Stalinism: Its Origin and Future. Andy Blunden 1993

The Failure of the Political Revolution

Stalin died on 9 March 1953. The working class had recovered from the War. Post-war reconstruction was complete. The capacity of the bureaucratic centralist system to develop the economies of Eastern Europe and the USSR was beginning to exhaust itself. These conditions gave rise to a tide of political revolution against Stalinism which was suppressed with consummate brutality.

At the same time, with the help of Stalinism and Social-Democracy, imperialism had recovered itself and now turned its attention to the mortal threat posed by the workers’ states and ‘their own’ working class. An hysterical, world-wide campaign of red-baiting was launched against all working class leaders, not sparing the Communist Party members who had so loyally supported the re-establishment of capitalism after the war.

I: McCarthyism and the Cold War

The triumph of the Chinese Revolution in October 1949 in the wake of the series of overturns in Europe created panic in conservative US circles, notably the leaders of the Republican Party, angry at the failure of President Truman to ‘halt the advance of communism’.

Early in 1950, senior US Presidential adviser Alger Hiss, who had been accused of being a Communist spy, was sentenced to five years in prison for perjury, that is, for denying the accusation. His conviction was upheld despite the testimony of Adlai Stevenson and John Foster Dulles in his defence.

In February 1950, the junior Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy announced that he had the names of 57 ‘card-carrying communists’ in the US State Department, and 205 ‘known communist sympathisers’. With this announcement began an horrific campaign in which thousands of innocent people were dragged before the House Un-American Activities Committee and thousands more had their lives destroyed without even having the benefit of a public hearing. MacCarthy’s vendetta was directed from the heart of the US state machine and was supported enthusiastically by big business, who used the witch-hunt to mercilessly smash trade union organisations. His campaign widened continuously, with intellectuals, unionists, actors and mainstream politicians and bureaucrats arbitrarily denounced at will. The campaign helped the Republicans to an election win in 1952, but McCarthy did not know when to stop.

In January 1953, as Chairman of the Senate Sub-Committee on Investigations, McCarthy carried out a campaign against ‘leftist’ propaganda on the part of US Information Service Libraries. In October 1953, he began an attack on the Army, discrediting the Secretary of the Army, Robert Stevens. Eventually, in December 1954, the Senate censured McCarthy on a vote of 67 to 22 for bringing the Senate into ‘dishonour and disrepute’. Undeterred, McCarthy then launched an attack on President Eisenhower himself, finally leading to his demise. Many of MacCarthy’s victims never had their names cleared however, and were still unable to find employment twenty years later.

This episode, which destroyed the lives of people many with no connection to Communism whatsoever, was a high point in imperialism’s hysterical campaign to hold back the mortal threat to its existence in the wake of the War. It was matched in every country in the world by a murderous campaign of repression against the workers’ movement by US dirty-tricks agents.

Anti-Communism in Australia

McCarthyism manifested itself in Australia too, although anti-Communism has been around as long as Communism, and has a long history in Australia. For instance, the revolutionary upsurges following the Russian Revolution were matched by outbreaks of red-baiting. The growth in influence of the CPA in the 1930s and 40s was also accompanied by the growth of anti-communism activity. The panic which gripped imperialism in the mid-1950s led to an upsurge in anti-communist witch-hunting which resembled in some respects the McCarthyite movement in the US. In Australia however, anti-communism found a unique vehicle in the Catholic clergy.

Australian Catholic Action was formed in 1931 and began organised anti-communist activity as early as 1936 in the campaigns in support of the Spanish Republicans. Under B A Santamaria's leadership, the Catholic Social Movement was established in March 1941 with the specific aim of countering CPA influence in the unions. Both organisation and finance was provided by the Church through Archbishop Mannix.

The Movement’s first gains were in the FIA (Ironworkers) in Newcastle and Victoria, with small groups in the Australian Railways Union (ARU) and a number of the small craft unions. After the 1945 ACTU Congress, the Movement began to organise through Industrial Groups in the ALP (thus the colloquial name ‘Groupers’).

The Groupers campaigned at the grass roots. They recruited activists through the Catholic network on the basis of a religious duty to ‘fight communism’. The activists brought workers to the union meetings, contested the Stalinist officials with conservative, anti-communist rhetoric, and rolled them in elections. In the early days, the Groupers had made a close study of Stalinist organisational methods, and they adapted them to their own requirements. Union meetings became quite lively occasions during this period!

The organisation began in Victoria, then NSW and Queensland, and made progress in the Clerks union and the BLF. The main thrust of their offensive however was in the labour councils where the CPA was well represented. The disproportionate representation of the numerous small craft unions allowed the Groupers to increase their delegation. At this early stage, a substantial section of the ALP leadership, especially in Victoria, welcomed the anti-communist work of the Groupers. The Groupers were also joined by some non-Catholic ex-communists.

In November 1946, the Sydney and Melbourne Trades Halls passed from CPA control to the Groupers.

In the wake of the defeat of the miners’ strike in 1949, the CPA lost their representation on the ACTU Executive. CPA defector Cecil Sharpley’s revelations of the rigging of union elections by the CPA was used to whip up a campaign against the Stalinists in the union bureaucracy and helped to seriously undermine CPA support.

The campaign against the CPA in the unions, was accompanied by political repression. In October 1949, Lance Sharkey was jailed for eighteen months (reduced from three years on appeal) for sedition on the basis of an innocuous statement made in the course of a newspaper interview. Gilbert Burns got six months for another newspaper statement, and a number of other CPA leaders were jailed on a variety of charges.

This repression was carried out under a Labor government. In December 1949, the ALP government was defeated in a landslide at the polls by the red-baiter R G Menzies. Before the election Menzies had said:

‘The Communist Party will be declared subversive and unlawful and dissolved ... No person now a member of the Communist Party shall be ... eligible for any office in a registered industrial organisation’.[100]

Despite Menzies’ landslide victory, the demonstrable ebbing of trade union militancy, the defeat of the miners strike and the growing influence of the Groupers, the blinkered CPA leaders judged the situation as favourable and continued to pursue a militant strike policy.

By 1950, the Groupers had taken control of the Victorian ALP Executive. The CPA were defeated in elections in the Clerks Union, the FIA, Engineers, Boilermakers, Wharfies, BLF, ETU and others where they had formerly had strong support. The CPA were knocked out of union office, the more easily because CPA members had become accustomed to manipulating union elections to hang on to their positions. Faced with equally unscrupulous operators in a very unfavourable situation (which they refused to recognise existed) they were very vulnerable. By the end of 1952, about half of CPA support in the unions had been lost, and CPA membership cut by a similar margin, to about 6,000.

In September 1951, Menzies had called a referendum to make the CPA illegal. The referendum rejected Menzies’ demand, thanks in large part to the majority of ALP members and trade unionists who recognised the threat of red-baiting to all working class organisations.

From 1952 the Groupers began to expand the scope of their activity to attack fellow travellers, and other anti-communists outside their own control. From this time on they began to isolate themselves within the ALP and unions, and their influence began to decline.

At the same time, the reality of the situation at last began to seep in to the CPA leadership.

The CPA now went all-out for respectability and sought to make friends wherever possible, just to survive. From 1953, CPA members in unions ran, if possible, on joint tickets with ALP members and presented to the world their most moderate face. Indefinite industry-wide strikes were now a no-no; one-day protests and local actions were the norm – a norm vigorously enforced by Stalinist officials. CPA membership grew moderately during this period. The CPA won back control of the Miners Federation in 1953.

In February 1954, the ALP Federal Executive intervened to remove the Groupers from control of the Victorian ALP Executive. A split resulted, and the DLP (Democratic Labor Party) set up as the Groupers’ own vehicle for anti-communist activity.

In April 1954, Bob Menzies called an election. He used his speech closing the parliamentary session to announce the defection of Soviet diplomat, Vladimir Petrov, and then alleged that Petrov would reveal that the ALP leadership was controlled by Communist agents. These allegations were never substantiated, but the entire election campaign was dominated by the resulting scandal, and Menzies won 64 seats to 57 seasts in an election which should have seen the end of Liberal-Country Party rule in Australia.

From 1957, the DLP cornered about 9 per cent of the ALP vote, sufficient to keep the ALP out of office until 1972. Isolated from the ALP however, the actual political influence of the Groupers declined further.

By 1958 the CPA had clawed back a considerable degree of their control in the unions, but in the meantime, they had been thoroughly ‘domesticated’. Thus, it can be seen that while the anti-communist frenzy of the 1950s failed to eradicate the Communist Party, and did not succeed in making virulent anti-communism respectable, it did succeed in seriously setting back the growth of communist politics in the workers’ movement.

All workers’ organisations and national liberation movements in the world were targets for McCarthyite and Cold War repression. The real target of imperialism’s fear and hatred was the working class. The counter-revolutionary policies of Stalinism never caused imperialism to spare them, and however much the Stalinists sought to pacify and accommodate to imperialism, no quarter would be given.

The Stalinist parties in many Western European countries retained a substantial following, but operated much like any other parliamentary party. In the Anglo-Saxon countries Stalinism was marginalised. This success on the part of reaction needs to be understood in the context of the struggle being fought out at the international level.

Why the “Iron Curtain”

It was at the level of world economy, rather than at the political or military level that the Cold War took its toll.

Stalinism had consolidated its hold and brought a substantial sector of the world into trading relations with the USSR and planned economy. But having completed the reconstruction of the immediate post-war period, the economies of the countries under their control had begun to slide into disorganised stagnation. Imperialism calculated correctly that if the workers’ states could be kept isolated from the world economy they could not compete. The essence of the ‘Cold War’ was the economic isolation of the workers’ states behind the ‘Iron Curtain’, and the suppression of any movement in the ‘Third World’ attempting to align themselves with the workers’ states.

Control of the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and China however, provided Stalinism with a gigantic material base which could be used to provide material support for national liberation movements which had succeeded in defeating imperialism and taking control of their countries. These movements enjoyed mass support and were confronting imperialism arms-in-hand. It was through these governments that Stalinism was able to extend its influence and at the same time, gain a powerful lever with which to bargain with imperialism.

II: ‘Political Revolution’

Political revolution means the overthrow of the bureaucracy, whilst retaining the state as a weapon against imperialism and capitalist restoration. Political revolution means the independent mobilisation of the working class with a program aimed at the working class regaining political control of the state, and thereby the economy.

Political revolution was the perspective of the Trotskyist movement from 1933 on, once Trotsky came to the conclusion that regeneration of the Communist Party was no longer possible. Political revolution means the revolutionary overthrow of the Stalinist regime in the USSR. This revolutionary strategy is distinguished from social revolution only because it does not entail expropriation of the private property in the means of production, which had already been carried out (and at the moment of writing, has still not been entirely obliterated).

Further, such a political revolution does not actually entail the passage of power from one class to another, but simply the taking of political power by the working class from a bureaucracy which has usurped political power from the workers. There was no capitalist class with a social base in private ownership in the means of production in the USSR.

While the bureaucracy appears before the workers of their own country as no better than any capitalist class, the Soviet state was a force outside of the actual control of imperialism. So long as the growth of the market in the USSR was contained, the USSR remained unquestionably a gain of the working class that had to be defended against the attempt of imperialism to restore capitalism and/or overthrow the state. The perspective of political revolution combined the perspective of overthrowing the bureaucracy with that of defending nationalised property.

How was this perspective fulfilled in the political development of the working class in the USSR and the deformed workers’ states?

The Rise of the Political Revolution in Europe

The political revolution in the USSR was forestalled by the Nazi invasion. It began in Eastern Europe as soon as the post-war overturns were completed.

Czechoslovakia, May 1953

The Stalinist terror instituted by Gottwald after 1948 had fallen mainly on workers and opposition communists rather than right-wing opponents. Jan Masaryk was thrown to his death from a window of the Foreign Ministry in February 1948. 40 per cent of those in prison for anti-state offences in 1950 were classified as workers. In grotesque political show-trials in 1951-52, Vice-Premier Rudolf Slansky and 13 other Party members (all but one Jewish) and Foreign Minister Vladimir Clementis along with 14 other Party members were accused of treason, Trotskyism, Zionism and Titoism. Slanski and Clementis were hanged.

Jiri Pelikan, who was a loyal member of the Czechoslovak Communist Party in the post-war period, and later a member of the socialist opposition recalls:

‘The big political trials of 1949-53 and the repression in general were not directed at a true opposition within the Communist Party, even though the defendants were condemned on the charge of attempting to topple the party leadership and of wanting to seize power as agents of “Titoism”, “Trotskyism”, “revisionism”, “nationalism”, “cosmopolitanism”, but above all “Zionism.” Stalin and, under his influence, Klement Gottwald intended to use these political trials to nip in the bud every possibility of an independent road to socialism. ...

‘Some landed in the dock because they were too well-versed in the history of the Comintern and the Party, others because during the war they had sought refuge in capitalist countries, thus widening their knowledge of the world and their horizons, others again because they maintained too many contacts in international circles ... had fought in Spain or other anti-fascist fronts short ... since they had demonstrated a certain measure of independent thinking.

‘Stalin ... replaced all communists who by their past, by their knowledge of Marxism and their capabilities in tackling particular tasks appeared to constitute a threat to mediocre officials, to irresolute and obedient apparatchiks, who were isolated from the masses but were well-disciplined ...

‘This was the case with Antonin Novotny, [who] was given the task of concluding the process of transforming the Communist Party – the only one in Central Europe able to look back on a long tradition of legality and able to rely on the support of broad section of the population as well as on many intellectuals – into a willing tool of the CPSU and Soviet policy’. [101]

The living standards of the Czech working class had risen immediately after 1948, but fell sharply in 1952. In June, the government carried through a sweeping and sudden currency reform that was intended to destroy the savings of workers and their families. In May 1953, open protests against the regime took place. Widespread strikes culminated in demonstrations and disorder in Plzen. The rebellion soon relapsed into apathy, but according to Pelikan, the socialist opposition continued work against Novotny within the Party, which provided the only possible vehicle for political activity.

East Germany, June 1953

In 1952, the West rejected an offer by Stalin to unify the two Germanies by a national election. In response, Stalin ordered the German SED to implement a rapid statification of industry and collectivisation of agriculture. The resistance of farmers to this move provoked a crisis in agriculture, and there was an acute shortage of basic foodstuffs.

In April 1953, shortly after the death of Stalin, East German leader Walter Ulbricht appealed for aid from the USSR. Aid was refused, but the Soviet leadership advised that in order to persuade the West not to integrate West Germany into NATO, the SED make a gesture of conciliation, returning much of the economy to private hands and cancelling price rises.

The SED Politburo decided that a ten per cent increase in industrial quotas, which had already been decreed, must stay in force in order to pay for these concessions.

Despite internal dissension about the wisdom of this move, Ulbricht’s decree went ahead. On 16 June, building workers at the Stalin Allee construction project went out on strike in protest.

The workers marched on the government building and their numbers grew as they swept aside police cordons set up in their path. Ulbricht announced that the decree was revoked, but it was too late:

‘In the meantime, however, the demonstration had spread throughout the city, making political and economic demands. Placards appeared calling for the abolition of the output demands, lowering of prices, resignation of the government and free elections with a secret ballot.’ [102]

The workers demanded to speak to Prime Minister Otto Grotewohl. Instead, Minister of Mines Selbmann came out, stood up on a table and spoke to the workers, pleading with them to return to work and put their trust in him:

‘But the workers interrupted him: “We no longer have confidence in you. We want guarantees.” The dialogue continued as follows: “But I have myself been a worker for a long time” – “You have forgotten that. You are no longer our comrade.” – “How could I forget it, as a communist worker, and for so long a time?” – “We are the real communists, not you.”

‘Selbmann was left speechless. An unknown building worker forced him off the table and got up in his place and delivered a calm and dignified speech in the opinion of witnesses I questioned, and formulated the demands of the workers in four points:

‘1. Immediate revocation of the 10 per cent increase in work norms.

‘2. Immediate reduction by 40 per cent in the price of foodstuffs and of primary consumer goods in state stores.

‘3. Leaders who committed serious errors should be dismissed; the party and the unions must be democratised.

‘4. We must not wait for the Bonn government to take the initiative for the real unification of Germany. The East German government should start immediately by eliminating all barriers separating the two Germanies. The country must be unified by secret, general and free elections and a workers’ victory must be won in these elections.

‘The worker ended his speech by stating that Selbmann’s attitude proved that he is incapable of granting the workers’ demands and that if Grotewohl and Ulbricht refused to face the workers, a general strike would be called in all Berlin to support these demands. With that, the demonstration ended.’ [103]

A mass rally the following day was attended by thousands of metal workers and demanded the resignation of the government, some calling for its replacement by a “metal workers’ government.” The next day marches formed up in the suburbs of Berlin to march to the city centre. The strike had become general, closing the railways, the steel works, Leuna chemical plant, Zeiss optical works, the machine plant at Magdeburg and the Berlin electrical engineering plant. More than 250 towns were affected and the entire population was in the streets. Tens of thousands of workers tried to occupy government buildings. The red flag was torn down from the Brandenburg Gate, posters were torn down and party officials who tried to persuade workers to return to work were beaten up.

At midday, the Red Army commander of the Soviet sector of Berlin declared a state of siege and two motorised divisions of Soviet forces occupied the city. Gatherings of more than three people were banned and workers were tried before special tribunals and shot. By 9pm the uprising in Berlin had been crushed.

Workers’ protests followed throughout the country however. The headquarters of the Youth Movement and the prison were occupied in Leipzig. Portraits on the walls were torn down, but those of Karl Marx were pointedly spared. Similar protests took place in Meresburg, Rostock, Halle, Dresden and elsewhere, but all were put down by Soviet troops. In all 42 people were shot and 25,000 arrested in the suppression of the uprising.

A further wave of strikes took place on July 8 and 9 in East Berlin and other industrial centres and there were sit-down strikes and go-slows.

Eventually, the Soviet Union agreed to provide aid to make some concessions to the German workers, and the situation was stabilised. The Christian Democratic Union and two other bourgeois parties were brought into a ‘coalition’ government to give form to the supposed ‘people’s democracy’. The inclusion of the bourgeois parties did nothing to address the demands of workers for democracy and improved living standards of course.

Neal Ascherson comments:

‘For many years afterwards, West German propaganda presented it as a great demonstration against the division of Germany, and 17 June became an official holiday as Day of German Unity. But this was false: 17 June was a spontaneous but on the whole disciplined workers’ protest primarily aimed against the regime’s new system of increased work quotas, and only secondarily for free elections and the liberation of political prisoners. The intellectuals took no part in it, and even technical staff in the factories often refused to join the strikes’. [104]

Poland, 1956

Having failed to persuade the Polish peasantry to collectivise, the government adopted instead, a policy of systematic discrimination and harassment against private farmers. The peasants responded with sullen passive resistance; bad harvests and reluctance to plant crops or breed livestock reduced agricultural production. Acute shortages of food and goods in the shops began in 1951, and rationing was introduced. In January 1953, a general price rise was decreed without significant public protest. Real living standards declined 36 per cent between 1949 and 1955.

The following story is excerpted from Neal Ascherson’s The Polish August:.

‘In the summer of 1956 ... the World Youth Festival was held in Warsaw. For the young this was a moment even more marvellous than the political upheaval of the following year. ... thousands of French and Italian, Brazilian and African students and young people poured into the city. They brought with them not only the truth about living conditions in the West, but their clothes, their music, their way of talking. They burst in like a relief force, after six years of total isolation from the non-communist world. They left behind them a furious impatience for change and a determination that such isolation must never return.

‘The ZMP [Union of Polish Youth] had taught them enthusiasm, self-confidence and a certain critical arrogance which they now turned against the Party leadership and its tired dogmatism. ... To them, the opposite of Stalinism was not a return to capitalism or the pre-war system but a democratic, open socialism in which the press was free and the government did not tell lies’.

‘[First Secretary] Boleslaw Bierut died in Moscow, two weeks after hearing Khrushchev’s speech, and when Khrushchev came to Warsaw for the funeral he took the opportunity to interfere and without success ... suggested that the Party would be more popular if there were fewer Jews in its leadership ... this crude proposal appalled many people who normally would have been prepared to follow a Soviet instruction ... The text of Khrushchev's Twentieth Congress speech was distributed throughout the Party for discussion, and the calls for radical change within the Party at once became a clamour.

‘It was at this point, in June 1956, that workers of Poznan rebelled. Poznan, the main industrial city of west-central Poland, had been the centre of Polish resistance to the Prussian-German occupation in the nineteenth century, and it had a large, experienced working class with strong traditions of trade union activity. The 15,000 workers at the Cegielski engineering plant (which had been named after Stalin a few years before) were exasperated by long and fruitless efforts to reverse new production targets and to gain higher wages. A protest march on 28 June turned into a street demonstration; the crowds, now numbering over a hundred thousand, were unable to get an answer to their grievances and rioting began. In a day and night of street fighting with the security police and the army, nearly eighty people lost their lives and thousands were injured. ...

‘The shock of Poznan heaved the whole Polish situation into crisis. At the base, Party membership began to dissolve. Party groups in the factories realised that if they did not start fighting for a better standard of living, they too could be caught between worker revolts and the guns of the Internal Security Corps’.

‘[A number of concessions were decided at the July Plenum]. The reform communists were already in touch with Wladyslaw Gomulka, supported by those leaders who cared little for Gomulka’s views but were now convinced that he must be brought back into the Central Committee as the last chance to halt the disintegration of the Party’s authority. Gomulka however held out for better terms: his restoration as First Secretary and the removal of his enemies from the Politburo. ... [the reformers] began to organise in the factories. [Starting in the big car factory in Zeran], worker councils spread across Poland, at once became powerful centres of revolutionary debate, challenging and criticising the Party leaders sent to remonstrate with them. Influenced by the Yugoslav example of workers’ self-management at plant level, the workers’ councils also claimed the right to manage their own enterprises ... The workers’ councils, at joint mass meetings with the students, now called for [Gomulka’s] return to power’.

‘On 19 October, with public excitement at a peak, the Eighth Plenum met. Gomulka was present. But so, neither expected nor invited, was Nikita Khrushchev and most of the Soviet leadership, who had flown to Warsaw that morning.

‘There ensued twenty-four extraordinary and decisive hours. ... Troops moved up to the borders, and Soviet armoured and motorised units stationed in Poland emerged from their bases and converged on Warsaw. In response, the Party called the workers to armed readiness. Polish troops took up defensive positions ...

‘Early in the morning of 20 October, Khrushchev began to accept the situation. Gomulka had proved unshakeable, and the PUWP Politburo had continued to back him up ... Khrushchev received assurances that criticism of the Soviet Union in the Polish press would be suppressed, and that Poland would remain in the Warsaw Pact ... In return, he recognised that Gomulka would now lead the PUWP ... later that day, he and his boarding party ... flew home’.

‘The Party extended the rights of the workers’ councils in July and agreed to give them full legal recognition in November 1956 ... But in reality Gomulka had little more enthusiasm for workers-control socialism than did Khrushchev ... The Polish workers submitted to a slow grinding down of the councils into purely economic bodies and finally in 1958 into the bureaucratised impotence of the Conferences of Workers Self-Government’.

The Hungarian Uprising, 1956

The high-point of the political revolution was Hungary October 1956. The following story is taken from the report by Peter Fryer, then foreign correspondent for the British Communist Party’s Daily Worker in Budapest.

‘It began with a students’ demonstration, partly to show the students’ sympathy for the people of Poland, who that weekend, through Gomulka and the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers Party, had resolutely rebuffed an attempt by an unprecedented delegation of Soviet leaders to get tough with them. ...

‘First Gero had gone on the wireless to make an address which, “poured oil on the flames.” He had called the demonstrators (now joined by workers from the factories, to which the students had sent delegations) counter-revolutionaries – “hostile elements” trying to disturb ‘the present political order in Hungary ...’

‘Secondly, the crowds which had gathered outside the radio station to ask that students’ demands be broadcast were fired on by AVH men, 300 of whom were in the building. This was, without question, the spark that turned peaceful demonstrations into a revolution.

‘What had the students been demanding before the shooting at the radio station? First and foremost the replacement of Hegedus as Prime Minister by Imre Nagy. The election of a new Party leadership by a national congress. Friendship with the Soviet Union, but on the basis of equality. Withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary. Free elections. Freedom of the press. Academic freedom. The use of Hungary’s uranium stocks by Hungary herself’. [105]

After arriving in Hungary Peter Fryer went to Magyarovar. The previous day a peaceful demonstration of 5,000, inspired by the events in Budapest, had marched to the AVH (political police) headquarters and demanded they remove the red star, symbol of the Soviet occupation. The AVH replied with a hail of machine gun fire, killing 80. The crowd went to the army barracks and demanded and received weapons and stormed and took the AVH headquarters.

Fryer was taken to meet the Revolutionary Committee in Magyarovar.

‘It had been set up after the events of the previous day, and was in continuous session, mainly organising food supplies and arranging contact with the similar committee at Gyor, the county town. The twenty members of the revolutionary committee were all local men; none could be called an emigré. Some were Communists, but rank-and-file Communists, not officials. What had happened to the officials? “The party secretary was a bully, but he was not a criminal. We told him to go home and stay there for a bit.”

‘Most of the committee members were former members of the Social-Democratic Party, who for one reason or another had dropped out of political activity since the Communist Party and the Social-Democratic Party were merged in the Hungarian Working People’s Party in June 1948. ...’ [106]

The revolution culminated in the creation of a genuine Soviet government, a coalition which placed at its head Imre Nagy. Nagy had been rehabilitated and made Prime Minister in 1953 after the death of Stalin. Instead of repressing the uprising, Nagy had joined it, and vainly attempted to dissuade the Soviet Union from intervening.

The uprising was brutally crushed by the intervention of Soviet tanks on November 4. 20,000 Hungarians and 3,500 Russians died in the fighting. Nagy was put on trial and executed, and replaced by Janos Kadar, a non-entity who had joined Nagy’s revolutionary government, but later reappeared behind the Soviet tanks.

From the initial uprising on October 23, the revolution lasted only 18 days. The great speed of events, combined with the Stalinist monopoly on the means of communication, and bourgeois misrepresentation, meant that it was all over before the working class of the world was able to respond to the call of the Hungarian workers. Although the movement was spontaneous, the political background of all those who held leading positions in the revolution was communist or socialist of one kind or another. The revolution did not have time to develop a program as such, but its political character was unambiguous and clear – it was the program of political revolution.

‘In Hungary, both factory workers’ councils and district-based workers’ or revolutionary councils sprang up during the first phase of the 1956 revolution. Their main task was to maintain the general strike. Their demands were closely similar: freedom for other political parties, withdrawal of Russian troops, Hungarian neutrality, the right to strike. ...

‘The most bitter fighting of all took place in the working-class districts of Budapest. When it died down, the general strike held throughout the country. The workers’ councils movement now became radicalised. At the suggestion of Miklos Krasso, one of the very few intellectuals involved, a central workers council for all Budapest was set up. Its main job was to negotiate with the Russians and the new Kadar regime they had installed, but its programme was one of democratic socialism. As weeks of vain political struggle passed, the workers began to organise a nation-wide political system based on the councils, centring on a national council with mandated, revocable delegates and advised by a ‘workers' parliament’, a society based on the direct rule of the producers. ... Little could be achieved, however, against hopeless odds, The main strike leadership was arrested in early December, and the last workers’ councils dissolved themselves in January 1957’. [107]

As a spontaneous uprising, the revolution never considered the question of the capacity of Stalinism to utilise its armed force, and it lacked international support capable of repelling the Stalinist invasion.

Fryer's reports to the Daily Worker were not published. The treatment of the Hungarian events in the Stalinist press in Australia was typical. In October 31 1956, the CPA’s Tribune headlined: ‘Counter-Revolutionary Bid to Overthrow Socialism in Hungary’. The November 7 edition said: ‘the Hungarian people are not fighting the troops, but are in fact welcoming them’.

This version of events had trouble standing up to facts with which it was clearly at odds. By December, Communist Review had to explain how the rule of the Hungarian Workers Party had ‘led to a movement ... on the part of honest Communists, progressive workers and of students and others, a legitimate and proper movement, in its inception, for reforms ...’ which was apparently supported by ‘tens of thousands’ of ‘well-organised, trained and armed fascists’. [108]

This double-talk could not erase the fact that the Hungarian workers had dealt a death-blow to Stalinism of international and historic proportions.

At Moscow University in November 1956 a group of students challenged their “Marxism-Leninism” lecturer over the suppression of the Hungarian Revolt, quoting Lenin at him and eventually driving him from the hall. The protests spread to Leningrad and other major cities as far as Central Asia and even penetrated the Moscow garrison. After expulsions and reprisals against students the revolt was quelled.

Despite the blow that the Hungarian Revolution had dealt to the credibility of Stalinism, the repression of the political revolution also took its toll on the workers of Europe. The Polish workers retreated after witnessing the fate of their comrades in Hungary, and while never abandoning the fight for national independence and political freedoms, proceeded with considerable caution thereafter, and a generation would grow up under the suffocating pall of Stalinism, before a new uprising took place.

III: Khrushchev and the 20th Congress

Nikita Khrushchev was appointed First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in September 1953, six months after Stalin’s death. In January 1956 he delivered a report and a ‘secret speech’ at the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU in which he denounced Stalin’s crimes. The published transcript criticised the ‘cult of personality’ surrounding Stalin – now the standard Stalinist euphemism for the suppression of all independent thought or action.

In his speech, Khrushchev detailed Stalin’s murder of his political opponents, criminal misleadership in the War and systematic rewriting of history.

Khrushchev’s break from Stalin’s practices should not be exaggerated however. In public, Khrushchev continued to praise Stalin and minimise his ‘mistakes’; he criticised the ‘methods’, but not the policy itself. Khrushchev was a product of Stalin’s bureaucracy. Once the tyrant was dead, it was he who first dared to speak. The use of the political police for the settlement of internal disputes and the use of the bullet in the back of the head was in general greatly moderated, but in every respect Khrushchev remained a Stalinist. He defended the system.

Khrushchev set definite limits within which criticism of Stalin was allowed, and beyond which it would be crushed. The reduced application of secret police methods was made up for to an extent by the creation of “people’s guards” in 1959. These irregular groups of loyal citizens were used to terrorise political opponents and generally to defend the established order. Local women’s councils were also set up.

The underlying cause for Khrushchev’s attack on Stalin lay in the deepening crisis of the Soviet economy. The fact was that bureaucratic “command economy” was incapable of surpassing the quantitative expansion of industry except in a narrow range of highly specialised projects. An enormous expenditure of energy and expertise was required to maintain the USSR’s military might against the USA. Together with the isolation of the Soviet bloc from the world market, it was proving impossible to make any real qualitative development in the economy.

Opinions might vary as to exactly from when to date the decline of the Stalinism regime. Jacek Tittenbrun, in his book The Collapse of “Real Socialism” in Poland, says:

“It was roughly in the mid-1950s, with the end of the period of primitive accumulation based on an increase in the number of workers, the length of work time and the intensity of labour, that the Soviet-type economies entered a phase of declining growth, accompanied by such ominous trends as an increase in the incremental and average capital-output ratio and a decline in labour productivity, to mention only a few. In the second half of the 1950s, the growth rates of both material production (total production excluding services) and industrial production were lower than in the first half of the 1950s in roughly half of the East European countries. Between 1960 and 1965 the growth rates of both material and industrial production were lower still in all these countries except Rumania. Labour reserves ... became exhausted. ... As production grew more varied and sophisticated, and relationships between different sectors of the economy became very complex, difficulties in planning and coordinating the economy became more visible. The shortcomings of the Stalinist economy – bottlenecks, unusable output, shortages, waste, lack of technological progress and overall bureaucratic inefficiency – became evident.”

In Khrushchev’s view, the USSR required a loosening of centralised control in science and technology, decentralisation of economic planning and whatever was necessary to regularise economics relations with imperialism. In some senses, Khrushchev raised problems which were later raised by Gorbachev.

Following a recent visit to the Soviet Union, Heidi and Alvin Toffler, commented in the Sunday Times 4 January 1987:

“An advanced economy demands incessant technological innovation. But technological advance in the modern world is tied up more and more with culture and the social structure. To generate a wealth of new ideas – including technological ideas – the system has to allow not only scientific theories and hypotheses, but also socially odd ideas, non-conformist art, questionable economic theories and even dissident ideologies.”

However, the bureaucracy was inherently incapable of managing a decentralised economy and the smallest degree of liberalisation in the arts and sciences challenged their hegemony. Khrushchev remained a staunch ‘Lysenko-ist’. The first tentative moves towards decentralisation led to a rapid growth of political instability, and solved nothing in the economy.

Khrushchev’s exposure of Stalin, his attempts to change the political and economic system in the USSR, and his changes in diplomatic policy had rapid and profound effects on the world Stalinist movement. The uprisings in Poland in June 1956 and Hungary in October 1956 were undoubtedly to some considerable extent stimulated by Khrushchev’s criticism of Stalin.

Zhores Medvedev pointed out that the impact of Khrushchev’s speech caused far more upheaval in the world outside than within the USSR:

‘The circumstances of the preparation of this speech – in secret because of the objections of Malenkov, Kaganovich, Molotov, Voroshilov and others – meant that Khrushchev could not prepare foreign Communist leaders for the new policy line. Although he was already strong enough to carry out some measure of de-Stalinisation in the USSR, the other socialist countries were still largely headed by typical Stalinists. Most of them (in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Albania) had organised their own campaigns of terror in 1949-51 (with the help of the MGB), in the course of which they had eliminated their rivals, Communists who had distinguished themselves during the war as leaders of the resistance and had become national heroes. Khrushchev’s speech produced crises in all these countries, but in Hungary the crises developed into open revolt’. [109]

Jiri Pelikan reports that the Czechoslovak leadership refused to allow any discussion of the implications of Khrushchev’s speech, but:

‘For the first time an internal discussion took place in Party branches, new ideas were put forward, the members began to think about the content of everything which the party was passing down merely to be rubber-stamped. A breach had been opened in the monolithic structure of the Party, and it could no longer be healed. ...

‘This first phase was followed by a period of slow and gradual formation of an opposition within the Party ... tension was increased even further by reports from communists sentenced in the 1949-53 trials and suddenly released without rehabilitation. Unrest spread among students, journalists, writers and scientists ...’ [110]

Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin also led to changes in the nature of the opposition to Stalinism within the Soviet Union.

The Opposition under Khrushchev

Rising dissatisfaction among the workers with the low standard of living was one of the factors which had forced Khrushchev to look for a way to dissipate opposition. Although the police had been able to break up all attempts at opposition to the regime, the existence of independent workers’ governments outside the USSR, even if they were all controlled by loyal Stalinists, legitimised and encouraged opposition. In particular, the workers’ uprising in Germany had given great encouragement to oppositionists. Strikes broke out continuously in the camps from 1953 to 1955, and were partially successful. Eventually there was an amnesty for political prisoners and the camp system was partially dismantled.

Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin gave birth to a generation of Soviet dissidents which Boris Kagarlitsky calls the “children of the Twentieth Congress.”[111] According to the account of one participant, “David Burg”:

‘In 1956-57, after the XXth Party Congress, opposition elements within the institutes and universities began to wage an open battle against the Komsomol[112] leadership. They sought first of all to gain freedom of criticism and expression, and second to introduce a degree of intra-Komsomol democracy that would make the Komsomol a truly representative organisation with an honestly elected leadership. Freedom of expression was in fact gradually achieved at that period by a kind of procedure of protestation, and extraordinarily sharp critical comments were heard more and more commonly at meetings. At the same time illegal and semi-legal student journals with such characteristic titles as Heresy and Fresh Voices began to appear; they discussed art and ideology, ridiculed socialist realism, and attacked the local Komsomol leaders...’

According to Burg, from one-third to one-quarter of students at this time expressed dissident opinions, which belonged to one of three currents: neo-Leninist, liberal socialist and anti-socialist. The neo-Leninists were initially the strongest current. However, by the end of 1957 this neo-Leninist opposition was beaten down by police repression, and the population of the labour camps was swelled by thousands of student oppositionists. The broader youth movement continued to fight up until a pitched battle with the militia in Moscow in April 1961, when it finally repressed.

In the subsequent period, the dominant opposition trend was the legal “cultural opposition” whose supporters generally hoped that the bureaucracy would eventually reform itself. The Left dissidents opposed the government from a position of seeing themselves as the true Leninists, but in general they did not have an analysis of Stalinism. These included the poets Yevtushenko and Voznesensky and the publishers of the magazine Novy Mir.

Science also provided an arena in which there could be some independent development of Marxism. Boris Kagarlitsky commented:

‘Engels’ theory of the dialectics of nature, being most remote from the interests of the social struggle, was the least distorted aspect of Marxist theory in Soviet textbooks. These ideas were not subjected to any special ”reworking” – unlike, for example, the Marxist theory of the state. It was thus possible to do serious philosophical work, up to a certain stage, on problems of the natural sciences within the framework of the official ideology ...

‘Dialectical materialism, based on the ideas of Hegel and Engels on the philosophy of nature, was a powerful weapon in the hands of scientists battling against Lysenkoism. ... Thus the dialectics of nature is used by scientists for theoretical self-defence against the voluntarism of the statocracy and is a genuinely living doctrine in the USSR.’[113]

The dumping of Lysenko immediately upon Khrushchev’s removal marked a small victory against the bureaucracy.

In the late 50s and early 60s several clandestine organisations appeared in the Ukraine. These groups were especially significant because workers were involved. It is believed that an organisation of neo-Bolsheviks played an important role in mass strikes and protests by workers in the Donbass region of the Ukraine in 1962.

‘In the June of 1962, an uprising occurred in Novocherkassk. There a large part of the population joined in a massive demonstration [against price increases on meat and dairy products] that was brutally suppressed. Almost helpless in cases like this, the military was forced to call up reinforcements. But even these additional troops allegedly refused to fire into the crowd after the commanding officer shot himself in front of their eyes. Accompanied by tank units, the MVD troops ... finally put an end to the mass demonstrations ... several hundred people were killed’. [114]

“The insurgents in the Donbass region reportedly considered ... the demonstration in Novocherkassk unsuccessful mainly because they rebelled there without the consent of the strike organisation offices in nearby Rostov, Lugansk, Taganrog and other cities [who were preparing a co-ordinated action]. The agitation was supposedly instigated for the most part by students and intellectuals, abetted by a few Ukrainian nationalists.” [115]

In the early 1960s some veterans of the pre-Stalin days were released from the camps, and these joined forces with the young dissidents and reformers who had joined the CPSU after 1956 in the hope of reforming the Party but were expelled again after Khrushchev’s removal.

By 1963 however, hopes that the regime was going to reform itself had been dissipated. The vague ferment in the rebel circles that produced and read underground literature gradually became more organised, focussed and political, especially around the time of Khrushchev’s ouster in 1964-5. This was a time of growing discontent, not only among the more politicised intellectual layers, but among the masses of workers. There were reports of strikes and slow-downs, for example, at an automobile plant in Moscow, that apparently contributed to the decision to replace Khrushchev with the bureaucratic team of Brezhnev and Kosygin.

In 1965, there was a crackdown intended to intimidate the opposition. However, conditions had changed, and the protests which followed in the wake of the trials led to a flowering of opposition and created a network of thousands of oppositionists including intellectuals and Ukrainian nationalists which formed the “democratic movement” whose protests continued up until the Gorbachev era. Journals like Russkoe Slovo (Russian Word), Tetradi Sotsial-Demokstii (Notebooks of Social Democracy) and the journal of the Leningrad Union of Communards circulated in the 1960s and made Marxist criticism of the bureaucracy.

However, the mass protests and strikes in the Donbass in 1962 proved to be the last mass actions by the working class in the Soviet Union for twenty-five years.

‘Catching up and overtaking the West’

After the death of Stalin, and mainly under Khrushchev’s leadership a program of modernising agriculture was initiated. This involved consolidating the collective farms into larger farms and increasingly into state farms which employed wage workers. Machine and Tractor Stations (MTSs) were set up in the countryside with skilled mechanics employed to provide and service agricultural machinery. The districts were allowed to decide on what crops to plant and when, rather than being directed from the centre. Quotas for compulsory sale to the state were eased.

From 1950 to 1964, the number of collective farms decreased from 123,700 to 37,600. The number of state farms increased from 4,857 in 1953 to 10,078 in 1964. [116]

In 1954, Khrushchev initiated a bold plan to open up to agriculture virgin lands in Kazakhstan, the Urals and Siberia. At first, prisoners from the labour camps and later, young people sent by the Komsomol were used. The bureaucratic mismanagement and tyrannical ignorance with which this project was implemented epitomised Stalinist economic methods. In October 1959, 1,500 young workers in a tent city in Kazakhstan rebelled. They fraternised with troops sent against them and disarmed them. The revolt was eventually suppressed by security police.

Such vast resources were thrown at the project that the traditional grain producing areas were depleted of resources while crops rotted in Kazakhstan because silos had not been completed in time. Soil erosion and unpredictable weather wiped out whole harvests, and by the mid-1960s sandstorms became a serious problem.

The vast area of agricultural land over the territory of the centrally planned USSR should have made it possible to ensure a stable food supply, independent of caprices in the weather in any particular climatic zone. Instead, the Soviet Union’s food supplies were subject to colossal ups and downs.

Despite everything, the project of expanding agriculture into the virgin lands succeeded, and to this day form a major part of the region’s grain sources. In 1954, the virgin lands provided 37 million tons of the country’s 85 million tons of grain. In 1956, 63m of a total of 125m tons; in 1962, 56m of a total of 140m; in 1963, 38m of 108m; in 1964, 66m of 152m. [117]

In the true Stalin tradition, despite earlier decisions that districts should make such decisions, Khrushchev took it into his head that maize was the “queen of crops,” and that maize must be planted everywhere. The bad harvest in 1955 brought Khrushchev’s leadership under severe pressure. This pressure may have been a factor in his decision to launch his attack on Stalin, and the good harvest in 1956 was possibly his saviour.

In May 1957, emboldened by this success, Khrushchev raised the slogan of ‘catching up and overtaking America’ in meat, wool and milk production, setting the target of matching the meat production of the USA by 1962. This target implied a multiplication of the USSR’s meat production by a factor of 3.2!

This project was carried forward with the same institutionalised fantasy as had characterised the Stakhanovite period under Stalin. No account was taken of the relationship between the different branches of industry and their co-ordination. As a result, totally unachievable targets were set. Successful achievement of the targets was obediently reported up the bureaucratic chain. Fiction was heaped upon fiction. The whole bureaucratic fairy-tale collapsed in 1959, and a special commission set up in 1960 established that reported progress had been based on misrepresentation. By 1964, meat production had reached 8.3m tons, compared with 7.5m in 1956. This figure was typical of the extent of expansion achieved across all the various sectors of agriculture.

Agricultural productivity per hectare stalwartly refused to surpass the level reached in 1959. Maize crops planted in areas where the climate was unsuitable consistently failed. Frustrated by lack of progress, Khrushchev liquidated the MTSs, with catastrophic effects on the state farms which proved unable to fill the gap. The cost of machinery climbed, its quality fell sharply, and without qualified mechanics machinery fell into disrepair.

As a result, an increasing proportion of Soviet agriculture was carried out on small private plots. Despite accounting for only a minuscule proportion of land, private plots grazed 42 per cent of cattle in 1958. After a period of confiscation of private herds, they were allowed to grow again and by 1964 grazed 55 per cent of cattle.

Throughout the Khrushchev period, Soviet agriculture was hit by a succession of sharp changes in direction and reorganisations initiated from the top, none of which achieved any substantial improvement. Khrushchev’s struggle for leadership in the bureaucracy was centred around his policy of decentralising the planning process. This policy which threatened the power of the bureaucratic leadership, combined with Khrushchev’s propensity for wild turns such as the maize policy, earnt Khrushchev the enmity of the rest of the leadership. Khrushchev leant upon the regional leadership to eventually succeed in removing his opponents and consolidate his position.

During the Khrushchev period there was an all-out program to increase the production of energy. Between 1954 and 1965, electrical power generation grew from 150m Mw to 507m Mw, oil from 53m tons to 347m tons, coal from 347m tons to 578m tons. At the same time, steel production was increased from 41m tons to 91m tons.

There was also a sharp turn to the development of science and technology. Soviet science had almost died in the early 1930s as a result of Stalin’s policy of dictation of the ‘line’ in science, which had wiped out whole branches of science, and left others in the realm of pseudo-science. In the interval, the bare minimum of scientific research required for military purposes had been carried out in the labour camps. Very significant resources were now provided to science, including fundamental research.

Living standards improved markedly during Khrushchev’s period. More and more people were able to receive tertiary education, although this was generally available either after working for a number of years, or at night-school. More freedom of movement between jobs was allowed. Pensions were increased, with a qualifying age of 65 for men, 60 for women, but available for men with 25 years seniority in their job, 20 years for women, substantially better than in the West. Additional pension rights were granted to bureaucrats, police and scientific researchers. The length of the working week was reduced by two hours and maternity leave extended from 70 to 112 days. Between 1953 and 1964 the area of housing space was doubled, although it still remained in very short supply, and less on average than the minimum prescribed by US prison regulations at the time. The minimum wage was doubled, although social service professionals remained among the lowest paid.

But this significant progress must be seen in proportion. In 1950, the productivity of labour in the USSR was 30-40% that of the USA in industry, 20% in agriculture. By 1965, productivity had reached 40-50% of the US level in industry, 25% of the US level in agriculture.

The Soviet economy was still marked by a slower rate of introduction of modern techniques, disproportion between the sectors of the economy and between supply and demand, and a far higher expenditure of energy and raw materials per unit of final output. And far from accelerating, the improvement in the productivity of labour was beginning to exhaust itself.

‘Peaceful Co-Existence’

Immediately after the death of Stalin, the new Soviet leadership moved rapidly to move relations with imperialism on to a peaceful footing.

A peace was signed in Korea in July 1953.

In June 1954, the Vietnamese revolutionaries who had crushed French imperialism at Dien Bien Phu were persuaded to accept the stupid Geneva settlement in which they gave up control of the Southern half of the country to US occupation. The war had to be started all over again, with a further twenty years of suffering and destruction.

In 1955, a peace treaty was signed with Austria which was handed over to the West. Attempts were also made to mend relations with Yugoslavia, including recognition of ‘important steps in the construction of socialism’.

At the same Twentieth Congress at which Khrushchev denounced Stalin’s crimes, the doctrine of ‘peaceful co-existence’ was adopted. Khrushchev explained the doctrine of ‘peaceful co-existence’ to a reception at the Albanian Embassy in April 1957, in this way:

‘In our relations with the capitalist countries we steadfastly adhere to Lenin’s principle of peaceful coexistence. ...

‘We shall never take up arms to force the ideas of communism upon anybody. We do not need to do that, for the ideas of communism express the vital interests of the popular masses. Our ideas, the ideas of communism have such great vitality that no weapon can destroy them, that not even the nuclear weapon can hold up the development of these progressive ideas. Our ideas will capture the minds of mankind. The attempts of the imperialist to arrest the spread of the ideas of communism by force of arms are doomed to failure. ...

‘The countries of our socialist camp, united by a single aim, by unshakeable fraternal friendship, are strong both ideologically and materially. We have the armed forces necessary to defend our socialist gains and protect the peaceful labour of our peoples. But we frequently declared and again repeat that we are ready on mutually reasonable principles to disarm on a still larger scale. ...

‘[F]or forty years now Messrs the capitalists have been reiterating that ... private ownership is omnipotent. We affirm that the ideas of communism are incomparably stronger, that these ideas will ultimately prevail. Therefore, we repeat again and again: let us compete, let us coexist peacefully’.

As Khrushchev was speaking, the US were shipping thousands of troops into Vietnam to ‘compete’ with Vietnamese Communism; a vast US arsenal was competing with Korean Communism; British and Commonwealth troops were competing with communism in the jungles of Malaya; French soldiers and police were competing with torture in the dungeons of Algeria.

Or, as Khrushchev explained the policy to the Supreme Soviet on 31 October 1959:

‘The Soviet Union and all the socialist countries have opened up for humanity the road for a socialist development without war on the basis of peaceful collaboration. The conflict between the two systems must and can be resolved by peaceful means ... Coexistence is something real, flowing from the existing world situation of human society ... Several well-known personalities, and in the first place President Eisenhower, want to find ways of reinforcing peace’.

What are the characteristics of the ‘Khrushchev Doctrine’ of ‘peaceful co-existence’?

Firstly, the utopian project of ‘socialism in one country’. Up to a certain point, the achievements of the economy of the USSR and the deformed workers’ states were astounding. The whole world saw the Sputnik in the sky above them on 4th October 1957, while US rockets were still exploding or falling over on prime time television. Yuri Gagarin circled the Earth in April 1961. The Soviet military arsenal was formidable, and output of steel, oil, natural gas and basic heavy industries approached that of the capitalist powers.

But cut off from the world economy, the Soviet economy could never reach the level of a developed capitalist economy which exists within a world market and world-wide division of labour. Moreover, the bureaucratic planning of international exchange of commodities with the other countries in the Soviet bloc was quite inadequate.

Secondly, it meant political suppression of the working class within the Soviet bloc. This political suppression was essential to the maintenance of bureaucratic rule. The ‘thought control’ exercised by a workers’ bureaucracy is far more pervasive than the fascist version which is imposed by means of the smashing of working class organisation. The Party is your boss, your neighbour, your shop steward, your MP, your priest, your bank manager, your father, your mother and your child.

Thirdly, it meant the betrayal of the struggles of workers in the capitalist world, subordinating the needs of workers to those of Soviet diplomacy. The Communist Parties found themselves to the right of the peace movement in advocating bilateral disarmament; from having the leadership of the women’s movement CP members had lost touch with the younger generation; Stalinist trade union officials had become the policemen of the unions.

Fourthly, isolated and blockaded by imperialism, peaceful co-existence meant socially and politically sealing off from each other the people of the workers’ states and the people of the capitalist world. The erection of the Berlin Wall in August 1961 divided Germany permanently. The people of Korea are still separated by the 38th parallel. This isolation added to economic stagnation and political and cultural backwardness.

Fifthly, the ex-colonial governments were supported against imperialism, but at the price of becoming bargaining chips in Soviet diplomacy. The sell-out of the Vietnamese Revolution in 1954 was the most tragic example. While the US provided troops and the most modern weapons to their clients, the USSR supplied the national liberation movements with only sufficient weaponry to serve the purpose of tying down the imperialists.

Sixthly, the arms race. The USSR was obliged to compete in nuclear weaponry with the most powerful economy the world had ever known. Maintaining ‘peace’ imposed a crippling burden upon the planned economy, which has no need of the ‘stimulus’ of war production. Military might was a substitute for political struggle.

Despite this policy, those countries obliged to fight imperialism as a matter of life and death came to the Soviet Union for military and economic aid. In July 1956, Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal in order to raise finance for the Aswan Dam. When British and French war-planes bombed Egyptian positions on 31 October 1956 and landed paratroops at Port Said, Nasser appealed to the USSR for aid. In the event, the British and French had to retreat with tails between their legs, a retreat which signalled the twilight for British and French imperialism.

Following the Suez Crisis, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Yemen lined up with the USSR, despite the betrayal of Arab interests by the USSR when it supported the establishment of Israel in 1948. The same process was repeated in Africa and Asia.


The most startling and important example of a successful national liberation struggle joining the Soviet bloc followed the victory of Castro in Cuba in January 1959.

Fidel Castro had no contact and received no support from the Soviet Union before 1959. He made the Cuban Revolution with a force composed of urban intellectuals landed from the sea, fighting from remote rural bases where they were supported by the peasantry.

When he marched into Havana, the Cuban Communist Party, which had been legal under Batista’s dictatorship, called a one-day general strike. Rather than suppressing the CP, Castro pragmatically took them over, changing the name of his party to Communist Party in 1965. In this way he bought the Cuban Revolution a subscription to the Soviet bloc. In exchange for trade, without which Cuba could never survive the US blockade, Castro’s Cuba provided permanent defiance of US imperialism.

This process was a startling extension of the overturns in Eastern Europe after the War. The Revolution had been made independently not only of the working class, but of the Communist Party as well! But the world situation was such that when Cuba joined the Soviet bloc, they were obliged to pass over to expropriation of the bourgeoisie and the construction of a nationalised planned economy, particularly from 1965. The Cuban bourgeoisie obliged by taking the next plane to Miami, and Cuba developed along the lines of a deformed workers’ state, under the ‘benign’ dictatorship of Fidel Castro.

The world was brought to the nuclear brink in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1961, but in the end Khrushchev backed off. Cuba was left isolated. What use in the end were Khrushchev’s missile deterrents to the Cubans?

The favourable terms of trade with the USSR did make it possible for Cuba to survive the Yankee blockade however. In return, Cuban workers travelled as far afield as Angola to fight US Imperialism, where the diplomatic pact between the USSR and the USA would not allow the direct intervention of the Soviet military.

Throughout the whole period since the Twentieth Congress, no national liberation movement or struggle against a feudal or autocratic regime in the ‘Third World’ received military assistance from the Soviet Union before achieving state power. If South Vietnam were to be counted as a separate country, this would be the only exception. Batista in Cuba, the Shah of Iran, the Portuguese regimes in Mozambique and Angola, Haile Selassi in Ethiopia, Somoza’s regime in Nicaragua – all these dictatorships were overthrown without an ounce of support from the USSR. Military aid was forthcoming afterwards in order to bolster the USSR’s bargaining position against the USA.

The fall-out from Khrushchev’s ‘secret speech’

The Twentieth Congress of the CPSU, and in particular Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin in his secret speech had profound consequences on the international movement of which Stalin had been the absolute leader for thirty years. The speech was secret because its contents were so painful for the Communist movement, and it was believed that it should not be let out to the capitalist media. The effect of the secrecy was quite the opposite of what was intended. The loyal members of the Communist Parties for whom the speech was intended were the last to know the truth.

In Australia, the CPA response was “Don’t fall for press stories of attacks on the late J V Stalin at the 20th Congress” (Guardian, 23 February 1956). But eventually the CPA had to come to terms with what the rest of the world knew and was talking about.

The ‘cult of personality’ and some ‘errors’ Stalin may have made provided the formula to accommodate the most unspeakable crimes against the working class. With the minimum possible rationalisation, the CPA hoped to continue much as before. For a party that had existed more or less on faith however, the shattering of the Stalin myth posed a huge moral crisis. Membership and morale declined.

The CPA lost thousands of members, in the wake of Khrushchev’s speech denouncing Stalin’s crimes and the suppression of the Hungarian Uprising. Membership among the intelligentsia was almost wiped out. These losses coincided with some progress in regaining union positions lost to the Groupers, but union positions had been regained at the cost of unity with anyone and everyone by any means. Not only did CPA membership decline, but the Party’s profile became almost invisible. The CPA provided competent union bureaucrats, but this did not bring significant political support outside of union elections.

Those members that remained were hardly distinguishable from members of the local Parish, depending more on ‘faith’ than anything else, sustained by the myth of socialism being built in the USSR, Eastern Europe and China. CPA activity outside of the union bureaucracy concentrated on the peace movement (“For a Peace Conference Between the Five Great Powers”) the ‘Union of Australian Women’ (mothers’ clubs and Parent-Teacher Associations). Faith was the more difficult to maintain after the Hungarian Uprising. Sputniks and Soviet H-Bombs helped to cover up the reality of the austerity of life behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ to which ‘Australia’s Road to Socialism’ would eventually (?) lead.

The Decline of Stalinism

Better living standards and education especially in the cities, the struggles within the bureaucracy, the attempted decentralisation, the reduced threat of war and the activity of the “people’s guards” all contributed to increased political instability in the USSR.

Khrushchev’s attempt to ‘shake-up’ the Soviet economy failed, particularly in agriculture. The fracture of the Sino-Soviet bloc and the loss of the USSR’s control of the world communist organisation eventually provoked a counter-attack by the ‘conservatives’ within the bureaucracy. Khrushchev was peacefully removed from office by a ‘triumvirate’ in October 1964 and Leonid Brezhnev emerged to be the new leader of the USSR until his death in November 1982.

Brezhnev’s era was to be one of protracted economic stagnation. From the excitement of the Khrushchev era, with his remonstrations at the UN, demagogic speeches, the confrontations, the spectacular achievements in space, the huge new hydro-electric schemes, the colonisation of the virgin lands and decentralisation of planning, Stalinism moved into the dull greyness of decline. The improvements in living standards which Soviet citizens enjoyed during the Khrushchev era, gave way to a steadily increasing economic crisis.

While the ex-colonial governments received sufficient support to resist imperialism, they never got enough to hit back. The might of the Soviet arsenal grew in proportion to the cowardice of its policy.

The bureaucracy ruled over a population of more than 1000 million people. A planned economy on this scale was possible only on the basis of workers’ democracy. Although significant progress had been made in Soviet industry, the “command economy” of Stalinism was incapable of ‘catching up and overtaking’ capitalism. However, the supposed superiority of Soviet economy was the cornerstone of ‘peaceful co-existence’. Consequently, the whole strategy fell to pieces.

It is a great irony that despite the USSR slipping behind in the economic competition, despite the desperate efforts of imperialism to crush the workers’ and national liberation movements, despite the determined efforts of the leaders of the USSR to do nothing to assist the peoples fighting imperialism and despite the best efforts of their supporters in the West to hold back the struggles of the working class, the territory and population adhering to the Stalinist bloc inexorably grew during this period.

The political revolution failed in the mid-1950s, but despite everything the conquests of the Russian Revolution were still able to nourish and defend the struggle against imperialism.