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John G. Wright

Duranty Hints Stalin’s Move

The Communist Party Will Be ‘Demoted’ at the Forthcoming Conference

(January 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 5, 1 February 1941, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Mr. Walter Duranty has returned to his old occupation of scooping the Daily Worker. His very first dispatch, dated Moscow, January 21, contains very important, even sensational news. He is able to announce to the world what the tasks of the Eighteenth Party Conference really are: The Communist Party of the Soviet Union is no longer to hold its former position in the country. It is being re-organised along new and different lines.

Duranty’s cautious formulation reads:

“There is a new, more flexible and more practicable conception of the position and duties of the Communist Party ... in relation to the nation in general and the national effort in particular.” (N.Y. Times, January 22, 1941)

The call for the Eighteenth Party Conference issued by Stalin on December 20 did not breathe a single word about reorganizing the party along new, less rigid and more practical lines “in relation to the nation in general and national effort in particular.” This is the first inkling that such unprecedented and drastic measures were contemplated and even applied during the so-called pre-Conference period when only discussion is supposedly in order. Yet, more than three weeks before the Conference itself convenes, Duranty was permitted to refer to it as an accomplished fact, as a “conception” already realized in life. Apparently the only thing left for the Eighteenth Party Conference scheduled for February 15 is to vote – unanimously, of course.

When the December 20th call for the Conference was released, we ventured the following prognosis:

“The second point on the agenda, The Organizational Question, implies that there are shortcomings in the existing organizational set-up which obstruct the party’s work in transport and in industry – and therefore the party must be most certainly ‘renovated’ organizationally.”

And we concluded: “A major surgical operation is now in progress.” (Socialist Appeal, December 28, 1940). It is now possible to appraise Stalin’s major operation much more accurately. It goes beyond a large-scale purge, so serviceable in the past, but manifestly not adequate in the existing conditions. Directly involved is a blow at the party’s position in the country and its dominant role in economy (“the national effort”).

Duranty, Agent of Stalin’s GPU

One may anticipate at this point a possible objection that it is, after all, impermissible to attach so much importance to a single, and somewhat vague, sentence in a dispatch by Duranty. It is not at all, however, a casual passage but a central point to which Duranty elaborately and carefully leads up. The entire stress in this dispatch is placed by Duranty on the profound, well-nigh incredible changes which have transformed beyond recognition and have vastly improved (of course! of course!) – every sphere of Soviet life since 1940 – when, as Duranty acknowledges in passing, “conditions were admittedly difficult.” (“Admittedly”!!! Where admitted? When?)

“Russia has changed enormously in the last year,” announces Duranty, and with an assumed air of discovery and astonishment adds, “I never thought that twelve months could make such a difference of atmosphere, tone, and fact.” Then, after meticulously listing the reorganization of the army, navy, and air force, of industry, trade, transport, finance and education, he tops it all off with the reorganization of the party.

As for Duranty himself, his role was completely exposed several years ago during the infamous Moscow Trials. At that, time, although no longer the Moscow correspondent of the New York Times, he happened, as is well known, to be fortuitously present at each trial; and together with the Englishman, Pritt; the German, Feuchtwangler and all the other literary scavengers, Duranty crawled out of his skin to demonstrate that no assignment in the service of the GPU paymasters was too filthy for him. If Duranty is now in the Soviet Union, it is by order of his real employer in the Kremlin, and not of the New York Times, or the latter’s news syndicate, the North American Newspaper Alliance. Duranty’s job was and is to secure for the Kremlin favorable publicity in the American press, and to prepare public opinion for Soviet domestic developments. Whatever Duranty writes is passed by the censors because it is composed under GPU supervision and bears the GPU seal of approval.

But most important of all, supplementary data corroborating Duranty’s scoop is available. The party has been constantly and ever more harshly criticised in the press for its shortcomings and failures in the general “reorganization” of the country, that is, in the fulfillment of the June 26 anti-labor laws, the turning of Soviet factories into virtual prisons, the introduction of child labor, the abolition of free education, the extension of the June 26 laws to the technical staff, etc., etc.; the purge of the trade unions, of the Komsomols, of directors and engineers, of authors and dramatists, etc. etc. “The Soviet press,” Duranty casually remarks, “is far more prodigal of complaints and criticisms than might be guessed from the messages of foreign correspondents.” (He piously refrains from mentioning that with the departure of Gedye last summer the only foreign correspondents remaining in Moscow were the Nazis and the skeleton crews of the major news services; that only the dispatches of me T.A.S.S. – Stalin’s official news agency – could be transmitted to America and the T.A.S.S., as may easily be guessed, refrains from broadcasting any complaints or criticism.)

Moreover, on December 20 the news was released by Moscow that a vital section of Soviet industry, namely, the defense industry had been placed under the supervision of the Army. A week ago came a TASS dispatch to the effect that special local committees would henceforth supervise industries producing consumer’s goods. These local committees are “non-party”, i.e. handpicked and controlled directly by the GPU itself. Thus the economic life of the country is in effect no longer under the party’s supervision.

Why Should Stalin Weaken His Party?

At first glance such a development seems not only unexpected but inexplicable. Why should Stalin who has ruled all these years in the name of the completely bureaucratized party seek to undermine what appears to be one of the basic and most indispensable props of his rule? Doesn’t Stalin weaken himself by weakening the position of the party? The party embraces the most privileged sections of the bureaucracy. Isn’t this likewise a blow at them? Doesn’t this mean a split in the bureaucracy itself? And so forth and so on. The situation is indeed complex. A formal, schematic and therefore superficial approach cannot possibly provide a correct answer.

In 1934, comrade Trotsky wrote:

“The vast practical importance of a correct theoretical orientation is most strikingly manifested in. a period of acute social conflict, of rapid political shifts, of abrupt changes in the situation ... It is in just such periods that all sorts of transitional, intermediate situations arise, as a matter of necessity, which upset the customary patterns and doubly require a sustained theoretical attention.”

What we are now witnessing in the Soviet Union is precisely a transitional, intermediate combination of developments against the background of acute social conflict, rapid political shifts and abrupt changes in the situation. We define the Stalinist regime as Bonapartist, that is, a government, which raises itself above a social system – in this case, a degenerated workers’ state. This government, however, is not suspended in mid-air. At all times, a Bonapartist regime rests on a buttress, or axis which becomes more and more narrow as the contradictions between the political superstructure and the economic foundation grow more and more acute.

As the true axis of the regime constricts, power becomes personalized more and more openly; it becomes associated more and more with Stalin not as the unchallenged dictator of the party who rules behind the scenes but as the undisputed dictator of the State itself. The true axis of Stalin’s regime today passes through the police, the bureaucratic tops, the newly constituted military officers’ caste and the GPU.

The Party Is Now an Obstacle to Stalin

Even the formality of ruling through the party – (which never was a monolithic bureaucratic entity but remains very heterogeneous) – not only becomes cumbersome but actually turns into a grave obstacle to stability because of the very danger of a rift between its upper and the lower tiers, because of the very threat, especially in war-time conditions, that the Bonapartist rule may be challenged within the ranks of the party itself. But this does not mean that the party must be completely and immediately eliminated, far from it This means that the party must be relegated to such a position as to render it incapable of directly challenging Stalin’s power. Hence flows the constant need of applying preventive measures to guard precisely against such a contingency. Hitherto purges sufficed. Today a “reorganization” is required. This dangerous and by no means simple operation will not and cannot be effectively accomplished with a single stroke, but requires a series of well-calculated steps, well-timed, well-prepared – in point of assault as well as possible retreat – of which the first is the Eighteenth Party Conference.

Apparently only the lower ranks, the local party units are today being shorn of their dominant position, especially in relation to industry; the status of the tops will be left unimpaired for the time being. Should it prove, however, that both the tops and the lower ranks are affected by the “reorganization,” this will mean that the crisis of the regime has reached a stage far more acute than the one estimated above. It will mean that the bureaucracy is so ravaged by the crisis and so hopelessly divided that the only possible means of stabilisation lies in the open assumption of power by a single individual who rules as an absolute dictator by virtue of the control of the Army and the GPU alone.

We have, of course, assumed throughout that the party as a whole is so completely degenerated, so drained of all power of resistance as to render it incapable of waging a defensive battle in self-protection. The next few weeks will bring a verification.

January 25, 1940

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