Early American Marxism: Document Download Page by Year: 1936

Early American Marxism

Document Download Page for the Year




”The Moscow Trials: An Editorial Statement” [Feb. 20, 1937]. This unsigned editorial in Workers Age, official organ of the Communist Party (Opposition)—the “Lovestoneites”—attempts to make sense of the second of the three great Moscow Show Trials, the January 1937 trial of Piatakov, Radek, Sokolnikov et al. The argument advanced at the time of the first great Show Trial that the precise veracity of many of the specific charges was less important than the core allegation is repeated: “Discrepancies, contradictions, even sheer impossibilities in the charges and allegations of the two trials are not hard to find, but the impression seems to us inescapable—and it is shared by many observers not particularly friendly to Stalin—that, even after such material is discarded, there still remains a substantial bedrock of fact: that efforts at assassination and sabotage were indeed made by some of the followers and former followers of Trotsky and Zinoviev.” Doubt has begun to creep in, however, and certain “grave questions” have begun to emerge: “Does not the very regime of hero cult, personal exaltation of the leader, qualification for office by syncophancy, elimination of collective leadership, abandonment of democratic discussion—do not all these constitute a serious danger of more vital concern to every communist and real friend of the Soviet Union than even the deeds or the fate of the defendants on trial?” Further the running up of “revolutionary architects” on “the most atrocious crimes against the revolution” has dealt “a shattering blow to the moral foundations of Bolshevism” and raised the prospects of a dangerous period of bloodletting. “Only a complete overhauling of the whole system of political leadership and inner-party life in the communist movement, such as has long been advocated by the International Communist Opposition, holds out hope for the future,” the editorial opines.



Notes on the United Front Problem, by Haim Kantorovitch [May 1936] Kantorovitch, an intellectual leader of the Socialist Party‣s “Militant” faction, takes aim both at the “Old Guard” defectors such as Louis Waldman, who after being soundly defeated by the SP majority in National Convention, in a party referendum, in the NEC, and in the New York SP primaries, are presumptuous enough to dictate terms under which they will return to the party fold. “It never occurred to people like Waldman that he and his followers could remain in the Socialist Party and use all the legal and ethical party channels to persuade the majority of the party members that after all the Old Guard was right,” Kantorovitch observes. Instead, the Old Guard splitters had chosen to fight the party, making use of none-too-subtle red baiting tactics in the capitalist press. This involved a conscious attempt to confuse two distinct concepts, according to Kantorovitch: the United Front and “participation of Socialists in common action in which Communists also participate.” In the former case, a “permanent and national agreement” between the Socialist and Communist Parties would lock the two organizations together, while in the latter case the Socialist and Communist Parties participate in joint projects as members of a still larger coalition, free to come or go or to criticize as each organization so desired. Kantorovitch sees the Old Guard Socialists as having adopted the discarded theory of social fascism and inverted it — projecting instead the Communist Party as the “chief enemy” which must be defeated and stricken from the ranks of the labor before serious battle could be waged against capitalism, war, and fascism. Kantorovitch states that the revolutionary socialists of the Militant faction the Communists were an integral part of the labor movement — merely one from which revolutionary socialists differed. Common action with such an organization was possible, Kantorovitch asserts, but not (in present circumstances) a United Front, which would inevitably require the Socialists to surrender their freedom and obligation to criticize particulars of Soviet Society, Stalin, and Stalinism.

”The Moscow Trials and the CI Crisis,” by M. Yomanowitz [May 8, 1937]. This article was printed in the official organ of the Communist Party (Opposition) as part of the pre-convention discussion in the run up to the 6th National Convention held in New York at the end of May. The author, identified only by his initials, is critical of previous analysis of the 1937 Moscow events in the party press: “The strategy of the Stalin regime as demonstrated at the trials and subsequent lynching and terror campaign is to pin the charge of Trotskyism to all forces not in agreement with its present policies. It is now abundantly clear to everybody that the suppression and physical extermination of the opposition forces is not limited to Trotskyites, for no one will honestly believe that Bukharin is a Trotskyite.” Yomanowitz continues: “Our efforts and hopes of reforming the Communist International did not bring the desired results. Instead of reforming the CI, the more reformist it became. It is high time that we draw the necessary conclusion and speak frankly and act boldly. In the past we were correct in stating that the chief source of the mistakes of the Stalin regime lay in the transfer of tactics applicable inside the Soviet Union to the other sections of the Communist International. This analysis is no longer sufficient.” Yomanowitz gives at least some credence to the charge that “the Stalin faction is fashioning the policies and tactics of the various sections of the CI to the needs of Soviet foreign policy... This position contains a lot of truth. This position does not invalidate our original view, but it rather supplements it.” Clinging to the idea of reforming the Comintern is senseless, Yomanowitz argues, noting that “we must be ready to discard our previous position that a new center without the CPSU in it is both impermissible and impossible.”



“The Zinoviev-Kamenev Trial,” by Alexander Bittelman [Sept. 1936] From August 19-24, 1936, was held in Moscow the first of three sensational public “show trials” featuring prominent former members of the Soviet elite accused of complicity in counterrevolutionary conspiracies to commit murder and overthrow the Soviet state. Chief defendants in the first trial, the so-called “Case of the Trotskyite-Zinovievite Terrorist Center,” were G.E. Zinoviev and L.B. Kamenev— former members of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party and of the Council of Peoples’ Commissars. All 16 defendants in this case were tried, sentenced to death, and executed in short order. This article, published as part of the lead essay of the September 1936 issue of the CPUSA’s theoretical journal, The Communist, was an initial to orientate party members to the situation in the USSR. Bittelman accuses Trotsky of being a “petty-bourgeois ‘revolutionist’” and likens his alleged criminal complicity in the plot to assassinate Soviet Communist leaders to the effort of the Socialist Revolutionaries to assassinate Bolshevik leaders (including Lenin) during the Russian Civil War. “In this ‘transformation’ of Trotskyism there is nothing especially new. It is no news that certain ideologists of petty-bourgeois ‘revolutionism’ have turned fascist. Mussolini is an outstanding case,” Bittelman notes. Trotsky’s critique of the Soviet constitution is likened to that of Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels and the implication of this purported convergence is stated with certitude in the wake of the trial by Bittelman, who declares that “Trotskyism is fascist terrorism.”

”The Russian Events” [unsigned editorial from Workers Age, Sept. 5, 1936]. A semi-official statement of the Communist Party USA (Opposition), published as an editorial in its offical organ. The recently completed trial and execution of Zinoviev, Kamenev, Smirnov, et al. is criticized not from the standpoint of its lack of veracity, but rather as politically inexpedient: “The investigation made by the Soviet Government immediately after the Kirov assassination revealed the hand of a foreign, a bourgeois government in all the plotting against the USSR. The further revelations made on the occasion of the last trial, which was an open public trail at which the defendants had every opportunity to express themselves as fully and as freely as they wanted, showed still more clearly and established beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Nazi government had aided and abetted some of the Trotskyist terrorist conspirators. To some people this sounds fantastic, but if one considers the present character of the Trotsky program in regard to the Soviet Union, there is nothing fantastic about it but only quite a natural and logical outcome of the entire evolution of Trotskyism.” However, “while condemning sharply the terroristic activities and complete degeneration of the Trotskyites, we must state that we very seriously doubt the wisdom and tact of the Soviet authorities in inflicting the merited punishment of death on such personages as Zinoviev, Kamenev, Smirnov, etc. Other and sufficiently adequate punishment could have been meted out without resorting to executions, and thus granting some recognition to the inestimable services once rendered by these erstwhile powerful figures in the ranks of the Bolsheviks.”