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John G. Wright

The Dean of Canterbury’s Soviet Power

(February 1941)

From Fourth International, Vol. II No. 2, February 1941, pp. 56–59.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Soviet Power
by Hewlett Johnson, Dean of Canterbury
Modern Age Books, New York, XVII, 352 pp., 35 cents
(Special Edition for Soviet Russia Today)

The Very Reverend Hewlett Johnson, Dean of Canterbury, author of The Soviet Power, introduces himself to the reader as a “Friend of the Soviet Union,” a “progressive,” a champion of “essential truth,” “morality” and “science.” He worships the “scientific mind”; enjoys only the company of men to whom “truth (is) sacred and whose assertions are capable of concrete verification.”

These credentials together with an autobiography are presented in order to establish that he evolved, so to speak, organically towards admiration and concern for a “a great experiment in the new order of society.”

It goes without saying that to speak out, especially today, in favor of the Soviet Union is far more praiseworthy than to support Hitler, Churchill or Roosevelt. But the whole point is that this Dean is a supporter and friend of the Kremlin and the GPU and not of the October revolution. He supports Stalin and Churchill and Roosevelt. He belongs to the gifted and prolific tribe of European theologians who are past-masters at reconciling, in the interests of reaction, anything in the universe: they reconcile religion and science, communism and Fascism, Christ and Stalin, English hypocrisy with an appearance of rectitude, sincerity, humanism, and so on.

His sympathy for the Soviet Union, declares Mr. Johnson, flows solely from the highest considerations of morality. He scorns capitalism on moral grounds: “Our system lacks a moral basis.” Conversely, he is full of sympathy toward the Soviet Union: “It is the moral impulse of the new order ... which constitutes the greatest attraction and presents the widest appeal.” No doubt it is purely on moral grounds that he wants an alliance between Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt. Let us follow this latter-day Tartuffe from Canterbury through all of his grimaces and posturings.

Not that he is uncritical of the conditions in the Soviet Union. God forbid! “There is need,” he admonishes, “to guard against a too rosy and optimistic view of life in the Soviet Union.” “I have seen and heard things,” he confesses, “which have shocked and disturbed me.” If he eschews criticism, it is solely because involved are “a hundred minor points” and “chiefly because other writers have already (and with over-emphasis) done the task for me.” The Dean has been thus spared a great deal of bother, if not embarrassment.

Furthermore, “Russia has inherited,” he explains, “an evil tradition not to be eradicated in a day.” If he himself has witnessed and heard shocking and disturbing things – no matter, he can keep mum. Others have “over-emphasized” – and besides, as he says, “I have heard and learned and seen many more (things) which enthuse and encourage me.” As the Russian peasants say: If you don’t touch it, it won’t stink.

Hear Not, See Not, Tell Not

Is there a bureaucracy in the Soviet Union? Mr. Johnson, in the name of Jesus, vows that not even a vestige of a privileged caste exists there. “There is no closed hierarchy in the Soviet Union.”

What about the GPU? Didn’t he hear about the Moscow Frame-up Trials?

The Dean cannot very well play the innocent here. And so, through one of those remarkable pronouncements, which distinguish the editorials in Pravda, he disposes of the business wholesale:

“The extensive spy system of earlier days (which is still unfortunately to a certain extent proceeding), the secret police, secret courts, and political executions were not inherent in Sovietdom: they were a hangover from the days of Tsardom.”

In other words Tsardom, say, from Ivan the Terrible to Nicholas the Bloody, is really to blame for Stalin’s crimes. Lest some fail to understand such an explanation he offers another:

“Russia is young. Literally and physically the Russia that matters today is young ... The Russian masses may be... at times even thoroughly cruel like the young.”

Elsewhere in the book, while discussing the natural resources of the Union, he quotes Professor Tyrrell, who refers to the Moscow Frame-up Trials and the purges as “the present lamentable phase of internal dissension.” “Those of us,” sighs the Dean, “who believe in absolute values will never be satisfied until the violation of these values ceases.” The priest, confronted with the crimes of the rulers, piously sighs for a better world – and saves himself from the painful and risky duty of indicting the criminals.

The author toured Russia, visiting “five Soviet Republics and several great Soviet towns.” He wandered on foot all by himself “many long hours on many occasions and entirely alone.” His wanderings took him “into all parts of the various towns and villages and at all hours of day and night.” He thus speaks with the authority of an eye witness. To be sure, he hardly dwells on his actual observations and experiences, especially in the dead of night. But by way of compensation, he scatters statistics and charts in all directions.

Least fraudulent is that section of his book which deals with the economic successes of the Soviet Union – which the Dean, incidentally, invites the reader to skip! The Dean’s data are false data, supplied to all tourists and “Friends” by Moscow. Nonetheless reflected in these falsified statistics are the colossal achievements of the Soviet masses, made possible only by the conquests of October. These successes are undeniable. Equally undeniable is the fact that they were attained against and despite the fatal regime of Stalinism, which has usurped the credit for them just as it has usurped the banner of the October revolution.

To the Dean, however, the Kremlin bureaucracy and the Soviet Union are one and the same thing. He writes precisely in glorification of Stalin’s regime, underwriting all of its lies.

A Pious Lie Against Trotskyism

No book on Russia is acceptable to the Kremlin unless it contains a slander against Trotsky and Trotskyism. The Dean obliges by reviving an old falsehood, that Trotsky, the real sponsor of planning and industrialization, obstructed “the scheme tooth and nail.”

As a matter of recorded fact, it was Stalin who opposed the plan and sneered, prior to 1929, at such projects as the building of the Dnieprostroi electric plant, claiming that it would be as superfluous as a gramophone to a moujik. It was Stalin who launched a campaign denouncing the Trotskyists as “super-industrialists”; and when forced to adopt the Trotskyist program of planning, he not only distorted the plan itself but, as is his custom, laid his own previous crimes at the door of his opponents. These statements are easily capable of the “concrete verification” which the Dean presumably demands. They are recorded in the party documents and minutes of that period.

No book is acceptable to the Kremlin unless it lies about the position of women. What has remained of the conquests of October so far as women are concerned? To believe Mr. Johnson the position of women in the Soviet Union is as enviable today as it was under Lenin. They are accepted into heavy industry. They have the greatest freedom. “A woman is free to have as many children as she likes.” As “many” but not as few as she likes. In other words, the same “freedom” as is afforded her by the Catholic Church. (“Abortion was permitted as a temporary measure ... and it was abolished ...in 1936 after a prolonged public discussion.” The protestant Dean refrains from mentioning the fact that so far as the public was concerned, it universally opposed the anti-abortion and anti-Birth Control Ukase of the Kremlin.) The lot of womanhood cannot be considered apart from those conditions in which workers and children find themselves. That is why we center our review precisely around these aspects of Soviet life under Stalin.

No book is acceptable to the Kremlin unless it lies about the workers – about their standard of living, their wages, their working conditions, etc.

As concerns the workers, the Dean literally bristles with statistics. He never tires of demonstrating – on paper – how prices fall, wages rise, social amenities increase, and the standard of living advances along with the increased consumption of goods. On page 177 there is a chart illustrating how prices have dropped and wages have risen steadily and consistently from 1934 to 1937. If the Dean refrains from adducing a few charts and figures since 1937 and especially since 1939, it is because commodity prices have sky-rocketed in that period 50 to 100 percent and more, while the wages were slashed time and again.

However, lies have a logic of their own. The more Stalin, and his apologists, are compelled to lie, all the more graphically is truth revealed.

The Land of Milk and Honey

The Dean doubtless believes – as does the Daily Worker – that he is doing Stalin a service by painting up the regime, especially in such chapters as The New Horizons, and The Open Gateway. In another chapter, The Democracy of the Workshop, he glorifies the conditions in Soviet factories; sings paeans to the seven-hour day and the leisure and opportunities afforded to the workers. Under Stalin, announces the Dean, the worker “enjoys a new freedom in the workshop.” “The democracy of the workshop is the bulwark of Soviet liberty, its nature and value have been largely overlooked.” This was true under Lenin but this bulwark of workers’ democracy was long ago destroyed by Stalin.

The seven-hour day, five-day week was introduced by the bureaucracy as a political measure in 1927, the year when the struggle against the Left Opposition – Trotskyists – reached its climax. To the mass of the Soviet workers it remained a seven-hour day in name only.

On June 26, 1940, Stalin abolished that 35-hour week and instituted the 48-hour week, i.e., replaced one legal fiction by another. Soviet workers actually work much longer hours. The June 26 ukase not only lengthens the “legal” hours of the working day, and cuts wages, but also makes it a criminal offense for anyone to quit his job. The penalty for “self-willed departure” is the GPU dungeon. Skipping a day’s work or tardiness, is punishable by penal-labor terms of two. to four months, plus a fine up to 25% of the wages.

Here is the law:

“Article 5. Workers and employees who. arbitrarily leave state, cooperative and public enterprises and/or institutions are remitted to court and by sentence of People’s Judges incarcerated in prisons for a term of two to-four months. For stopping or skipping work without serious reason workers and employees of state, cooperative and public enterprises andjor institutions are remitted to court and sentenced by People’s Judges to terms up to six months of penal labor at place of employment, and up to 25 percent of their wages (are) withheld.” – Text of the June 26, 1940, Ukase

If for any reason a worker turns out defective foods, he goes to jail (Ukase of July 10, 1940).

For taking away so much as a nail, a worker is guilty of theft and goes to jail. “Petty theft, regardless of the amount, committed in institutions and enterprises, is punishable by a term of one year in jail.” – Ukase of August 10, 1940,

Any accident in a factory can come under the head of “hooliganism” and carries with it a jail sentence.

“A worker Gavrilov, while dismantling a kiln in the Negin factory in Leningrad, dropped a plank which fell on some frames lying, on the floor. Several panes of glass were broken, Gavrilov was arrested and brought to court on the charge of hooliganism.” – Pravda, October 12, 1940

The Ukase of October 19, 1940, extended the compulsory labor laws to the administrative and technical staffs of Soviet institutions, thus in effect converting them into wardens, turnkeys and trustees of these virtual prisons.

Such are the real conditions in the factories under Stalin. The Daily Worker has not dared to publish a single one of these Ukases. No foreign correspondent was permitted to cable the text of these laws from Moscow.

Here is how the Reverend disposes of the June laws in a footnote:

“In August 1940, the hours of labor have been increased but now the times are serious ... and ... workers are prepared to give some of their treasured leisure to produce the sinews of war and make impregnable the Socialist Soviet Republic.” (p. 237).

Not a word about the ferociously repressive aspects of this legislation. And for very good reasons. Even the most brazen apologist for Stalinism cannot unload everything on the war danger. Furthermore even the most gullible follower of the Kremlin must ask himself: If conditions were as wonderful as the Dean – and the Daily Worker – claim, why was such legislation necessary? What must have beta the real and terrible conditions up to now, if such savage laws have to be passed today? Just how is the Soviet Union strengthened by reducing workers to the status of prison labor? So the Dean says nothing: If you don’t touch it, it won’t stink.

Modern large-scale industry, let alone planned economy, cannot be operated by prison labor. It is impossible to run large-scale plants under a prison administration. By his latest laws, Stalin has gravely weakened the defensive power of the Soviet Union. Every thinking worker understands this. It is well to ponder in this connection the following incautious words of this preacher-apologist of Stalinism:

“Discipline imposed from above and involved in an operation in which the worker is in no sense a partner acts as a clamp upon the mind. It thwarts initiative,” continues the Dean. “Resentment smoulders beneath the surface only awaiting some new grievance to burst into flames. A real sense of injustice always present, even if subconsciously, leads to a deep-rooted hostility and suspicion, erecting barriers ... in its ultimate manifestation this leads to ... revolution.”

We subscribe wholeheartedly to these words with one reservation – in addition to the bosses in England and elsewhere, we also address them to the parasites in the Kremlin whom the Dean exempts. The Soviet Union can be strengthened only by restoring workers’ democracy in factories, in trade unions, in the schools, in the Army, in the Soviets, etc. Only a political revolution against the Stalinist bureaucracy can restore workers’ democracy.

The Plight of the Youth

According to the Dean, he was brought closest to the Kremlin by the concern and love for children which they share in common. We, too, place the utmost importance upon the fate of children and the youth. That is why we spare no efforts in exposing the crimes of Stalinism, which is the deadliest enemy of the youth.

Stalin stands in mortal fear of the youth. We Trotskyists have said for years that the Komsomols (the Russian YCL) was liquidated politically because Stalin was afraid it would develop into a political party against him. The Dean of Canterbury himself now corroborates this. As the first proof of Stalin’s love of democracy, he presents the fact that Stalin removed “political power from the Komsomols – i.e., from the Young Communist League – when they were challenging the Party itself as an organ of political power.” (p.306).

If this is how a “friend” of the Soviet youth speaks, what would an enemy say?

There is internal evidence that this English-bred enemy of the youth – who gloats over its political expropriation – did most of his visiting in the Soviet Union in 1937, the year which marks the apogee of Stalin’s brief public career as the world’s greatest humanist and lover of youth.

In 1937, when Stalin was being photographed kissing babies and painted walking in parks surrounded by happy children, etc., the Dean first stated that he was particularly impressed by the work being done for the children in Russia.

“For thirty years I have urged,” he said at the time, “that every child should be given the utmost opportunity for development for his or her powers ... This is the debt we owe to children ... Here I see the desire and the will that it shall be done more thoroughly perhaps, than any other part of the world.” (Moscow News, Nov. 7, 1937)

In writing his book two years later, this hypocrite from Canterbury claims that he has remained true to his life-time endeavor. “What impressed me most in Soviet Russia,” he vows, “was not her factories and material statistics but her children.”

Let every thinking worker read what he says about the meaning and importance of equal opportunity and free education, and then let him compare this with the Ukases of October 2, 1940 – which the Daily Worker has not dared to print. Stalin has not only abolished free education for the children of workers and peasants but has drafted children and adolescents from 14 to 17 into industry.

Stalin’s program, insists the liar from Canterbury, is “to give every man, woman and child ... equal education in childhood and youth.” Further, “Equal opportunity for education is provided universally, the school-leaving age is in process of being raised to seventeen and payment is made to students at universities.” (p. 64).

He devotes two special chapters, The New Horizons and The Open Gateway, to this very important conquest of the October revolution – the right to Education –, sealed by law under Lenin [1], “guaranteed” by the Stalinist Constitution, and now abolished without even consulting the Supreme Council of the USSR, the only body allegedly empowered to amend the Constitution.

“The ideal held out to a child differs entirely from that still too common here (England) – ‘Word hard and get on’.” (p. 195)

“Education from first to last is provided for all without monetary payments, from the excellently equipped nursery-schools right up to the university course.” (p. 185)

“There is no financial difficulty which hinders a ... student from entering the university or institute for higher education.” (p. 207)

“Technical institutes await children (of workers) free of charge.” (p. 237)

“What has the Soviet Union done for its youth and what is it doing? ... On his seventeenth birthday and not before, he can enter industry.” (p. 205)

And so forth and so on.

He solemnly declares:

“By 1940 education for children of eight to fifteen will be compulsory throughout the Union, from the Arctic to the desert steppes. By the same date education in all towns, industrial settlements, and rural centers will be compulsory from eight to eighteen.” (p. 195)

Now, let us confront this liar with facts:

“The fees for college are 400 roubles a year in Union Republic capitals, 300 rubles in other cities; and 500 rubles for art, theatre and music schools. For the 8th, 9th, and 10th grades the fee is 200 rubles in the capitals, 150 in other cities.” (Soviet Russia Today, January, 1941)

Thus education even in grades equivalent to those of the American public schools is no longer free. Correspondence courses must likewise be paid for at the rate of one-half of the respective school fees.

On December 1, 1940, more than 600,000 Soviet children and adolescents from fourteen to seventeen were drafted into industry. By February 1941, 200,000 more were drafted. In the euphemistic language of the Daily Worker, they are attending “industrial training schools” which will “graduate workers for – first and foremost – the coal mining, ore mining, metallurgical and oil industries, and the building trades.” The latest news from Moscow is that children are also being “graduated” for the timber industry, i.e., the lumber camps.

“In this way,” continues the Daily Worker, “in 1941 the ... schools will be able to give socialist industry approximately 800,000 workers.” (Daily Worker, February 7, 1941)

The term “industrial training schools” is nothing but a revolting cover for the legalization of child labor in the Soviet Union. The conditions in industry have become so intolerable under Stalin that peasants, to say nothing of adult city-dwellers, refuse to enter the jail-factories. This has been openly admitted by the Kremlin. In his speech on the Twenty-Third Anniversary of the October Revolution, Kalinin said:

“The reserves of labor power in the cities have been exhausted, and the influx from the villages has ceased” (Izvestia, November 7, 1940)

Who Defends the Soviet Union?

Apart from other vital considerations, we oppose child labor because modern large-scale industry cannot be operated by children. Stalinism is now taking a terrible toll of the most precious young lives, the reservoir of the revolution. Instead of being strengthened the defensive power of the Soviet Union is all the more weakened thereby.

These Draconic laws went into effect more than four months ago. The Reverend Mr. Johnson has not yet seen fit to add so much as a footnote to his text. It is not hard to guess how all of Stalin’s priests and professors, from Canterbury, England, or Cambridge, USA [2], will try to explain them away. They will invoke the war danger; they will cite the difference between 1939 (when the Stalin-Hitler pact was signed) and 1940–41 (when Hitler’s armies line the borders of the Soviet Union from the Arctic Ocean to the Black Sea), etc., etc. But no matter how these gentlemen squirm, they cannot evade the fact that these laws do not at all flow from the need to defend the Union but from the need to maintain the bureaucracy in power. The greatest danger threatening the Soviet Union comes not from the outside but from the inside. It is Stalinism.

If in Britain and the United States Stalin’s flunkeys try to explain away child labor as an unfortunate but indispensable measure of defense, then his flunkeys in Moscow hail it, on the contrary, as a great historic triumph. Free education, to believe Pravda, is not only unessential but it is a great evil. It demoralizes the pupils:

“Many of our students haven’t really appreciated the boons of higher education which they received without any exertion on their part.”

It demoralizes the parents as well:

“Free education has to a certain extent lowered the value of education in the eyes of a certain section of parents and students.” (Pravda, October 22, 1940)

Some of the Kremlin’s pen-prostitutes in America go so far as to declare that education itself is of no particular value:

“In the USSR one does not need to attend college to be an honored member of society.” (Soviet Russia Today, January 1941)

Every syllable uttered by these bureaucratic scoundrels breathes nothing but contempt for the workers whether in Russia, England or America. But these gentlemen and ladies will not find it easy to dupe the masses on such vital issues.

What Is Happening to the CPSU

Every thinking member of the American Communist Party should above all familiarize himself with what Mr. Hewlitt Johnson has to say about the position and role of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union.

The party, he writes, “is the tangible means by which primarily, workers feel and exercise their ownership of industry” (p.241).


“the Party exercises general supervision over the whole collective enterprise and maintains its standard. The Party is the inspiring, stimulating, regulating spirit of any enterprise.” (p. 242)


“Branches of cells of this Communist Party are found in all factories, and complete consultation takes place between the Party and the management of all matters affecting the general direction of the factory and the well-being of the workers.” (p. 243)

We are willing to grant to any honest worker who still follows the Stalinists that the Dean is telling the truth about the real position and function of the party in the Soviet Union. If he believes this, then he has all the more reason to demand from Earl Browder and the Daily Worker an answer to the following questions:

Why has the Daily Worker failed to print a single word about the Eighteenth Party Conference since the publication of the call on December 20, 1940?

Walter Duranty writes in the New York Times that very important changes in the role of the party in all spheres of Soviet life are not only being contemplated but will actually be ratified on February 15 when the Conference convenes in Moscow. Is that true?

If it is, why is the Daily Worker silent on so important a subject?

Why does Soviet Russia Today (February 1941 issue) delete Duranty’s reference to the party while reprinting practically the whole of Duranty’s first dispatch?

What are they trying to hide from the members of the Communist Party in the United States?

The Russian Party has been shoved aside and shorn of any real voice, power or leadership in the vital spheres of Soviet life, in the economy, in the Red Army, in the government, etc. Why?

Very few survivors remain of the once vast and gullible horde of “Friends of the Soviet Union.” Most of Stalin’s intellectual “giants” have been exposed for what they are – venal agents of the GPU. The Kremlin can find today no figure more imposing than that of a sycophantic priest to serve its ends.

The ostensible purpose of the book “is to promote a “better understanding” between the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and the United States. It is really intended, however, to bolster up the morale of what remains of the Stalinist liberal periphery and of the membership itself – after the effects of the purges, the Frame-up Trials, the Stalin-Hitler pact, Finnish invasion and, above all, the most recent decrees, purges and developments in the Soviet Union. That is why the Dean’s book is being promoted so frantically.

If anyone in the Soviet Union dared to quote from this book, he or she would have to finish the quotation before a GPU firing squad. When the Kremlin wakes up to the realization of just how “outdated” the Dean’s book really is, and what “footnotes” it really requires, the current edition will be withdrawn from the market, and a few ears in the offices on Thirteenth Street will be pinned back for “lack, of vigilance.” Meanwhile, we express the hope that workers will really read this book and consider all the lies in it – in the light of what is now happening in the Soviet Union.


1. Provision for education in the Program of the Communist Party adopted March, 1919:

“1) Free and compulsory general and poiytechnical education for all children of both sexes up to the age of 17 ...

“4) All students must be supplied with food, clothing, footwear, text books, and all other school accessories at the expense of the state.”

2. “Professor” H.W.L. Dana, Reverend F. Hastings Smythe (a former student of the Dean of Canterbury), Professor Dirk-Struik of M.I.T., et al. – a few of the super-salesmen of the Dean’s book.

Last updated: 4 October 2015