Wright Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

John G. Wright

Stalin’s 18th Party “Conference” Opens

(February 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 8, 22 February 1941, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

It was not Stalin who delivered the main report to the Eighteenth Party Conference which convened in the Kremlin on February 16th. The main reporter was a petty underling, one Georgi Malenkov, who is not even a prominent member of the Political Buro but merely one of the secretaries of the Central Committee. This procedure is without precedent in the history of political parties in general and of the Stalinist Party Conferences in particular.

Not that silence on Stalin’s part is in and of itself unprecedented. Far from it. In every critical situation on the world arena (China 1925–1927, Germany 1933, Spain 1931–37, etcetera) this “Father of the Peoples” – whose whole political wisdom lies in evading, temporizing and then betraying – has withdrawn to the sidelines to suck his pipe in silence. Indeed, it can be said without any fear of exaggeration that the gravity of any given crisis may be partly gauged by the duration of Stalin’s silences.

But this is the first time that the Kremlin Dictator has publicly abdicated his leading role in a Party Conference. “The attention of the whole party,” cynically writes Pravda, “and all the Soviet people centers on the Conference.” (Daily Worker, February 18). And yet a nonentity takes the floor on the main business before this all-important Conference, while the “General Secretary” sits mum on the Presidium! Why?

The crisis in the Soviet Union must be very grave indeed if Stalin chooses not to talk. Malenkov’s speech alone bears this out to the hilt.

Still more, the crisis is so grave that Stalin is no longer able to rule through the party, as the avowed dominant force in Soviet life. The party has been shoved aside. Any nonentity may now address it with the voice of authority. Again, this is corroborated by Malenkov’s speech and by – Stalin’s silence.

The crisis of the Soviet economy, the complete breakdown of the Third Stalinist Five-Year plan has now been officially acknowledged through the mouth of Malenkov.

In his speech he admitted that there was a “lag” in “several key industries”; that output had decreased “in such industries as building material and lumber”; that production costs have increased, and therefore the productivity of labor has fallen, in such industries as “oil, paper and timber.” (N.Y. Times, Feb. 17) There is a “backwardness,” declared Malenkov, in “coal, oil and textile industries in the Urals, the Don, Kharkoff, Gorki, Yaroslav, Stalingrad, and Dniepropetrovsk districts.” If the editors of the Daily Worker or the Dean of Canterbury were asked to call the roll of the most important industrial areas of the Union, they would have to repeat Malenkov’s list of backward areas.

“Reign Of Dirt”

In Soviet “enterprises, shops, depots, harbor and railroad works” there was, according to the same Malenkov, a “reign of dirt.” Many a scoundrel sometimes utters the truth, even if unintentionally. We accent this characterization of Stalin’s rule: The Reign of Dirt!

Pravda, in commenting on Malenkov’s speech wrote: “In eight industrial People’s Commissariats 33,000 machine tools stood idle. At 7,629 enterprises, 170,000 electric motors were not mounted. The cement industry last year worked only at 64 percent of its capacity.” (Daily Worker, February 18)

Malenkov denounced so many People’s Commissariats and Commissars as to make it obvious, in this case as in all others, that “many” really means all.

As if to prove this, he referred in his speech to the breakdown of the railways and of water transport. They have “failed to keep up to schedule in loadings of ores, petroleum, wheat, salt, wood and coal.” (N.Y. Times, February 17)

Famine in Siberia

Walter Duranty was permitted by the Moscow censors to cable news of serious food shortages, i.e. famine in Siberia, one of the great granaries of the Soviet Union, due to the breakdown of transport.

“The Russians,” wrote Duranty, “also need something else for their great Siberian ‘empire,’ food. It is all a matter of transportation.” (N.Y. Times, Feb. 13)

Even the Daily Worker, which was brazen enough to represent Malenkov’s report as a picture of glowing progress, had to admit that he “spoke mainly of shortcomings.” Small wonder, that Stalin preferred, apart from all other considerations, not to have these “shortcomings” entered into public record under his own name. The grave crisis in Soviet economy is blamed, as usual, on scapegoats. “A violent attack on top-heavy bureaucracy and buck-passing, blamed for slowing down Soviet industrial output was delivered before Joseph Stalin.” (N.Y. Times, Feb. 17)

The world thus learns that a vast purge of the party has been and is in progress. The party apparatus is “top-heavy.” Party functionaries are being purged as “bureaucrats,” “armchair administrators,” “buck-passers,” “chatterboxes,” etc. etc.

On February 15 the Daily Worker unwittingly announced that not less than one-fifth of the incumbent Central Committee would be lopped off at this Conference, “The All Union Conference,” reads the dispatch from Moscow, “has the special right of replacing individual members of the Central Committee ... though the number so replaced must not exceed one-fifth of the total number.” (Daily Worker, Feb. 16)

To replace the victims, Malenkov demanded “hard-headed” executives and called for “boldly promoting new capable workers with initiative.” In 1939 at the last Party Congress Stalin made a pledge to the Party that no more mass purges would take place. All the more reason for keeping quiet in 1941.

But in addition to being purged the party has been divested of authority not only in the Army, but in the sphere of economy.

Malenkov demanded, among other measures, “undivided and unchallenged authority for industrial managers and foremen.” And to make doubly certain that this authority is not infringed upon, he announced as “contemplated” the following organizational “reform”: In all “industrialized cities, districts and republics” the City and District Party Committees, that is the bureaucratic tops, will henceforth appoint special secretaries “to direct the party organizations of each industrial branch, and similarly ... in railway and water transport.” (Pravda, February 17)

In other words, Stalin’s G.P.U. will appoint special agents (”secretaries”) to enforce the new “law and order” to the letter.

If so much is admitted officially what must be the real situation in the Soviet Union?

Why has the Daily Worker carried no news at all of the pre-Conference “discussion”?

Why does the Daily Worker insist on lying about Malenkov’s report? Why does it claim that “every passing year sees an enormous increase in the gross industrial output”?

How could industrial output increase with “every passing year” under a top-heavy bureaucracy, under “armchair administrators,” “buck-passers” etc.?

No real defender of the Soviet Union would seek to cover up the crimes of Stalinism which are weakening the workers’ state literally with every passing hour. Every thinking worker must ask himself why the Stalinists in America are compelled to cover up G.P.U. lies and murders not only in Washington but in Moscow.

When the Daily Worker first printed the call for the Eighteenth Party Conference, it proudly announced that all Party organizations having more than 10,000 members would be represented by “one regular delegate per 10,000 Party members.” (Daily Worker, December 21, 1940)

The membership of the C.P.S.U. was officially given, in August 1940 as almost 2¼ million. Therefore, the number of “regular delegates” at this Conference could not be more than 225.

However Stalin made a “special” provision. The Central Committee (alias Stalin) “gave one additional regular mandate to 125 city committees ... to 30 Party organizations in railways and to 27 Party organizations in the ports, sea and river fleets.” (Daily Worker, December 21, 1940. Our emphasis)

The flimsy pretext under which Stalin violated – not for the first time! – his own statutes reads as follows: “In view of the fact that the main question before the Conference is the work of Party organizations in industry and transport therefore” it is permissible to appoint almost as many additional “regular mandates” as there might be “regular delegates.” If that is not packing Conference in accordance with he best “democratic” traditions, what is it?

Last updated: 4 October 2015