first four years after Lenin’s death – 1924–1927 – three Party Conferences took place – the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth, all three under the banner of the struggle against Trotskyism. The fifteenth Party Conference directly paved the way for the expulsion of the Left Opposition (Trotskyists) in 1927, and the exile of Trotsky to Alma-Ata. Two years elapsed before the Sixteenth Party Conference was staged – this time to organize the crushing of the right wing led by Bukharin and Rykov (with whom Stalin had been allied); and also to prepare for a shift in Soviet economic policy. The Sixteenth Conference convened in April 1929, the year which really marks the inception of the First Five Year Plan.

There was a three year interval before the Seventeenth Party Conference convened in January 1932, in the very midst of a grave economic crisis in the country, and an equally grave international situation – it was the critical year of Hitler’s rise to power. The task of this Conference was to organize the crushing of opposition at home, and launch a drive against Trotskyism on an international scale. In February of the same year. Trotsky was officially deprived of Soviet citizenship. “A logical consummation of the Seventeenth Party Conference” (Trotsky).

Although in the interim two party Congresses have been held, Stalin has refrained from using the edged weapon of “Conferences.” That he has exhumed it from his arsenal, coupled with the content of the agenda for the coming Conference, is ominously tell-tale.

Since the passage of the June 26 laws lengthening the work week and prohibiting the workers from leaving their places of employment. the party organizations have been under constant fire for their failure to enforce this or that ukase in the interminable series of ukases issued by the Kremlin in the last seven months. A silent purge of the party ranks has been going on for some time now, but has obviously proved inadequate. Hence a “discussion” is on the agenda of the Conference on the question of the party’s role in the economic life of the country. The second point on the agenda, The Organization Question, implies that there are shortcomings in the existing organizational set-up which obstruct the party’s “work in transport and industry” – and therefore the party must be most certainly “renovated’’ organizationally.

Never has a Conference been held under Stalin not preceded by savage repressions and a large-scale purge. Stalin will not break this precedent in the eight weeks assigned for the “preparation” of the 1941 Conference. A major surgical operation is now in progress.

Vital Section of Industry Militarized

The Conference call was issued on the same day that Marshall Timoshenko, head of the Red Army and Voroshilov’s successor, promulgated a sensational decree: The Red Army itself will run factories “which will produce articles needed by the soldiers and in this way ease the burden on industry as a whole. The soldiers themselves will manufacture the articles:” (Jewish Day, December 20, 1940)

If this report is true – and there is no ground for impugning its veracity, although the news was apparently ignored by the big metropolitan dailies – it implies far more than an extension of the compulsory labor legislation to the soldiers in the Red Army.

Timoshenko’s decree – by order of the Kremlin – militarises a vital section of Soviet industry – the defense industry which has operated for years under a special Commissariat, and which produces all the “articles needed by soldiers” from boots to bombers. Whatever factories are taken over by the Army, these will then operate under military discipline, which in its turn has been recast under Timoshenko to conform with the discipline in bourgeois armies, Fascist or “democratic.”

There are millions of skilled and unskilled workers in the Army or in the reserve. In fact, practically every adult and able-bodied man in the Soviet Union is subject to military conscription. Furthermore, youngsters of 17 and even 16 are likewise liable to draft. In general, “running factories with soldiers” presents on paper no great difficulties. Millions can be conscripted on short order, subjected to a short but intensive acquaintance with the “new” army discipline, and then assigned to factories to produce “articles needed by soldiers” under military rules and regulations.

Even if the Army does, not immediately take over so much as a single factory, even one that is being constructed, the decree would still mean that Stalin has taken the first and all-important step toward militarizing Soviet industry. The decisive point is that a juridical basis for such militarization has already been established: There is no line of demarcation between the war industries and “peace” industries, especially in the event of hostilities. Whether Stalin will succeed or not – that is another question.

The Conference call, plus the Timoshenko – December decree, plus all of the preceding ukases point incontrovertibly in one direction: The economic crisis in the Soviet Union instead of being mitigated has on the contrary been aggravated – and carries with it a direct threat of passing into a social and political crisis of Stalin’s regime, and of the Soviet Union.

December 20, 1940

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