I am most grateful to my friend John Rudge for allowing me to publish here his carefully researched account of an important debate in the early years of the Socialist Review Group, together with the key documents.
Hillman, Hallas and the Stalinist Parties
John Rudge Issued 18th September 2017
- Why? 3
- The Socialist Review Group in 1950 – 1951 3
- Ellis Hillman and the Socialist Review Group 6
- Introduction to “The Nature of the Stalinist Parties” by Ellis Hillman 7
- Introduction to “The Stalinist Parties” by Duncan Hallas 11
- Introduction to The SRG Secretariat’s Recommendation to Members 12
- Closing Remarks 12
- Notes 13
- Glossary 14
- 10. Acknowledgements 15
11. Literature Cited 15
Appendix 1 – “The Nature of the Stalinist Parties” by Ellis Hillman 17
Appendix 2 – “The Stalinist Parties” by Duncan Hallas 38
Appendix 3 – The SRG Secretariat’s Recommendation to Members 51
- 1. Why?
It would be a very appropriate question to ask, “Why write this document?”. For me, there are a number of reasons.
Firstly, the episode tells us a little more about Ellis Hillman and his short time in the Socialist Review Group (SRG). Previously, his relationship with the organisation has been primarily defined by the fact that he was the first person to be expelled (Higgins, 1997; Birchall, 2011). This is unfair.
Secondly, the debate throws important light on the emerging politics of the SRG. This is particularly the case as regards the relationship of the SRG with those tendencies that have been latterly regarded as forming a “heterodox Trotskyist” tradition (see e.g. Matgamna, 1998 and 2015).
Thirdly, the Hallas document “The Stalinist Parties” has been widely published in the past. Its importance is highlighted by the fact that it appeared in the 1971 Pluto Press book “The Fourth International, Stalinism and the Origins of the International Socialists: Some Documents” alongside other important early texts of the SRG. Of course, the Hallas text was written in direct response to the Hillman document so it seems nonsensical that only one side of the debate has been published before. Publishing both documents together allows us to consider them “in the round”.
Fourthly, it highlights the absolute importance of Duncan Hallas as a clear-sighted political thinker in the formation of the SRG and the “IS tradition”. One cannot but wonder how things might have been different should Hallas have not been lost to the tradition for the decade and a half leading up to 1968.
Last and by no means least is the need to capture this documentation for posterity. Within the last few weeks two individuals have told me that the copy of Hillman’s “The Nature of the Stalinist Parties” document held in the Richardson-Higgins archive at Senate House Library in London is “very indistinct indeed” or has “passages that are completely unreadable” (1). We know from the minutes of the SRG Birmingham branch meeting on 18th May 1951 that as few as 40 copies of this document will have been printed. The copy in my personal archive is still legible – so now seems the right time to record it.
- 2. The Socialist Review Group in 1950 – 1951
I will ruthlessly paraphrase Tony Cliff in order to give some context to the situation facing the Trotskyist movement in the immediate post-war period. Cliff has written:
“Before his death Trotsky had made a series of predictions. Four of these would be challenged by the reality of developments after the Second World War.
- He had predicted that the Stalinist Regime in Russia could not survive the war….
- Trotsky thought that capitalism was in terminal crisis…..
- Using his theory of permanent revolution, Trotsky argued that in backward, underdeveloped countries the accomplishment of bourgeois democratic tasks – national liberation and agrarian reform – could be advanced only by working class power….
- Finally, if all the above three prognoses had been correct, there would not have been a future for Stalinism or reformism and the field would have been wide open for an extremely rapid advance of the Fourth International.” (Cliff, 1999).
Of course, great revolutionary though he was Trotsky proved to be quite wrong – but many of his followers had difficulty coming to terms with the fact. Cliff continues:
“Thus world Trotskyism entered a cul-de-sac. The general crisis of the movement demanded a radical re-evaluation of the perspectives of humanity.
The few comrades who started the International Socialist tendency were not prepared to use Marxism as a substitute for reality, but on the contrary wished it to be a weapon helping to master reality. In the years 1946-48 we had to wrestle with very difficult questions. We had to be clear that we were continuing a tradition – that we were followers of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky – but that we had to face new situations. It was both a continuation and a new beginning. Intellectual toughness does not mean dogmatism; grasping a changing reality does not mean vagueness. Our criticism of orthodox Trotskyism was conceived as a return to classical Marxism.” (Cliff, 1999).
These “few comrades” as Cliff calls them were to form the Socialist Review Group at a conference in the autumn of 1950 and I have written previously on that subject (Rudge, 2015).
Politically the SRG was founded on the basis of a number of key texts written by Cliff, the most important being the 1948 Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) Internal Bulletin “The Nature of Stalinist Russia”. There were, however, other important founding texts, most notably, “Marxism and the Theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism” (Cliff, 1949) (2) and “On the Class Nature of the “People’s Democracies” (Cliff, 1950).
I contend that there is a common thread running through these formative texts – namely that they are very long on abstract theory and very short on what that theory means for practical politics. That is not meant to be hypercritical – it could probably not have been otherwise. The nature of the Stalinist regime in Russia and its “satellites” in particular was a burning question for the Trotskyist left at the time – and how the question was answered became a defining trait of the contending political groups. It also needs to be remembered that the number of Trotskyists was minimal and they had no base at all in the working class movement. They were in tiny organisations operating in the margins – the SRG itself was formed with the grand total of 33 members.
Be that as it may it is still a truism that “correct” theory can only take you so far. When you are seeking to build a new political organisation such as the SRG, especially one that aims to be, in its own words, “the nucleus of that new Marxist party [in Britain]” (SRG National Committee, December 1950) then practical political action is critical. This is not just me hypothesising – it is something that most elements of the SRG recognised themselves at the time.
The SRG National Committee meeting of December 1950 is very instructive and relevant to the subjects under discussion here. This meeting was “the first national meeting of the SRG given over to defining and clarifying some key political issues for the organisation. Ken Tarbuck actually describes it as “the meeting that could perhaps be considered the true founding conference of the Socialist Review Group”” (Rudge, 2015). At that meeting Bill Ainsworth moved a motion on behalf of the SRG Secretariat defining the organisation 100% in terms of its State Capitalist theory as against contending theories. The text of the motion opens as follows:
(1) “That the conception of Russia as a workers’ state,
- Inevitably leads its proponents, despite criticisms, to political support of Stalinism on all fundamental questions (war, etc.)
- Must eventually lead to the adoption of Stalinist methods organisationally, as the H. [Healy] club demonstrates,
- Is responsible for the disorientation and demoralisation of the Fourth International
- Has been the major objective factor which has made it imperative to build the Marxist party anew in Britain
(2) That our grouping, based on the conception of Russia as a State-capitalist country, is the nucleus of that new Marxist party, and can be built firmly ONLY on the acceptance of party discipline in the tradition of Bolshevism under Lenin’s leadership. Public adherence to the conception of Russia as a State-capitalist country, and to the politics flowing therefrom, shall be a condition of membership….” (My bold italics – JR).
What is telling is that during the debate on the motion an amendment was successfully moved to add the words “as and when these positions are defined” after those in bold above. It is therefore clear that whilst “State capitalism” was the SRG theory, the practical politics flowing from the theory remained to be agreed.
In another part of this same National Committee meeting the subject of education was debated and Duncan Hallas moved that three documents be written for discussion – on the “Nature of the Stalinist Parties”, “China” and “Workers’ Control”. It was here that it was agreed that Ellis Hillman would write the document on the “Nature of the Stalinist Parties”.
Ellis Hillman was an attendee at this National Committee meeting so it is natural that he will have picked up on the fact that the document he was being asked to write on “The Nature of the Stalinist Parties” should be more than theory – it should also cover the politics flowing from the theory.
At the time of these debates within the SRG the organisation was not close to either the Johnson-Forest Tendency (3) who were developing their own State Capitalist analysis of Russia, most notably in “The Invading Socialist Society” (1947) and “State Capitalism and Revolution” (1950) or to the Shachmanites in the Independent Socialist League (ISL) (4) who were developing a theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism.
Tony Cliff, in his 1948 RCP Internal Bulletin “The Nature of Stalinist Russia”, in a section citing “a simplification that has been the disease of the majority of those who have characterised Russia as state capitalist” stated that he was going to “analyse in particular detail the position of R.H. Johnson and F. Forest” (see footnote number 134) – although he seems never to have progressed this promised work. As regards the Shachmanites there was an interesting episode in early 1951 which shines some light on that relationship. In the ISL’s “New International” journal of March-April 1951 there is an editorial explaining how the journal had sent a pro-forma letter out to foreign readers asking for payment and comments by return. From amongst the replies they had received they printed this one:
“Great Britain: Inside the State Capitalist Tendency there is a very great sympathy for the ISL. The New International has greater influence today than for many years in this country. We are using the NI for the purpose of drawing comrades to our Third Camp attitude.”
That sentiment clearly did not go down well in Birmingham. It is recorded in the minutes of the SRG Birmingham branch (the Birmingham branch acted as the SRG Secretariat at this time) minutes of 21st June 1951 that:
“We should write to the N.I. stating that there is no basis for agreement between them and us, giving full reasons and making an attack on their recent editorial.”
Coincidentally, whilst the SRG was never close to the Johnson-Forest Tendency (although Cliff met Dunayevskaya in 1947) they were soon to have a degree of co-operation with the ISL as joint exponents of “Third Camp Socialism”, a co-operation that lasted throughout the 1950’s. When Cliff’s magnum opus on State Capitalism was first published in book format in 1955 it was reviewed by Hal Draper, the renowned U.S. Marxist and prominent Bureaucratic Collectivist, in the ISL’s newspaper “Labor Action”. The review was highly favourable and makes this valid point concerning both State Capitalism and Bureaucratic Collectivism:
“It is more important to note what kind of “state capitalist” theory is this one of Cliff’s. For there are all kinds of people who have applied this label of state-capitalism to Russia, with quite different political and theoretical meanings; just as, for that matter, the same is true for our own label of bureaucratic collectivism”.
Draper also states:
“But his [Cliff’s] political conclusions are very close, if not identical with, those of Independent Socialism” (Draper, 1956).
One member of the SRG who joined in the mid 1950’s goes as far as saying:
“Though Cliff and Kidron took their state capitalist analysis of Russia and Eastern Europe very seriously, most of the members including myself found Shachtman’s concept of bureaucratic collectivism a more convincing explanation of what had gone wrong with the Russian revolution of 1917.” (Young, 1995).
Young’s specific point is very debatable and Stan Newens (pers. comms.) has this to say:
“On the question of whether James Young is correct in his view that a number of S.R. Group members accepted the Shachtman theory that the Soviet Union was a bureaucratic collectivist society, I think he is wrong but he always had a tendency to exaggerate.
Certainly, we had close relations with the Shachtmanites in the United States and I acted as the distributor of “The New International” for a number of years. As Hal Draper made clear in the quotation you make, our political conclusions were very close.”
What, however, joined the two viewpoints was clearly more than what separated them.
- 3. Ellis Hillman and the Socialist Review Group
At the time of writing his “The Nature of the Stalinist Parties” document Hillman was 22 years old. Notwithstanding his young age he already had some experience within the Trotskyist left having joined the Kilburn branch of the RCP in 1946. He was widely read and had an array of correspondents in various groups. In a short article in Revolutionary History journal (Hillman, 1996) he mentions his links with the Oehlerites and with George Marlen’s group. According to Bill Hunter (1998) he met future SRG founding members Anil Moonesinghe and Jean Hoban in 1948. He even appears to have made a good impression on Natalia Trotsky with a letter he wrote to her in late 1948. Trotsky’s widow wrote to the RCP leader Jock Haston on 12th January 1949 saying:
“I received a letter from a certain E.S. Hillman….Do you know him? His letter gave me a good impression. He is very young, he is only 20, but he is very interested in serious political problems and inclined to analysis….”.
Within the debates during the “dog days” of the RCP in 1949 Hillman was aligned with the Open Party Faction, one of whose leading lights was future SRG founding member Geoff Carlsson. The Jimmy Deane archive at Warwick shows that Hillman was writing to Deane during 1950 and that he was also in contact with the Shachtmanites and their “New International” journal. Writing in his autobiography Stan Newens neatly encapsulates the milieu when recounting of a meeting he attended in the first half of 1950. Stan writes:
“I remember being invited to meet a group of interested people in the Express Dairy in Gower Street. When I arrived and sat down, one of the group, Ellis Hillman (in later years a GLC councillor and Mayor of Barnet) turned to me and went round those seated with a pointed finger.
I’m a state capitalist; Simon Joffe here is a bureaucratic collectivist; Cyril Smith believes Russia is a degenerate workers’ state. Where do you stand? He asked.
I had an impulse to say, in the mad house, by the sound of things!” (Newens, 2013).
Hillman’s closest political friend during this period appears to have been Ron Grange, a fellow member of the RCP Kilburn branch. The two of them were among of group of young people active in the Labour Party youth organisation the “Labour League of Youth”.
Ron Grange attended the founding meeting of the SRG but it seems likely to me that the decision of Hillman and his friends to join the SRG was a very late one. When Hillman wrote to Jimmy Deane on 18th September 1950, less than two weeks before the SRG founding meeting, there is no indication of the course Hillman and co were going to take. In fact, the letter is largely concerned with the arrangements the group were making for their own organisational activities.
Notwithstanding this, Hillman and his group became an active part of the SRG’s London-based youth activities for the next twelve months. One of the group, Jeremy Beckitt, was the editor of the SRG’s youth publication “Young Chartist” and Ron Grange was on its four-person Editorial Board (the other two members of the Board were Ted Morris from Wythenshawe LLOY and Geoff Carlsson from Hampstead LLOY).
- 4. “The Nature of the Stalinist Parties” – Ellis Hillman
The text published here in Appendix 1 has not been made available in full before.
The document has been typed from an original copy in my possession and what I have reproduced retains the original layout and structure as far as has been possible. One point should be borne in mind. The original is closely typed on foolscap paper and runs to 17 pages. It has not proved possible to retain the same pagination in this version typed on A4 paper. I have corrected a couple of obvious typing errors but otherwise what appears here is what was produced in the early months of 1951.
So what of the document itself? In the main I will leave the reader to judge but I will make a few comments. My comments will focus on explaining context and will err on the more positive side. This is not because I necessarily agree with Hillman, in most respects I do not, but because both the Hallas and SRG Secretariat’s criticisms are reproduced in full here and I am aiming for some balance.
The only people to have written about this document in any sort of detail before are David Black, Jim Higgins and Ian Birchall.
David Black introduced a handful of extracts from the Hillman document with some fair but unremarkable comments:
“Hillman concluded that the SRG could make no impact on the membership of the Stalinist British Communist Party, which he sought to show was becoming increasingly petit-bourgeois. Therefore, he argued, the SRG should concentrate on building in the Labour Party…”. (Black, 2009)
To my mind Higgins rather spins the story for his own ends by saying that:
“Hillman had, apparently, been asked by the Secretariat to prepare an internal discussion document and……decided on a major revision of the group’s theory of state capitalism” (Higgins, 1997).
Higgins then places the document as one of the key reasons why Hillman was expelled from the SRG.
Ian Birchall’s brief account is much more realistic. He points out that Hillman’s document:
“which, drawing heavily on work of the Johnson-Forest Tendency, argued that Stalinist parties were not part of the working class movement. As a result, “The tactic of the united fronts with the CP which was considered a weapon to separate the rank and file from the bureaucratic leadership must be rejected on principle”. This was a disastrous conclusion which would have made any serious trade union activity impossible, since the Communist Party was still by far the most important left-wing force within the unions.”
This conclusion by Birchall seems true to me. Ian goes on to say:
“Nonetheless it seems unlikely that his political position in itself was the reason for his expulsion. It was more likely that he had been involved in personal acrimony with other comrades.” (Birchall, 2011).
Ian cites recollections of a conversation with Cliff to support this reasoning for Hillman’s expulsion from the SRG. From my own research into Hillman’s expulsion I do not agree that either the Higgins or the Birchall explanations are wholly true.
What does seem to be true is that Hillman used his extensive reading of current political theory and his “inclination to analysis” to bring forth an array of arguments on the subject at hand. It is worth re-emphasising that the document was produced by Hillman at the request of the organisation to serve the needs of education and discussion. It was also clear from the December 1950 meeting that the document should include the politics flowing from theoretical positions. With all that in mind it is surely not without interest that Hillman’s arguments attempt to mesh together ideas from different sources – the State Capitalism of the Johnson-Forest Tendency and the Bureaucratic Collectivism of Max Shachtman and the Workers Party/Independent Socialist League in particular.
In an educational sense Hillman is serving a real purpose here. The Johnson-Forest work “State Capitalism and World Revolution” clearly had a profound impact on him and he describes it as a “masterpiece” – but it is doubtful if many in the SRG had read it. The work was only published in a Socialist Workers Party (US) Discussion Bulletin in September 1950 – a publication that was not going to be widely available in Britain, although the SRG did receive a copy at the time. Hillman is also very aware of the earlier Johnson-Forest publication “The Invading Socialist Society”.
Likewise, some of the arguments that Hillman takes from Max Shachtman, particularly his more controversial ones – we will never support a Stalinist – and we should support social democracy against Stalinism – had only recently taken such a pure form (see for example Shachtman, September 1949) (5). Again, some members of the SRG may not have been “up to speed” on the politics flowing from Bureaucratic Collectivist theory, in much the same way as they were self-confessed as being unclear vis-à-vis State Capitalism. As regards Shachtman, the Independent Socialist League and their publications “Labor Action” and “The New International”, it is worth remembering that it was not until January 1952 that the SRG arranged a formal publication exchange with them.
Hillman’s endorsement of these Shachtmanite sentiments strikes one today as the height of sectarianism – and indeed they are. In mitigation one could (although I don’t think one should) argue that in a British context there was some justification. It did not need a particularly long memory to recall how the CPGB described the few British Trotskyists during World War 2. Publications produced by the CPGB included such gems as “Clear Out Hitler’s Agents! An Exposure of Trotskyist Disruption Being Organised in Britain” (Wainwright, 1942), “Hitler’s Agents Exposed!” (Mahon, 1943) and the undated CPGB leaflet headed-up “Warning All Anti-Nazis” which ended with the large bold type and underlined message “TREAT THE TROTSKYIST AS YOU WOULD A NAZI” (6).
There even exists in the C.P.’s educational literature of the period an exact mirror image of the later Hillman argument that the Communist Parties were not a part of the working class movement. In a 1944 educational leaflet titled “Truth About Trotskyism” we are treated to the following:
“Q. Is Trotskyism A Section Of The Labour Movement?
…..Whatever it may claim for itself, the record of Trotskyism proves that it is no legitimate part of Labour, but a poisonous growth that seeks to graft itself on to the healthy, living body of Labour in order to infect and rot it.” (Anon, 1944).
Lest one believe that this was all an aberration that ended with the War here is a quote from the CPGB Marxist Study Themes educational pamphlet produced for their members titled “The Disruptive Role of the Titoites”. This was published in 1951 at the same time as these SRG debates:
“By the mid-thirties the Trotskyites in all countries were serving three purposes for world reaction:
They acted as the main instrument by which Western reaction hoped to gain a foothold inside the land of socialism, the U.S.S.R., as a fifth column behind the line of socialism which was to aid and complement by espionage and disruption inside the Soviet Union, the open war preparations made outside.
They acted as an arsenal of right-wing and reactionary propaganda and slander against the Soviet Union, the Communist Parties, the militant socialists and trade unions, and the anti-fascist and peace forces, an arsenal of reactionary propaganda dressed up in ultra-revolutionary language.
They acted as an instrument to aid the capitalists by trying to penetrate the working class, the popular and national liberation movements, above all the Communist Parties – spying on them, confusing them and trying to disrupt them secretly from inside.”
To ensure that the CPGB membership could be certain that their enemies today were the enemies of yesterday the education pamphlet continues:
“There are direct links between many of the leading Titoites and the Trotskyites. The Titoites are dressing up in a slightly modernized form all the old Trotskyite lies and slanders. Trotsky’s mantle has fallen on Tito’s shoulders” (Anon, 1951).
It also seems that the word “sectarian” when used in CPGB circles did not necessarily apply where Trotskyists were concerned. There is an interesting section in the very first of the C.P.’s Marxist Study Themes pamphlets which was published at the end of 1950. In a section discussing working class unity there appears the following:
“Is there Anything in our Attitude Which Hinders the Development of Working Class Unity?
Unquestionably, the sectarianism which has lingered on in the Communist Party since its foundation has been a serious obstacle to working-class unity”.
If this sounds too good to be true later in the same section it continues:
“Communists have a special responsibility of explaining the reactionary role of Trotskyism and Titoism”. (Anon, 1950).
One also must be fair to Hillman in another direction. He may have been influenced by the SRG Secretariat themselves – whatever they themselves wrote later. In Bill Ainsworth’s first ever article for Socialist Review published in November 1950 he wrote:
“….within the socialist movement today there exists a growing realisation, that Stalinism, despite that most of its recruits are deluded militants, is not a genuine socialist tendency, and therefore, that it is essential to combat every vestige of its influence amongst the workers; to make it crystal-clear to every worker that the policies pursued by the Stalinists and their fellow-travellers are based, not upon the interests and aspirations of the working class, but upon the ever-more reactionary zigzags of the Kremlin’s foreign policy.” (Ainsworth, 1950 underlining in the original).
Hillman also briefly discusses CPGB Marxist education in his document and, in truth, there is quite a lot of it to discuss. The educational pamphlets that I quote from are two of a series that were published at the time. My own honest appraisal is that they represent a triumph of quantity over quality (7). Hillman’s views on the subject, at the very least, represent fair comment and he appears correct when he describes the Marxism being imparted to the C.P. members as all about the application of handed-down theory and nothing about its development.
Turning to another issue, the formulation that Hillman uses to describe the Stalinist parties, namely “totalitarian state-capitalist societies in embryo”, seems a strange one to us today. It certainly seemed strange to Hallas in 1951 as he called it “Cde Hillman’s personal aberration”, although writing later in the year Hillman says that it came “straight from Johnson-Forest”. Perhaps, in hindsight, it was not so strange in the context of a “party and class” debate. The next time the organisation had such a debate was in 1968 when the International Socialists (I.S.) started the process of change from being a primarily propaganda group to one based on the principles of democratic centralism. During that debate the issue of the relationship of party and state arose. Chris Harman’s article “Party and Class” (Harman, 1969) is rightly considered to be a major work on the subject. In section 5 of his article, “The Social-Democratic Party, the Bolshevik Party and the Stalinist Party” Harman tackles the subject – and even uses the word “embryo” – when he writes – “here it is important to see that for Lenin the party is not the embryo of the workers’ state – the Workers’ Council is”. This section of Harman’s article is worth re-reading in the context under discussion here.
One final point of interest – and it is probably not well understood – is the fact that at the time of these documents it would certainly have been possible for a supporter of the Johnson-Forest Tendency or a Shachtmanite to be a member of the SRG. It was Hallas himself who quite deliberately opened this door at the previously mentioned December 1950 meeting when he proposed and won an amendment to a motion defining SRG membership. To the initially proposed wording:
“Acceptance of the political attitudes flowing from the State-capitalist position on the Russian question, as and when these are defined by the Party, shall be a condition of membership”
Hallas proposed that the following be added:
“but no-one shall be excluded from membership because of a different sociological estimate of the Russian society provided that Revolutionary defeatist conclusions are drawn from such an estimate.”
Hillman caveats his document by saying:
“This particular Bulletin does not represent the fixed viewpoint of any particular person or grouping but rather it is written as a provisional statement of the view of the writer, a statement that will no doubt be modified in the ensuing debate on the subject”.
How far this is true and how far he was attempting to rewrite SRG theory I leave to the reader.
- 5. “The Stalinist Parties” by Duncan Hallas
The Hallas document really needs little introduction as it is so well known. It has long been regarded as a key text from the formative years of the SRG, hence its appearance in the 1971 Pluto Press book. The version here in Appendix 2 has been typed from an original copy in my possession. As opposed to other versions in print I have reproduced the text as it first appeared, that is, with blocks of text as opposed too neat, grammatically correct paragraphs – plus the complete inability of Hallas to correctly spell the surname “Shachtman”!
Hallas introduced the document himself much later in a very modest way. He wrote:
“”The Nature of the Stalinist Parties” (sic) was written as a reply to an isolated individual influenced by the Shachtman tendency who had drifted into the group and very shortly drifted out again to the greener pastures of Labour reformism. It was adopted as the position of the group and, whatever its inadequacies, it demonstrates conclusively that, from the beginning, the group decisively rejected the Shachtmanite view on this question also.” (Hallas, 1971) (8).
Writing later still Hallas says that it was Cliff who actually gave him the task of writing the document (Hallas, 2000) – although as it was Hallas’ own idea that the original document be produced I do not expect he needed too much encouragement when he saw the result of his suggestion!
The Hallas document itself is a tour de force. Superbly informative, precise, well-argued and hard to disagree with. It is no surprise that when the document was discussed at the SRG National Committee in November 1951 it was agreed that it should be used in discussion with contacts.
It is hard to underestimate the importance of its main conclusions around the united front generally and the need to work with CPGB members in particular. The CPGB may not have been a mass party but in March 1951 it did have 35124 registered members (CPGB, 1952) and the Hallas conclusion was far from just being academic. The SRG sought to involve itself as best it could with workers involved in action and this often entailed contact with CP members or workers influenced by the CP. A fine example of this was the strike by 9000 workers at Briggs’ Motor Bodies at Dagenham and a simultaneous strike of 15000 workers at the neighbouring Ford plant in 1952. The Ford Convenor Con O’Keefe and a number of shop stewards such as Sid Harraway (later to be convenor) were CP members and SRG member Stan Newens was able to have some involvement – see Newens, 1952 for the contemporary story of the strike action and Newens, 2013 for further information.
On these strikes specifically and the wider issue of working with the CPGB Stan Newens writes (pers. comms.):
“On the question of the attitude we adopted towards other activists in the broad Labour movement, to some extent, it was up to individual S.R. members and the areas in which they were working. As Duncan Hallas makes clear, anyone working within the trade union movement was likely to encounter CPGB members and to refuse to work with them on issues which concerned the whole workforce would have been divisive and counterproductive.
I became involved in the Briggs/Ford strike at Dagenham in 1952, as the result of giving a series of NCLC lectures to the NUGMW branch. When they told me that the lectures had to be cancelled because the members were taking strike action, I offered my assistance, which was readily accepted. I could not have said, I was not willing to work with CPGB members of other unions, taking part in the strike, without giving offence and I would not have dreamt of taking such a line. I sold “Socialist Review” but formed friendships with CP members which lasted many years – until his death, in the case of Sid Harraway…..
….Other SR members may have been outspoken against CPGB members but some of them were not as deeply involved in the broader movement as I was. Those who were, like Peter Morgan, worked in a similar way to me.”
It seems that the personal perspective was particularly important when dealing with the CP. Stan writes in his autobiography:
“Although the key figures in the movement at Ford’s were members of the Communist Party who wanted no truck with any group with Trotskyist origins, they remained my friends – in some cases, as long as they lived”. (Newens, 2013).
One of the most concise descriptions of the Hallas document is given in the International Socialism journal by Steve Wright who said:
“The refusal to see the Stalinist parties as part of the labour movement is demolished in short order by Duncan Hallas.” (Wright, 1990).
As well as its main conclusions the document contains other nuggets to get to grips with. Not least of these are his discussion on what constitutes a workers’ party and his recognition that Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution required to be modified – something it would take Cliff another dozen years to achieve.
- 6. The SRG Secretariat’s Recommendation to Members
This document has never before appeared in print. In point of fact I am not sure that many people have previously been aware of its existence. The version here in Appendix 3 has been typed from an original copy in my personal archive.
The document represents the views and recommendations of the SRG Secretariat on Ellis Hillman’s document. The original document is undated but documentary evidence suggests it was issued to members early in September 1951. Indications from Birmingham SRG branch minutes are that Ken Tarbuck was the original instigator of the document but that all Secretariat members were involved in the finished product.
- 7. Closing Remarks
Admittedly this debate represents the smallest of incidents in the 67 years of SWP history. Nonetheless, the fact that it took place at the very outset of this history and represents probably the first in-depth debate of any significance on what the practical politics of the SRG were to be gives it some resonance. That the outcome of the debate was a commitment to the united front and to the avoidance of sectarianism was also of importance.
Little is recorded about the political beliefs of Ellis Hillman at this time so his document certainly adds to our knowledge in this regard. Was, as Jim Higgins writes, Hillman embarking “on a major revision of the group’s theory of state capitalism”? I do not think so. His document strikes me more as a collection of facts, quotes and thoughts leading to some political conclusions – but what Hillman presents does not form any sort of integrated whole. Hillman would, I think, strongly disagree with me on this.
In a later document addressed to the SRG Secretariat as part of his “appeal” against expulsion from the SRG Hillman introduced the surprising new claim that his own views on the Stalinist parties mirrored those of Trotsky’s widow, Natalia Sedova. This is what Hillman wrote:
“The documents against my theory presented by Hallas and the Secretariat have been most unfortunate in one respect at least. The references to “Hillman and Shachtman” or my “idealist” conceptions of a “state capitalist society in embryo” miss the mark entirely
WHAT CDE. ROGER HAS CAREFULLY AVOIDED TELLING THE GROUP IS THIS: MY POSITION ON THE STALINIST PARTIES IS THE POSITION OF CDE. NATALIA.
In her documents she has made it clear that she is opposed to support of the Stalinist parties UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. Cde. Hallas would have been more correct if he had written “HILLMAN AND SEDOVA”! The “idealistic” conception of state capitalist societies in embryo comes straight from Johnson-Forest! Maybe these comrades are idealists too!” (Hillman, 1951. Capitalisation in the original) (9).
The contention that Cliff was concealing knowledge that Hillman’s views on the Stalinist Parties matched those of Natalia Sedova was hotly disputed by the SRG’s London branch (Tait, 1951). Regrettably Hillman does not cite any source to support his claims although he was apparently in correspondence with Sedova on the subject of the Soviet Union at this time. That correspondence is lost (Hillman, 1996). Of course, Sedova did famously and publicly break with the Fourth International in May 1951 over their political analysis of Stalinism.
To my mind it is inexplicable that Hillman would not have mentioned the views of Sedova in his original document if they did really support his own. You might think the two explanations would be a) Hillman was unaware of Sedova’s view at the time of writing his document but later correspondence with her helped uncover new information and his claim is 100% true or b) Hillman was inventing a story.
Unsurprisingly, it is more likely that the truth lies somewhere between these two poles. Whilst my research has failed to unearth “documents” by Sedova that would support Hillman’s argument in all respects it does seem that Sedova had at the very least one important area of agreement with him. There are some long-forgotten documents that were written by Sedova and her allies Manuel Grandizo Munis and Benjamin Peret in Mexico in the period 1944-1947. It will have been difficult for members of the SRG to obtain these documents but some were produced in an S.W.P. Internal Bulletin in February 1948. One document in particular is quite categorically against united front work with Stalinists (Sedova-Trotsky et al., 1947).
Whatever the truth on this particular matter, the Ellis Hillman document can be said to have contributed to its original aim of delivering education and stimulating discussion. It also goes without saying that if it were not for the debate it provoked the outstanding Duncan Hallas document would never have seen the light of day!
- 8. Notes
- In fact, the copy of the document in the Richardson-Higgins archive at MSS117/Box 209/file 6 is not an original one. There is an original copy in the Brenda Grant Trotskyist collection at Nuffield College Library, Oxford.
- All printed references to Tony Cliff’s document “Marxism and the Theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism” give its date of publication as 1948. To my mind this is problematic and is due to the fact that originals of the document have been hard to locate. Indeed, for the 1971 Pluto Book we are told by Richard Kuper in his “A Note on the Texts” that no original could be found and the version printed in the book is that which appeared in International Socialism journal 32 (Spring 1968). All other versions in print are of this 1968 publication.
I have a copy of the original version in my personal archive and the document is undated. However, the document refers to events that happened in May 1949 – hence the date I give for publication.
- The Johnson-Forest Tendency were a grouping that existed first within the Workers Party and from 1950 within the SWP (US). J.R. Johnson was the pseudonym of C.L.R. James and F. Forest was Raya Dunayevskaya.
- Max Shachtman was one of the founders of U.S. Trotskyism (alongside James P. Cannon). There is, unfortunately, no one documented theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism as understood by Shachtman that one can turn to.
- This particular article (Cliff incorrectly gives its date as September 1948, not 1949) by Shachtman is quoted at length (and rubbished) by Tony Cliff in his work on “Bureaucratic Collectivism”. Shachtman’s formulations include the likes of “Stalinism is a reactionary, anti-bourgeois and anti-proletarian current IN but not OF the labor movement” and “Without any hesitation, they [militants] should follow the general line, inside the labor movement, of supporting the reformist officialdom against the Stalinist officialdom”. As mentioned in Note 2 what, however, is little known is that all published examples of this Cliff work are of the version that appeared in 1968. I have a copy of the original text and Cliff’s rubbishing of Shachtman over not-supporting Stalinists is a 1968 addition to the text – it is not in the 1949 original.
- There are a whole host of other CPGB publications I could have highlighted but the attacks did not go unanswered. In particular, the “Clear Out Hitler’s Agents!” pamphlet was answered with a 4-page publication from the Workers’ International League titled “Factory Workers be on Your Guard. Clear Out the Bosses Agents!!”. “Hitler’s Agents” and “Bosses Agents” – it is not surprising that sectarianism was a danger!
- The CPGB’s Marxist Study Themes series alone ran to ten “themes”, one of which was published in six separate parts and another in two parts. I hold all 16 pamphlets in my personal archive. For full details of all the CPGB educational and other publications see Cope, 2016.
- It is remarkable how many errors Hallas could get into the first of these two sentences (and not just the title of his own document). Hillman’s leaving the SRG was not because he “drifted out” – he was expelled. It is also not correct to say he was “isolated” as records show he was involved with a group of young activists – some inside the SRG and some outside. Those inside the SRG “departed” with him. In terms of going to “the greener pastures of Labour reformism” this is also wide of the mark. For those interested in a potted history of Hillman’s political affiliations, his continued commitment to revolutionary politics and other achievements you can see the obituary written by Al Richardson. Interestingly, Richardson gives a different reason for Hillman leaving the SRG – “when a majority of the group [of young people around Hillman] were persuaded by Cyril Smith to join Healy’s Club, Hillman reluctantly went with them to avoid political isolation” (Richardson, 1996). Unfortunately, Richardson gives no source for this inaccurate account.
- Tony Cliff was routinely known and recorded within the SRG as Roger Tennant and thus Comrade Roger = Tony Cliff.
- 9. Glossary
FI – Fourth International
IS – International Secretariat, the leading body of the Fourth International
NCLC – National Council of Labour Colleges
NUGMW – National Union of General and Municipal Workers
SWP – Socialist Workers Party (United States)
My thanks to Stan Newens, Ian Birchall and Keith Sinclair for reviewing the first draft of this article and making a host of valuable comments. Richard Temple and Julian Vaughan provided valuable information on the condition of the Hillman document held at Senate House Library, London
11. Literature Cited
Ainsworth, Bill. 1950. Whither “Socialist Outlook”. Socialist Review Volume 1 Number 1 November 1950 pp. 31-35.
Anon. 1944. Truth About Trotskyism. Educational Leaflet No. 3. A. Massie for Marx House, London, 4pp.
Anon. 1950. Marxist Study Themes No. 1. The Communist Party, Unity and the Fight for Peace. Communist Party, London, 20pp.
Anon. 1951. Marxist Study Themes No. 4. The Disruptive Role of the Titoites. Communist Party, London, 8pp. [Although I have shown the author of the pamphlet as “Anon” its contents are based upon James Klugmann’s book “From Trotsky to Tito”].
Birchall, Ian. 2011. Tony Cliff: A Marxist for His Time. Bookmarks Publications, London, 664pp.
Black, David. 2009. Extracts from Ellis Hillman’s “The Nature of the Stalinist Parties”. Available online at “the commune” website: https://thecommune.wordpress.com/2009/11/12/extracts-from-ellis-hillmans-the-nature-of-the-stalinist-parties/
Cliff, Tony. 1968. The Theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism – A Critique. International Socialism Journal (First Series) Number 32 Spring 1968 pp. 13-18.
Cliff, Tony. 1999. Trotskyism after Trotsky. The origins of the International Socialists. Bookmarks Publications, London, 95pp.
Cope, Dave. 2016. Bibliography of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Lawrence and Wishart, London, 366pp.
CPGB. 1952. The Communist Party 22nd Congress. Report of the Executive Committee Covering the Period November 1949 to December 1951.
Draper, Hal. 1956. T. Cliff: Stalinist Russia. A Marxist Study on the Nature of Stalinist Society. Labor Action Volume 20 Number 3 16th January 1956 p.4.
Hallas, Duncan. 1971. Introduction to “The Fourth International, Stalinism and the Origins of the International Socialists: Some Documents”. Pluto Press Limited, London, 104pp.
Hallas, Duncan. 2000. Optimism of the Will. Socialist Review Number 241 May 2000 p.14.
Harman, Chris. 1969. Party and Class. International Socialism Journal (First Series) Number 35 Winter 1968/69 pp. 24-32.
Higgins, Jim. 1997. More Years for the Locust. The Origins of the SWP. IS Group, London, 177pp.
Hillman, Ellis. 1951. A statement of a minority position. Dated 23rd September 1951.
Hillman, Ellis. 1996. Ellis Hillman and the Fourth International. Revolutionary History Journal Volume 6 Number 2/3. pp. 188-190.
Hunter, Bill. 1998. Lifelong Apprenticeship. The Life and Times of a Revolutionary Volume 1: 1920-1959. Porcupine Press, London, 434pp.
Mahon, John. 1943. Hitler’s Agents Exposed! Communist Party of Great Britain, London, 20pp.
Matgamna, Sean (Editor). 1998. The Fate of the Russian Revolution. Lost Texts of Critical Marxism Volume 1. Phoenix Press, London, 603pp.
Matgamna, Sean (Editor). 2015. The Fate of the Russian Revolution Volume 2. The two Trotskyisms confront Stalinism. Workers’ Liberty, London, 790pp.
Newens, Stan. 1952. The Briggs Strike – Its Vital Significance. Socialist Review Volume 2 Number 1 August 1952 pp.4-5.
Newens, Stan. 2013. In Quest of a Fairer Society. My Life and Politics. The Memoir Club, Washington, 395pp.
Richardson, Al. 1996. Ellis Hillmam 1928-1996. Revolutionary History Journal Volume 6 Number 2/3. pp. 252-253. Available online at: http://revolutionaryhistory.co.uk/index.php/obituaries/1200-ellis
Rudge, John. 2015. The Founding Members of the Socialist Review Group. Available online at: http://grimanddim.org/tony-cliff-biography/the-founding-members-of-the-socialist-review-group/
Sedova-Trotsky, N., B. Peret & G Munis. 1947. Open Letter to the International Communist Party, French Section of the Fourth International. In: S.W.P. Internal Bulletin Vol. 10 No.1 pp. 22-33.
Shachtman, Max. 1949. Left Wing of the Labor Movement? Two Concepts of the Nature and Role of Stalinism. New International Volume 15 Number 7 September 1949 pp. 204-210.
Tait, Jean. 1951. Reply to “A Statement of a Minority Position”. Document signed for the London branch of the SRG by Jean Tait on 4th October 1951.
Wainwright, W. 1942. Clear Out Hitler’s Agents! An Exposure of Trotskyist Disruption Being Organised in Britain. Communist Party of Great Britain, London, 15pp.
Wright, Steve. 1990. Hal Draper’s Marxism. International Socialism Journal (Second Series) Number 47 Summer 1990 pp. 157-189.
Young, James D. 1995. Socialist Review and Libertarian Marxism. Reprinted in “A Taste of Honey”, IS Group, London, 38pp.
“The Nature of the Stalinist Parties”
THE NATURE OF THE STALINIST PARTIES
The Secretariat of our Party has commissioned me to write an Internal Discussion Bulletin which will attempt to re-evaluate our attitude to the Stalinist Parties in the light of our analysis of the Russian regime as a totalitarian state capitalist structure. It is important that all members of the Party realise that the character of the three Internal Bulletins that are being written is quite different from that of the Bulletins issued in the old movement. For a start, the R.C.P. had both a fixed analysis of Russia and a series of perspectives that flowed from such an evaluation fully worked out. In the second place, the R.C.P. carried over uncritically the whole body of Trotsky’s analyses and perspectives and “laid” it on the membership. The tendency which we are trying to build has emphatically rejected both the Fourth International’s semi-Stalinist analysis of Russia and the leadership cult which was at least partly responsible for the crack-up of the R.C.P. inside the Labour Party. This particular Bulletin does not represent the fixed viewpoint of any particular person or grouping but rather it is written as a provisional statement of the view of the writer, a statement that will no doubt be modified in the ensuing discussion on the subject.
SECTION I THE IMPORTANCE OF THE NATURE OF THE STALINIST PARTIES FOR OUR MOVEMENT
SECTION II THE CLASSICAL TROTSKYIST POSITION
SECTION III THE STALINIST INTERNATIONAL AS THE INSTRUMENT OF THE STATE CAPITALIST BUREAUCRACY
SECTION IV THE SOCIAL COMPOSITION OF THE STALINIST PARTIES
SECTION V POLITICAL CONCLUSIONS
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE NATURE OF THE STALINIST PARTIES FOR OUR MOVEMENT
Undoubtedly the most important series of conclusions flowing from our analysis of the Stalin regime, are those conclusions which we arrive at in respect of the character, mode of operation and social composition of the Stalinist international. The problem of defence or non-defence of the U.S.S.R. is important and decisive only in times of war, whilst our attitude to the Stalinist parties determines our day-to-day struggle for the creation of a revolutionary party. It is obvious that a re-evaluation of the character of the Stalinist parties for our movement must be the first task of such a theoretical re-armament. In the past, we have assumed that in some unspecified way, the Stalinist parties were parties of the working class, in fact, parties which drew to them the most advanced and militant sections of the working class in every circumstance. Our task was conceived as simply tail-ending the Stalinist parties, trying to win the most advanced elements by calls for a united front on specific issues – for instance, the struggle against fascism – thus exposing the “hesitant” or “reformist” character of the leadership. Sudden changes in party line, as with the invasion of the U.S.S.R. by Nazi Germany in June, 1941, were considered ideal moments for flinging all our energies into close contact activities with the Stalinist rank-and-file. The striking disparity between the growth of a Trotskyist movement in social-democracy with the application of the entry tactic soon after the call for the building of the Fourth International (1933), and the miserable results that were the product of the repercussions of the Moscow Trials during the same period (1935-39) on the Third International drew forth no comment from either Trotsky or the Fourth International. For it indicated that the most favourable field for the polarisation of a revolutionary socialist movement lay in social-democracy and not in the ranks of the Stalinist parties as we would have expected with the traditional analysis of the Stalinist parties as parties of the most advanced workers – certainly during this period. The strengthening of the Stalinist parties during the Popular Front period (1935-39) in no significant manner, led to the growth of a genuine proletarian opposition within the Third International. It is true, of course, that opposition did arise in the ranks of the Stalintern, particularly after the 1933 Hitler victory but as Trotsky was forced to admit these oppositions arising on the ground of rotting Stalinism moved away from the Left Opposition, and ended up in the camp of Fascism (Doriot, Torgler, Butchenko, etc.) or self-liquidation after a period of half-hearted resistance to the degeneration of the Comintern (the International Communist Opposition – Brandler, Thalheimer, Lovestone-Wolfe, etc.).
Our own recent experience with the mushroom-like growth of the W.I.L. and the R.C.P. (1941-49) as a result of the war-time fusion of the Stalinist and right-wing bureaucracies in the Labour movement and the consequent polarisation of the anti-war forces around the I.L.P. and the Fourth International could hardly have been more revealing. The crystallisation of a Trotskyist tendency inside the Labour Party to-day has been shown to be the only feasible and durable form of growth that can be envisaged in this present period. The Labour Party offers opportunities for a left wing polarisation moving in our direction which two decades of tailing behind the C.P. has failed to produce. The Stalinist rank and file is not indoctrinated with Marxism nor is any conscientious attempt made to theoretically equip the members of the organisation. The C.P. leadership smothers any independent development of its rank and file by teaching its members to accept loyally the decisions arrived at by the Politbureau (i.e. ultimately the Politbureau of the C.P.S.U.) – “whatever the policy of the Soviet Union it is always in the interests of its people and the working people of every other country in the world” (Harry Pollitt, “Looking Ahead”, p.42). The C.P. rank and file is trained to regard the loyal super-activist who asks no questions as the best and most militant comrade. The policy of involving the rank and file in continual demonstrations, Daily Worker sales, the collection of signatures for the “Peace Petition” is quite deliberate. It diverts the Stalinist militant from theoretical matters by separating the functions of the Politbureau, Central Committee and District Committees in descending orders of importance. The Party organisation decides, develops and works out the theory, the perspectives and applications of the particular line, and the rank and file carries the decisions out unquestioningly with the maximum expenditure of energy. On such basis, in such a totalitarian atmosphere it is IMPOSSIBLE to break the stranglehold of the centipede grip of the C.P. organisation on its members, except by the mass mobilisation of the proletariat on a revolutionary basis under the roof of the mass parties of the working class. The free, independent and spontaneous development of the revolutionary current within the Labour Party can alone smash the Stalinist Movement.
The Johnson-Forest document “State Capitalism and the World Revolution” (published in August 1950) accurately describes the situation we are faced with, as a consequence of the contemporary unfolding of the Stalinist movement as a movement aspiring to world domination:-
“The Stalinists are not class collaborationists, fools, cowards, idiots, men with “supple spines”, but conscious, clear-sighted aspirants for world power. They are deadly enemies of private property capitalism. They aim to seize the power and take the place of the bourgeoisie. When they support a war or do not, support the bourgeoisie or do not support, they know exactly what they are doing. The bourgeoisie also knows. In fact, everybody including most of the workers, knows this, except orthodox Trotskyism.”
“But the Stalinists are not proletarian revolutionists. They aim to get power by help, direct or indirect of the Red Army and the protection of Russia and the Russian state. That is the reason why they follow the foreign policy of the Kremlin – it is sheer naked self-interest”. (p.4)
Together with the bourgeoisie the Stalinists sabotaged the movement of the masses with the military collapse of the Axis Powers, and having completed this task, they began destroying their erstwhile bourgeois allies. This pattern of “class collaboration” completely disorientated the Fourth International, for it continually demanded that the Stalinists break the “coalition” with the bourgeois parties in Eastern and Western Europe. The Fourth International denounced the Stalinists as traitors for not liquidating the bourgeois fellow-travellers – the Benes’s, the Masaryks, the Subasitches, the Nagys etc.! The ruthless extermination of all bourgeois influence in the East European countries caused theoretical consternation in the ranks of the Trotskyist movement. The R.C.P. came to the conclusion that the Stalinists had carried out a bureaucratic proletarian revolution, whilst the I.S. clung desperately to the fantasy that the Stalinists were at the mercy (!) of the bourgeois parties – the National Socialists in Czechoslovakia, the Peasant Party of Mikolaczyk in Poland etc. Now it appears that Pablo has “discovered” that the Stalinists have, after all, carried out a proletarian revolution (as Jock Haston said a few years back!) and that therefore the Fourth International serves no useful purpose…the conclusion is painful for Pablo but for him it does not logically follow!
The importance of the nature of the Stalinist parties is seen in stark outline, as the degeneration of the Fourth has proved. Once the Stalinist parties are seen as counter-revolutionary state-capitalist bureaucracies with a politically declassified mass of membership, the slogans “Break with the bourgeois Parties!”, or “Down with the capitalist ministers!” look preposterous. To demand that a state-capitalist party break with a capitalist party is hardly a sensible slogan for revolutionary socialists!
Then again, the suicidal character of demanding a united “working class” front of the Stalinists and Reformists and Centrists becomes absolutely clear. The only united front Trotsky was interested in was an organic, revolutionary and proletarian fusion of the great mass of the working people. When the Stalinists operate a “united front” it is invariably led by them and it is invariably bureaucratic, counter-revolutionary and non-proletarian. The “united front” slogan which the Stalinists peddled before their accession to absolute power in Czechoslovakia, for instance, implied nothing else than a bureaucratic merging of the two “working-class” parties without consultation of the membership of the Social-democratic party. The “merger” was carried out not by appealing to the mass of the Social Democratic Party against the hesitant leadership but by bureaucratic manipulation of the Social Democratic Party Congress from above. The anti-fusionist elements of the Social Democratic Party were the ONLY possible centre around which a proletarian revolutionary force could have been built. The struggle against Stalinism, had it been led by the left Social Democrats, would by its very nature have been transformed into a revolutionary class struggle against the eastern state-capitalist bureaucracy and the weak-kneed bourgeois parties “supported” by the West (“supported” like Mihailovich on the end of Tito’s rope). The hailing of the C.P. victory in Czechoslovakia as a proletarian revolution by Haston in the “Socialist Appeal” was a logical conclusion from the theory that the Stalinist parties were counter-revolutionary working class parties in the same way as Russia was a counter-revolutionary worker’s state (see Trotsky’s “In Defence of Marxism” p.25).
The later sections of this Internal Discussion Bulletin will analyse the proposition that the Stalinist parties are working class parties in the proper sense of the word. Conclusive evidence as to the social composition, policy and construction of the C.P. will be brought forward, indicating the correspondence of our thesis and the history of the development.
In the ensuing sections the false, abstract reasoning of the Fourth International, will be replaced by reference to the indisputable facts about this remarkable political movement – a movement that has hitherto defied logical explanation.
The legend that the Stalinist Parties teach Marxism will be exploded and the crude empirical theory imparted to its members will be grasped as the ideological expression of a state-capitalist party. The “Marxism” of the C.P. is defined by themselves in these revealing words:-
“There is no iron law that Marxist education is best imparted by an hour’s lecture. A ten-minute argument, a debate in a youth club of freedom, a discussion on a “Challenge” article – these are the kind of interesting ways in which the most interesting ideas in history can be put over and grasped. It is important to realise that the best Marxists are not those who do little practical activity and can yet quote freely from Marxist writings. In fact such people are usually not Marxists at all, because they do not understand what they read”.
(Report of the 17th Congress of the Y.C.L. May 1950, p.22. Emphasis in original).
For the Stalinist, Marxism is application, Marxism is action. For the revolutionary socialist Marxism is the unity of the development of theory in relation to the real, living problems confronting every worker, (see p.5)* and not the application of a theory which the Party decides upon without the members being able to build it upon the basis of their experiences together with their comrades.
The “Marxism” of the C.P. is the Party line. Their “Marxist” economic theory is based on the lie that the abolition of private property is the abolition of capitalism. Their “Marxist” laws of the collapse of capitalism are hinged on the lie that overproduction and underconsumption are the real, basic contradiction of capitalism. Their “Marxist” philosophy is taught in terms of a primitive materialism bordering on logical positivism on the one hand or pure idealism on the other.
Pages could be devoted to the anti-Marxist character of the Stalinist party which would serve only to clog up the main theme of this document. Why do the Stalinist parties revise the Marxist categories and why do they gloss over the real meaning of the class struggle?
It was Trotsky who concurred with Liston M. Vak’s statement that “the Stalinists in fact are to-day the foremost revisionists of Marx and Lenin – Bernstein did not go half as far as Stalin in revising Marx”. (“Stalinism and Bolshevism”, p.24). To assume that C.P. “Marxism” in any way enables our comrades to approach the C.P. membership is a fatal mistake. It is more profitable to approach a Roman Catholic on the basis that his Church is “founded on the New Testament (“resist not evil”, “forgive them for they know not what they do”, “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”, “love your enemies”, “suffer little children” and so on), than to contact the C.P. member on the basis that his Party is founded on the rock-bottom foundations of Marxism.
The following sections will suggest the reasons for our two key contentions:-
(i) That the Fourth International has misunderstood the character of the Stalinist Parties; and
(ii) That the Fourth International has accordingly broken its back on next to fruitless contact with the rank and file membership of the C.P.
It was Comrade David James whose revisionist position led him to contend that Gomulka and Tito had bypassed the Fourth International. Writing in Feb. ’49 he stated that:-
“Objectively it is Tito (and Gomulka) and tomorrow perhaps Mao Tse Tung who express the programme of Trotskyism, unconsciously in a distorted form. The Fourth International has been by-passed”.
(“Some Remarks on the Question of Stalinism”, p.10. Emphasis in original)
This drove him inexorably to the equally revisionist position expressed in these words: “What is our role? I think that the decisive events for humanity in the next period will take place in and around the Stalinist organisations. Our job is to influence them, to sharpen the contradictions between the Russian bureaucracy and the revolutionary workers, to push them along the revolutionary road. We should have no illusions that the Fourth International as at present constituted can play an independent role. Unfortunately the conditions in the Communist Party generally preclude us from pursuing this policy in the most effective way i.e. by entry. We must try to establish friendly relations with the Stalinists and their periphery and influence them as best we can, choosing the fields most favourable for this work in the different countries”. (ibid. p.11).
Such a position has at least the merit of expressing clearly the liquidationist tendency within the Trotskyist movement, a tendency that is based on the analysis of the Stalinist parties as counter-revolutionary working-class parties.
If Lenin were alive to-day he would have known what to call this – the “mood” of khvostism (tailism)- the sort of attitude which is the most dangerous of the many liquidation malaises that have afflicted the Trotskyist movement.
The tremendous cohesion of the Stalinist parties, the totalitarian super-integration of the membership with the Party bureaucracy, the state-capitalist character of the Stalinist party itself make impossible the type of activity that Comrade James had in mind.
The next four sections are written with the express intention of demolishing, once and for all, the mythology that has grown up around the Stalinist international on this issue.
*FOOTNOTE TO LINE 3 of PAGE 4
The pragmatic empiricism of the Stalinists fits in with Georgi Lukacz’s description: (Lukacz is a Hungarian Marxist philosopher) “Narrow minded empiricism disputes that facts become facts only when they are integrated into a certain methodological structure. Narrow minded empiricism entirely overlooks that the simplest description of facts is already an interpretation, that already here the facts have been torn out of a theory from their original background of reality – that they have already been comprehended from the standpoint of a method and integrated into the framework of a theory”. “History and Class Consciousness”, p.18.
THE CLASSICAL TROTSKYIST POSITION
The confusion arising to-day as to the character of the Stalinist parties is rooted in Trotsky’s incorrect position on the nature of the Stalinist state. He conceived of the Stalinist bureaucracy as a bonapartist formation swinging between the proletariat on the one hand, and the bourgeoisie on the other. From this conception of the Stalinist bureaucracy he analysed the Stalinist parties as parties (Working-class essentially and basically) swinging from ultra-leftism to ultra-rightism because of the fundamentally bonapartist character of the Stalin regime at the mercy of the contending classes. Thus Trotsky considered Stalinism as menshevism, during the Popular Front period, for instance, for he could not, and would not, invent a new category to fit the Stalinist phenomena.
A particularly powerful criticism of Trotsky’s position was made by an ex-Trotskyist by the name of George Marlen in the year 1937. In a well-documented work entitled “Earl Browder – Communist or Tool of Wall Street” he analysed in detail, the official position of Trotsky, subjecting it to a remorseless critique on the basis of the degenerate workers’ state theory itself. He wrote:-
“Lenin defined the three historical currents within the international labour movement: Reformism, Centrism and Marxism. Reformism is a tendency representing the labour aristocracy which is objectively bribed by the bourgeoisie, and which assists its own bourgeoisie to squeeze profits out of the basic section of the proletariat and the colonial slaves. Marxism is the revolutionary current within the proletariat. Centrists “historically and economically speaking, do not represent any special layer”. (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol XIV, p.54, Russian edition). The Centrist tendency vacillates between Reformism and Marxism, and under the pressure of an acute crisis the bulk of the Centrist leadership usually go over openly to its own bourgeoisie, while the rank-and-file unites with the forces of proletarian revolution.”
“It is clear that without the precise estimation of all social forces and political trends there can be no Marxist viewpoint. Without a correct understanding of Stalinism a serious struggle against it is out of the question. Is Stalinism Marxism the revolutionary tendency within the world proletariat? Obviously not. Is it Reformism, securing crumbs from its own bourgeoisie? Obviously not. What is it then?”
“Is there any special social layer, historically and economically speaking, whose interests Stalinism represents? Unquestionably there is – the million-headed bureaucracy. This bureaucracy is a privileged crust drawn from all classes and highly centralized; a new experience visited upon the proletariat, a unique development possible only on the soil of a workers’ state. A formulation serving the purpose would be:- Stalinism is a bureaucratic centralism of the workers’ state”.
Despite Marlen’s attachment to the worker statist position of Trotsky his hammer-blows at Trotsky’s equation of Stalinism with bureaucratic centrism certainly hit the mark. The fundamental difference between classical centrism and Stalinism is that whereas the former “does not represent any special historical economic and political layer”, the latter has its roots in the Russian bureaucracy. Marlen’s work is important not for its crazy ultra-left hysterics, but for its foreshadowing of the materialist analysis of Russia and the Stalinist parties. Never were more pertinent remarks made concerning Trotsky’s idealist position than were made by Marlen:-
“Trotsky’s approach to the study of Stalinism has been idealist, not materialist. It has been therefore entirely un-Marxist. He attacks Stalin’s decoy “Socialism in one country”, ignoring the material grounds from which this “theory” springs. His view of Stalin’s protective zig-zags is metaphysical, not dialectical. He has failed to notice that the ultra-Leftist line supplements the ultra-Rightist one, and he has taken both to be two distinct entities, terming the first “ultra-Left stupidities” and the second “Right-Centrism.”
(ibid. p. 471)
Trotsky’s identification of Stalinism with centrism undoubtedly constitutes the basic fallacy of the old position. If Stalinism is centrism, its roots are to be found in the various labour bureaucracies of the capitalist countries, and accordingly during periods of extreme class collaboration (as during the Popular Front period), the Stalinist parties would sink themselves into the various national sections of social-democracy. The growth of “centrifugal” nationalist tendencies within the Comintern leading to the self-liquidation of Stalinism into social-democracy has been proved fallacious. That is, during both “popular Front” periods, 1935-39 and 1941-45. The “merging” of the Stalinist and reformist bureaucracies did not result in the dissolution of the Comintern except on paper.
We all remember the blazing headlines of the “Socialist Appeal” of June 1943:-
“The Third International is buried! Long live the Fourth International!”.
We well remember the massive quotes from Trotsky’s earlier works predicting the self-liquidation of the Comintern through its policies of class collaboration in that particular issue of “Socialist Appeal”.
The Stalinist parties far from losing their identity during the Second World War, emerged as the most powerful force playing the most criminal counter-revolutionary role hitherto experienced in the labour movement.
Unfortunately, the Stalinist bureaucracy will not voluntarily liquidate its colonies in the private capitalist world, and all hopes of this kind must be abandoned.
The classical Trotskyist position of the Stalinist parties as centrist worker-parties has been exploded in two tremendous experiences, the Popular Front and the war-time alliance. To resuscitate the naïve Trotskyist position to-day, when the role of the Stalinist parties is being more understood in terms of its prime function – the bodyguard of capital in its supreme essence and concentration – will retard the otherwise promising start we have made in cutting loose from the defencist position in respect of the U.S.S.R.
THE STALINIST INTERNATIONAL AS THE INSTRUMENT OF THE STATE-CAPITALIST BUREAUCRACY
For our tendency the political issues of our age are all-decisive. He who controls the state machine controls the economy. The Party machine which is now evolving to-day is no longer the blind instrument of economic classes in society. The Party machine constitutes a model of the type of the changing society it subsists in, or is rooted in. The Labour Party, for instance, reflects, by and large, the capitalist relations of a bourgeois democracy. This is true, whether the Labour Party is actually wielding state power or is in “opposition” to His Majesty’s Government. Similarly, the Stalinist parties reflect not merely by and large, but absolutely the state capitalist relations within the U.S.S.R. as expressed in the construction and make-up of the Stalinised Bolshevik Party. A careful study of the Stalinist Party in the U.S.S.R. reveals the totalitarian political nature of its edifice and the complete identity of form and nature that can be established between the Big Brother Party and the satellite parties in both Eastern Europe and outside.
It is perhaps opportune at this particular place to refer to the two great theoretical works produced by the Johnson-Forest tendency in the S.W.P., “The Invading Socialist Society” (1947) and “State Capitalism and the World Revolution” (1950). Here for the first time in the history of the Trotskyist movement, a serious departure for re-orientation of the Fourth International has been indicated. It is no exaggeration to say that Comrades Johnson-Forest’s last work, “State Capitalism and the World Revolution” is of a theoretical level at least the equal of Trotsky’s last works and a logical and fruitful development of them. The works on the state capitalism thesis that have been written so far have become obsolete and superfluous with the publication of Comrades Johnson-Forest’s masterpiece. Comrades Johnson-Forest have succeeded in correlating the political structure of the Stalinist parties with the economic foundations of State capitalism, and have thus rendered an invaluable service to the elucidation of new tactics and strategies flowing from our defeatist position in respect of the U.S.S.R. It is essential that the Johnson-Forest document be studied in conjunction with this particular section as some of the conceptions to be developed may strike the reader as rather startling.
Part 1 The Stalinist Parties in Eastern Europe
The Stalinist parties in Eastern Europe serve the Kremlin oligarchy unconditionally, as do the Stalinist parties outside Eastern Europe. Their prime function is to subdue the proletariat depriving it of any semblance of political control over the factories, the state machine or the Party. The Party subjects the economy of the various national units to the needs of the Russian state-capitalist economy. Tremendous distortions in the productive systems arise as a result of this ruthless integration of these economies into the body of the Russian state economy. The artificial imposition of trade barriers between Eastern Europe and the West, the Moscow inspired rejection of Marshall Aid have created tensions the like of which have never been seen in relations between imperialist countries and their colonies.
The purge of the Politbureaus of the various sections of the satellite C.P.’s is infinitely more ruthless than the by no means gentle permanent purge in the U.S.S.R. The various nationalities of the Great Russian Empire are themselves experiencing wholesale liquidations of their state personnel. For instance, in the recently acquired Baltic states, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, the substitution of native puppets by Russian proconsuls has become the regular feature of each successive purge.
It is only in what Trotsky described as the contradiction between the needs of an expanding economy and the needs of the Stalinist bureaucracy, that we can understand the development of the centrifugal “nationalist” tendencies within the Russian Empire. Nothing could be more naïve than to assume the semi-pre-historical view of Stalinist parties as aiming at the establishment of independent Stalinist* states. The so-called centrifugal “nationalist” tendencies of the C.P.’s leaderships and in many cases C.P. oppositions, are nothing more or less than the shifting of allegiance from one pole of capital concentration to another. As Comrades Johnson-Forest state in “The Invading Socialist Society”, the Stalinist party repudiates the national state as the lever by which it can free itself of its hated masters. “The Stalinists understand the movement of the centralisation of capital”, (ibid. p.16), they have no illusions as to the possibility of playing off one mass of capital against another for a long period of time, without drawing the masses into the struggle (this they fear more than anything else). The Stalinist parties come into open conflict with Moscow only in order to subject themselves to a less exacting task-master, the American imperialist.
The unpredicted evolution of Titoism and its particular direction of movement proves conclusively that Titoism is not national-Stalinism, as both the Grantists and Shachtmanites maintain, but the concrete expression of the tremendous magnetic attraction exerted by a saturated capitalism of over-production (American imperialism) upon a colony of an undersaturated and underdeveloped state capitalism characterized by problems of underproduction (Russian imperialism). Both the Grantists and the Shachtmanites are being daily proved wrong by the evolution of the Tito state – the evolution is of an order which will undoubtedly raise the standard of living of the Yugoslav peoples and liberalise the regime precisely because the U.S.A. is determined to transfer Yugoslavia into a base, or better, a pole for drawing the East European satellites out of the orbit of the Russian sphere of control. The Westernisation of the regime, though by no means an absolutely negative feature from our point of view – opportunities for contacting the Yugoslav workers are possible – is, in fact, the transfiguration of the Stalinist model colony into the American model colony. Given a reasonable period of time, the Tito regime will have a greater deal of resemblance to modern Turkey than to any of the new democracies. The Cominform expulsion of the Y.C.P. served yet another useful purpose by bringing out the true character of the relations between Russia and her satellites, as expressed in the Stalin-inspired “nationalisations” of the various sectors of the East European economies. It is difficult to understand how the nationalisations as carried out in the metropolitan capitalist countries can be compared with the nationalisations imposed by the Stalin bureaucracy on the satellite countries. In the first case, the economy is rationalised and made more efficient in the interests of the British ruling class, where in the second case the economy is rationalised (i.e. distorted) and made more efficient (i.e. worked) in the interests of a foreign ruling class. The difference is decisive, for while the Labour Party’s nationalisation schemes improve the structure of British capitalism, the Stalinist nationalisations twist the structure of their economies to fit in with the Stalin Plan of ruthless exploitation of his new colonies (either by reparations or “jointly” owned concerns – see R. Tennant’s article “The Struggle of the Powers” for facts). The function of the stalinist parties in Eastern Europe is primarily political, namely the subjection of the working class to the rape of the national economies by depriving it of any semblance of political power or control over industry, the state or the Party. This function is expressed by a policy
*as Shachtman does.
designed to gloss over the irreconcilable conflict between the working class and the local state machine as part of the Stalin bi-continental economy. The extension of such notorious practices perfected in Russian factories as piece-work (Stakhanovism), pace-making (“udarniki” shock brigades) and “voluntary” work on the seventh day of the week (“subbotniki”) serves two distinct but related designs of (i) increasing production and (ii) declassifying the proletarian producer (stratification, segmentation and fragmentation of the working masses).
The Stalinist Party of China
Fortunately I have a large section of work cut out by the Internal Discussion Bulletin on China being written by Cde. Challinor. However, a brief reference to the Stalinist Party in China, is in order, as it will complete the pattern of the international stalinist machine we are outlining. The Chinese Kungchuntang is different from the other East European Stalinist parties in one important respect. The leadership of the Chinese section has remained largely unaffected by the large-scale purges which have struck down the puppets of the “new democracies” – that is, since power has been assumed. The “Red” Army has had not (sic) been given an opportunity to instal Mao-Tse-Tung and Chu Teh in power, and thus it is reasonable to assume that there exists at the moment powerful forces tending to push the native sinified leadership in the direction of the munificent Uncle Sam. The creation of a Manchurian puppet state (with its concentrated industry) with Li Li San at its head (one of Mao’s old contenders for Party leadership) by the Russians is striking evidence for the theory that the Stalinist bureaucracy will never allow a national section of the Stalintern to take power without the immediate backing of the Red Army. There is documentary evidence proving that Mao-Tse-Tung completed the destruction of the Chiang Kai Shek regime despite orders from Moscow to the contrary.
What is important for our contention that the Stalinist Party is not a working class party in this connection is the incontrovertible fact that the Chinese Party deliberately turned its back to the maritime ports with their working class (Canton, Shanghai) to create a purely peasant party (after the Long March). The proletariat did not welcome the Red Army of Mao in 1948 when the Chiang Kai Shek anachronism met its well-deserved fate. The victory of the Stalinist Party was a military victory, and in no sense of the word a workers’ revolution. The proletariat were passive in this spectacle of a change of rulers. The Chinese pattern of development confirms the key aspect of the contention that the Stalinist Parties take power over the back of a passive (China 1948), demoralised (Germany 1933) or defeated (Poland 1944) working class.
It is absolutely certain that the Chinese development will follow the East European development with the liquidation of the kulaks, the destruction of the merchant class and the nationalisation of the basic industries. Whether Mao-Tse-Tung will be able to drive a wedge between his Party and the Russian is a matter which only the future can tell.
The Stalinist Parties of the West
In a recent discussion with a Polish comrade who had been deported to Siberia during the war years, it was made clear that the Russian type of state capitalism is based on the political bureaucracy of the Stalinist machine. The “capitalist elements” which the S.P.G.B. see as the decisive and determining forces of the Russian economy are, in effect, ancillary to or derivative from, the political hierarchy inside the U.S.S.R. To describe the millionaire collective-farmers or the millionaire writers as the rulers of the Soviet Union is to misconstrue the character of the Russian society. It is the Party operating the state machine that decides, controls, directs and dictates and not the non-Party capitalists, technicians and engineers etc. In the more classical capitalist countries the political Party is merely an instrument of the economically dominant ruling class. In Russia the Party-State has no “backers” in the shape of private capitalists or rich farmers, it can create a privileged stratum of stakhanovites without fear of losing its absolute hold over the state machine, it can dismantle a military bureaucracy without so much as precipitating a flutter in the ranks of the Party (the demotion of Zhukov after the end of the war proved this), for it realises that as long as these transitional strata have no means of challenging the identity of Party and State, they are powerless. Thus it is legitimate to talk about political exploitation in the U.S.S.R. as the determining and decisive essence of the society, and economic exploitation as a function or a derivative of this primary oppression. The alienation between labour and the products of its activity* is basically political and only secondarily economic. This inversion of the political and economic structure of state-capitalist exploitation has to be comprehended before the apparently metaphorical description of the Stalinist parties in Western Europe as “state capitalist societies in embryo” can be visualized. For inside the C.P. we discover a relationship between the rank-and-file and the leadership which is fundamentally state-capitalist. The new member voluntarily denies his class origin by admitting the right of the Russian government because it is “socialist” to determine the policy of his party without being able to control or influence that government. The struggle of the working class for political power is negated by acceptance of the Party’s right (as a loyal mouthpiece of a “socialist” society) to control the membership.
For the revolutionary socialist the working class struggle for power is identical with the struggle for incluence (sic), and above all for strict control over the party allegedly aiming at achieving this object.
The C.P. membership thus becomes a politically declassified and amorphous mass and its relation to the Party bureaucracy is analogous to the relation of workers in a company union. Politically, the former workers of the C.P. have no control and no rights – only duties. The Stalinist theory of the Party as the metaphysical expression of the interests of the working class, an “expression” unrelated either in time or space to the specific historical struggle of the producing class – is the source of the counter-revolutionary character of the Kremlin border patrols. This theory of an uncontrolled Party which has been accepted and is still accepted by thousands of workers and petty-bourgeoisie can only arise as the result of a profound defeat of the masses, or as the result of an apathy and disillusionment flowing from the failure of a left-wing movement to complete its line of projected action. It is for this reason that work inside the Labour Party is infinitely more fruitful as conditions of membership imply rights of membership to control, to modify, to dissent and to mould policy. The failure of our movement to understand the declassification of the absorbed elements of every C.P. throughout the world has been largely responsible for our weakness at this point in the middle of the twentieth century.
The whole history of the Stalinist movement in decline has proved, beyond any shadow of doubt, that the C.P. structure only cracks up into a political proletarian current and a counter-revolutionary leadership tendency when either (i) it loses control of a developing mass movement or (ii) a revolutionary movement sets in motion large masses of people before the C.P. can capture the leadership.
*See Note 3 in Appendix
Contact work as a long term method for creating a proletarian opposition group within the C.P. is absolutely out of the question.
Our task is to build an invincible revolutionary cadre, which will be prepared to take part in the inevitable struggle between the Stalinist parties and the proletarian mass party, for only with the flexing of the working class for the trapeze-like leap from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom will the Stalinist parties split asunder with cataclysmic violence and shattering force. The Party-society will have experienced within its confines, a political and social revolution.
N.B. here, a remark on the nature of the shadow social purge in the C.P.’s of Western Europe might be of interest. The tremendous turn-over of C.P. membership is, of course, the expression of the permanent crisis of the miniature state-capitalist society. In Russia, the turn-over of C.P. membership is seen in the liquidation of Party members as each new line comes into operation. In other words, the thousands who “leave” the C.P. in the West are the victims of the crisis which brings about the physical demise of thousands of members of the C.P.S.U.
THE SOCIAL COMPOSITION OF THE STALINIST PARTIES
One of the most dangerous illusions we have become the victims of is the assumption that the Stalinist parties are working class parties in the proper sense of the word. The relation of the rank and file of the stalinist parties to the bureaucratic Politbureau at the top is fundamentally different from either the type of Bolshevik-Leninist party we seek to build or any traditional working class party such as the Labour Party and the I.L.P. The rank and file of the stalinist parties is a floating rank and file which is composed of the different strata of the classes and sub-classes that go to make up the present-day capitalist class set up. These layers are attracted to the party in direct proportion to the extent to which they see their sectional interests embodied in the party programme of the period. Thus, for instance, the large scale influx of the petty-bourgeois and civil servants into the stalinist parties during the Popular Front period (1935/8) and the period of the United Nations via the Alliance (1941/45) was the direct result of the class-collaborationist policies pursued by the C.P., and the “consecration of private property” consequent upon such a programme. The simple but hitherto unrecognised fact about the stalinist parties stands out in bold relief – the particular policy being pursued largely determines its social composition. The corollary of this fact is equally self-evident: the rank and file of one particular period is different from the rank and file of the period policy before and after.
Trotsky himself noted, more or less in passing, the changing composition of the stalinist parties in the colonies, in the Manifesto of the Fourth International issued by the Emergency Conference of 1940. He wrote:-
“In contrast to the Second International, the Comintern, thanks to its great tradition, exercises unquestionable influence in the colonies. But its social base has altered in accordance with its political evolution. At the present time the Comintern in countries of a colonial nature rests on the stratum which is the traditional base of the Second International in the metropolitan centres. The crumbs that drop from its super-profits have enabled imperialism to create the semblance of a native labour aristocracy in the colonial and semi-colonial countries. Insignificant in comparison with its prototype in the metropolitan countries it stands out, however, in bold relief against the background of general poverty and maintains a tenacious grip on its privileges. The labour bureaucracy and aristocracy of the colonial and semi-colonial countries, together with the state functionaries, provide especially servile recruits for the “friends” of the Kremlin”.
(p. 34 – my emphasis, E.H.)
Trotsky’s pertinent remarks on Stalinism in the colonies can be understood with greater precision once the conception of the Stalinist party structure as an embryo state capitalist society in permanent social flux is accepted and universalised for all countries. The switches in party line lead to complete purges of the outer fringe time-servers who are attracted by the particular policy that is scrapped. These social changes, influxes, permutations and combinations which characterise the Stalinist party-society in the world beyond the Iron Curtain are, in fact, the reflection of the permanent social purge behind the Iron Curtain and are the surface expression of the contradictions within the state capitalist property relations in concretion (in Russia) and the nascent social contradictions (in the Stalinist parties outside). The cycle of purges attendant upon each volte-face is repeated as the whole sequence of transition-positions from ultra-left to hyper-right become the General Line in its multifarious zig-zags.
The Fourth International has paid insufficient attention to the social make-up of the stalintern parties and its state of permanent molecular re-arrangement and re-groupment – concentrating all its analytical powers on the purges in the upper reaches of the stalinist parties. The Fourth International position on Russia itself is similarly characterised by its inability to penetrate beneath the superficial political purges of the state bureaucracy to the infra-structure of the social and property relations beneath. The orthodox Trotskyist analysis of the stalinist parties as legitimate working class parties with bureaucratic leaderships has failed to grasp the history of the stalintern in proper focus, and consequently devoted years of next to useless activity in trying to draw the rank and file away from the leadership with the same methods it has used to cleave the rank and file of the social-democratic party from its leadership.
The methods which have been employed by the C.P. to attract more cannon-fodder for the “party of Lenin and Stalin” are of such a nature to exclude a successful assault by any independent revolutionary organisation, that has not the definitive mass support of a working class ready for the final struggle for power. The most modern techniques of mass propaganda have been harnessed by the Stalinist demagogues to recruit the personnel who are to carry out a specific line of action. In periods of “Popular Frontism” the Stalinists build their party by appealing to the crudest jingoism, the most blatant forms of racialism, and primitive passions. In periods of ultra-leftism the stalinists build their party by splitting the working class, and appealing to adventurist instincts and hooliganism.
The bestial racial hatreds engendered in the Stalinist resistance movements by Moscow (the only good German is a dead one – Ilya Ehrenburg) undermined the class solidarity which is the essential pre-requisite for the consideration of a party as a party of the working class. In the colonial and semi-colonial countries the stalinists, on more than one occasion, built their organisations on avowedly racial lines, as in Palestine where the Arabs were formed into an Anti-Zionist National Freedom League and the Jews were formed into the Pro-Zionist Palestine Communist Party (see T. Cliff’s “Middle East at the Cross Roads” (pp. 19-23)). For those who still consider the stalinist parties as distorted proletarian kernels, a brief acquaintance with the rabid racialism of the C.P. during the war years will dispel any illusions. The C.P. is built on the solid rock of a demoralised and declassified working class, which is lost in the frenzy of patriotic hysteria or the wild fantasies of putschism.
Ch.2 Before we continue our survey of the stalinist parties, a statistical analysis of a particular period of comintern policy will give the required weight to our contention.
Naturally, the Comintern in its later phases of degeneration never published the statistics relating to the social composition for the C.P. for this would have revealed the hollow foundations of C.P. membership. Fortunately, however, one of the old Bolsheviks, Ussip Pianitazky [Osip Piatnitsky], a member of the Orgbureau of the Comintern compiled some interesting statistics relating to the topics under discussion. Franz Borkenau’s factually interesting book “The Communist International” (1938) collected all the relevant material then available on the subject – most of which emanated from Ussip Pianitazki’s research analyses published in Imprecor.
The statistics cover the ultra-left “social fascist” Third Period of the German Communist Party* and the Communist Party of Great Britain.
In 1927 the percentages of the various occupational strata of the German C.P. was given as:-
Skilled workers 39.92
Independent craftsmen 9.57
Commercial employees 1.73
Remainder (misc.) 18.39
By 1929 with the swing to the left of the Fifth Congress of the C.I., the social change had become apparent, as Borkenau writes:-
“Whatever followers the Communist Party had won in the year (1929) they were not proletarians within the factories. Before the depression, at the height of the boom, the C.P. had started to transform itself from a party of the workers into a party of the unemployed. By 1931, the process had taken on catastrophic dimensions.”
(My emphasis – E.H. p. 364)
Further on he states:-
“Ultimately, in 1932, the German C.P. (if we leave aside the party bureaucracy) must have consisted of about three-fifths unemployed, one-fifth or a little less workers’ aristocracy, and very little in between”. (p. 365)
*see Note 2 in Appendix
Borkenau’s final comment on this process of class mongrelisation is as follows:-
“Those who know the Party will probably agree that this corresponds with their experience. It agrees perfectly with the fact that besides the unemployed those groups which were open to the new policy against the trade unions (the policy of dual unionism – E.H. – the social-democratic unions were social-fascist unions) were precisely the very best paid groups of workers in Germany, groups such as pipe-layers, tool-makers, and turners.”
(Ibid. pp. 365, 366)
These quotations effectively demolish the ancient illusion that ultra-leftist policies draw the vanguard of the militant working class.
We have an even more interesting table which compares the number of Communist members to the number of Communist worker-members organized in factory nuclei.*
*These factory nuclei were supposed to come into being with a 1926 Comintern document and were defined as “a grouping of all communists within a single factory and sometimes within a small group of several streets, into one nucleus” – ibid. p. 358
Nov. 1930 Feb. 1931 June 1931 Nov. 1931
Members 2555 2711 2724 6279
Members in factory nuclei 218 190 141 266
Percentage of total membership 8.5 7.0 5.1 4.2
(ibid. p. 362)
The scanty material in the shape of statistics that we have of the earlier phases of the degeneration of the Third International is eloquent in itself, for we see the decreasing percentage of organized and solidarised working class elements within the S.P. (sic) as the application of the Third Period strategy and tactic became concretised. The energy with which Trotsky denounced the artificial cleaving of the working classes into unemployed and employed segments flowing from this dual unionist policy is now seen as more than justified. C.P. policy is aimed at:- i) the strengthening of the Polibureau’s influence in the capitalist countries and (ii) the demoralisation of the working class, the ultimate object being the accession to power of the native stalinist parties over the exhausted bodies of the former ruling classes and the working masses (presumably with Red Army bayonets).
We can do no better than conclude this section with the succinct comment which Comrades Johnson-Forest make on the Fourth International’s illusions about the relation of the working people to the Stalinist parties’ growth in a period of defeat:-
“It (the Fourth International – E.H.) was founded upon the basis that the Communist International was unable to learn or be taught any more (this same idea is in the Transitional Programme….), and that the proletariat from the experience of Germany would turn away from the Comintern towards the Fourth International. New Internationals are not founded upon the basis of the inability of the old International to learn. This mode of reasoning led to the expectation that after the defeat in Germany of 1933, the Communist International would decline. The analysis was purely subjective”.
“Actually, it was precisely the defeat in Germany in 1933 that strengthened Stalinism. It crystallised the conviction growing in Europe that the mass revolt of the proletariat and its control of industry in the Marxist and Leninist manner were a dream. It led to the conclusion that the model of proletarian organisation had to be Stalinist, and that this was the only means whereby the capitalism of private property with its crises and Fascism could be opposed. It is this that has strengthened the elements in the labour movement and the petty-bourgeoisie to make Stalinism what it is.”
(“State Capitalism and the World Revolution”, pp. 39, 40)
Just as the Stalinists “have drowned Marx’s specific categories of capitalist exploitation” (ibid. p. 7), so likewise all efforts have been made to smother the class struggle at its keenest by revising the character of the Party and its relations with the working class.
Stalinism arises over a defeated working class, a working class that has lost confidence in its ability to change the production relations of society by itself. In no meaningful sense can the Stalinist parties be described as working class parties when, in fact, their very building is determined by the degree of weakness, demoralisation and declassification of the working classes.
SECTION V POLITICAL CONCLUSIONS
The survey of the growth of the Trotskyist movement in relation to the growth and decomposition of the stalinist parties we have given, taken in concert with our characterisation of the Stalinist parties as “totalitarian state-capitalist societies in embryo” implies a radical alteration of both our tactics and strategy in respect of these phenomena.
The tactic of the united front with the C.P. which was considered a weapon to separate the rank and file from the bureaucratic leadership in the past must be rejected on principle. The struggle for the unification of the working class must be conducted along lines of unity with the worker rank and file of the C.P. from below, against and in flat opposition to the C.P. leadership. The unity of the working class on a revolutionary programme can only be achieved by outflanking the C.P. with genuine demands for unity on a class basis against the capitalist system, either in its bourgeois democratic form, or in its totalitarian state capitalist form in the national sections of the Stalintern. The struggle for the blotting out of Stalinism must not under any circumstances be considered as ancillary to the class struggle in the various capitalist countries. On the contrary, the struggle against stalinism is, in fact, the sharpest and highest expression of the class war*. While social-democracy operates as the unconscious instrument for the world statifying processes and the tying of the proletariat to the state-machine, stalinism is the conscious instrument of the bureaucratic colossus that is striding across two mighty continents. Trotsky’s description of the stalinist movement as the most counter-revolutionary force within the working class is more than justified as post-war history has painfully revealed. Our amendment to Trotsky’s correct analysis of the intensity of the counter-revolutionary significance of stalinism is simply this: the stalinist parties are not counter-revolutionary working class parties with roots in their native countries but counter-revolutionary state-capitalist parties with roots in the Stalin bureaucracy, operating under the guise of a revolutionary workers’ party.
*See Appendix under Note 1
In respect of the actual class struggle, we must cling fast to the correct traditional attitude to Right Wing administrative expulsions and repressions of any stalinist current that may arise in the labour movement. Despite our insistence on the non-working class character of the C.P. either in respect of its policy, its roots or its composition, the fact that it operates to a large extent within the Labour movement and in the name of Marxism, Revolution, Socialism forces us back to the traditional attitude: the struggle against stalinism when it appears as an issue within trade unions is an internal problem of working class militants. We must resolutely oppose bureaucratic methods in any struggle we conduct against stalinism. Only a clean, ideological struggle against stalinism can destroy it permanently.
All our efforts must be directed to building a revolutionary wing out of social democracy, and the various national and colonial movements that have not yet been captured by the stalinists. The period we are living in now does not, however, lend itself to immediate confrontation of the revolutionary tendency to the stalinist tendency. The political conclusions we arrive at with our definition of the stalinist party as “a totalitarian state capitalist society” must enable us to involve ourselves in the immediate issues affecting the working class. The question of our attitude to the wage-freeze, the witch-hunts etc. etc. make it extremely difficult to separate the more or less inevitable mixing of banners in the organisation of opposition to these reactionary measures. Because the stalinists oppose the wage-freeze now, it does not mean that because we oppose it as well, that we have established a united front with them. Our task, as I see it, is to outflank the stalinists on these issues by always being first to begin the general opposition to these measures. In the trade unions it should be our comrades who move and frame the anti-wage-freeze resolutions, it should be our comrades who draw up the protests against the witch-hunts (making it clear that we oppose witch-hunts against Tito as much as we oppose witch-hunts against Joe Stalin). By taking the lead in every struggle, we shall place ourselves in the forefront of the militant workers movement. Once the stalinists realise that these struggles are Trotskyist-led, they will expose themselves by disassociating themselves from the particular struggle. Where we are faced with a stalinist-led progressive struggle, our job is to ruthlessly expose the stalinists by referring to their past record, and pointing out the basic reason for their support to some particular progressive fight. On no account, however, should we associate ourselves with the stalinist parties in any shape or form. We must point out to the working class that the Labour Party is the party of the broad masses, and that C.P. intervention on any issue (however progressive it might appear at first sight) is grounded in the interests of the counter-revolutionary, anti-socialist and anti-working class Stalinist Party itself. As for those who point out that the C.P. is working class because it “supports” working class struggles now, there can be only one good analogy made by way of answer. When Seretse Khama was cheated of his tribal throne, the Labour Party leadership was faced not only with a revolt of its own back-benchers, but also by a revolt of the combined forces of the Tories and Liberals. On this issue, the Tories were also playing a “progressive” role, for the same reasons as the Stalinists on other controversial subjects. Though we “identified” ourselves with the Tories and Liberals on this flagrant breach of “etiquette and good manners” no one would suggest for a moment that we were, in fact, in league with these hypocrites! On the contrary, our duty was to expose the hollowness of the Tory pretence of concern for the conditions of Bechuanaland natives despite their “Christian” action in denouncing Attlee’s double-cross. Similarly, our attitude to the stalinists must be determined by the same criteria – though we refuse to touch them with the proverbial barge-pole – we certainly have no intention of letting them get away with the leadership of these progressive movements.
The other problem faced by our comrades in the various trade unions are problems connected with voting for or against a stalinist for a union position. Nothing could be more damaging to our work if we were to associate ourselves with either the stalinists or the trade union bureaucrats. Under no circumstances either inside the unions, or in periods of election should we vote for the stalinists. However, in certain circumstances where in a particular branch a rank and file Stalinist on his own initiative pushes himself forward against a trade union bureaucrat, support is permissible. It all depends upon the concrete circumstances in which our comrades find themselves. As for those who denounce as sectarian a position of “explain patiently” and “a plague on both your houses” when we refuse to vote either for the stalinist or the trade union bureaucrat – we can only refer to the countless situations (such as the Tory-Liberal electoral contest) in which we cannot but stand aside and pour scorn on the alternatives presented: “the devil and the deep blue sea”.
The Tito problem is also likely to crop up as an issue. Our duty, as I see it, is to utilise any and every opportunity to support the Titoists against the Stalinists – not because we agree with them – but because by so doing we show to all concerned (i) the character of the Tito-Stalin struggle and (ii) the methods by which the stalinists will attempt to squash any dissident voices.
Summing up, I think we can define the “creature” under examination as “a state-capitalist party-society in embryo”. That is its essence. Its purpose in life is (i) to replace private capitalism and monopoly capitalism by a state capitalism which in structure is a total negation of classical capitalism (all power rests in the Party-state machine, the lagging behind of various sections of the economy give the society a partially negated aspect but this is subsidiary). That is its ultimate purpose. Before it can accomplish this task, it must contaminate and poison, the development of class-consciousness (see Trotsky’s “War and the World Revolution”, p. 31), it must declassify the proletariat and destroy its self-confidence. Thus its immediate purpose is confined to breaking the organic unity of the proletariat by sapping its energies in uncoordinated mass strikes (France, Italy), or acting as the temporary policeman of the native bourgeoisie (Britain during the war, India 1942 rising etc.). The social structure of the C.P. is such that its integration of the bureaucracy with the membership prevents it from becoming a victim to the process of differentiation into a proletarian, militant current and a counter-revolutionary fascist current. The cohesion of the C.P. is brought about by the separation of functions within the pyramid of the hierarchy. At the bottom the rank and filer carries out faithfully the Party line transmitted and interpreted for him by his “leaders”.
To describe the stalinist party as a left-wing or a right-wing is meaningless. For, from the bourgeois point of view, ULTIMATELY, Stalinism is a “left-wing” party i.e. it aims at expropriating the capitalist class. From the proletarian point of view, the Stalinist movement is neither left nor right, still less is it centre. It is a state-capitalist fifth column operating largely within the working class, though it is prepared to function as a military-political fifth column in the event of war (sabotage).
The whole weight of our work must be shifted from pushing the stalinists in a proletarian direction (from behind*) to leading the militants of the Labour Party and I.L.P. (if there are any left!) into open struggle against stalinism and the Right Wing. We end up with the inevitable query: which is more important, the struggle against stalinism or the struggle against reformism?
*David James’s not-too-bright idea!
The answer to this leading question is best formulated in this way: the struggle against stalinism becomes the struggle against the capitalist class, for the bourgeoisie cannot and will not fight the stalinists on the ideological field, and similarly the struggle against capitalism becomes the struggle against totalitarian state capitalism. The two struggles are inextricably bound together, the two struggles in dialectical movement become one in each other.
- Trotsky’s “Stalinism and Bolshevism”. Pioneer Publishers New York 1937.
- Trotsky’s “War and the World Revolution”. W.I.N. publication 1940.
- Trotsky’s “In Defence of Marxism”. Pioneer Publishers 1942.
- Felix Morrow’s “Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain”. Pioneer Publishers 1938.
- Johnson-Forest’s “State Capitalism and the World Revolution”. Internal Bulletin S.W.P. Aug. 1950.
- Johnson-Forest’s “The Invading Socialist Society”.
- Marler’s “Earl Browder – Communist or Tool of Wall Street”. Red Star Press 1937.
- James’s “Some Remarks on the Question of Stalinism”. Internal Bulletin R.C.P. Feb. 1949.
- Pollitt’s “Looking Ahead” 1947.
- Report of the 17th Congress of the Y.C.L. May 1950.
- T. Cliff’s “Middle East at the Cross Roads”. W.I.N. publication 1946.
- F. Borkenau’s “The Communist International”. 1938.
- G. Lukacz’s “Geschichte Und Klassen-Dewusstein”. (History and Class Consciousness). 1922.
- New Testament.
Note 1 to Section V
The Tito theoreticians seem to be able to adjust themselves more quickly to the real character of Stalinist Russia than the Fourth International. Their recent “conversion” to state capitalism and their understanding of the Stalin regime as “the highest expression of state capitalism and the “monstrously despotic form” of this state capitalist monopoly is about the best expression and characterisation we have seen so far of Stalinist Russia. In the Milovan Djilas article quoted in this month’s “Socialist Review” (January 1951), the Jugoslav theoretician’s reference to the fact that the bureaucracy is in more fundamental opposition to the proletariat than capital itself is omitted! This conception makes clear our understanding of the struggle against Stalinism as the “highest expression of the class struggle”.
Note 2 to Section IV
We could have chosen Spain for our “social composition” analysis. However, the statistics are vaguer. The fantastic growth of the C.P. was, in fact, nothing more than the swelling of the party by petty bourgeois elements and civil servants who were attracted to the C.P. by (i) its “defence of private property” and “law and order” and (ii) the indubitable fact that the stalinists were a symbol of power in the concrete and very tangible form of Russian aircraft, tanks, machine-guns etc. (See Felix Morrow’s “Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain”, especially pp. 30-43. Also George Marlen’s “Earl Browder – Communist or Tool of Wall Street”).
Comrade P. Smith’s article in this issue of the S.R. on the “Peace Campaign” also indicates the truth of our contentions. At the Warsaw “Peace” Congress “only 121 out of the 2,000 delegates were described as “workers and peasants””. “The rest were white collar workers, writers, poets, professors and members of university faculties, church dignitaries, outstanding military (!!) leaders, professional men and women, senators, industrial personalities etc.” (p. 26). Out of this non-class hotpotch the stalinists hope to build their mass movement! For them Hewlett Johnson mumbling to a hall of a thousand “old dears” is preferable and more useful than a hundred new, horny-handed working class members!
No comment! “At the country town of San Felice, not far to the south of Rome, there were one year ago one hundred registered members of the Communist Party. To-day there are only fifteen. The other eighty-five, it is reported, including the local organizer, have moved from one extreme to the other; they have joined the ultra-right wing Fascist revival party, which is called the Social Movement.” (“The Listener”, Jan 4th 1951, p. 17).
Note 3 to Section III. The whole subject of alienation and self-estrangement of labour from its products is dealt with in Marx’s “German Ideology” (see pp. 24, 25). Interesting work has yet to be done on the new type of alienation we witness in Russia. The philosophical implications of the stalinist theory of “national socialism”, the “co-existence of capitalism and socialism” are important because they constitute a revision of the Marx-Hegelian concept of the total, organic and complete proletarian revolutionary negation of capitalism. The stalinists split the world-view of Marxist philosophy.
“The Stalinist Parties”
The Stalinist Parties
In my opinion, Cde Hillman’s document is not a satisfactory basis for this very important discussion. Therefore, I submit this alternative. It is not a polemic against Cde Hillman; to deal with all the questions raised in “The Nature of the Stalinist Parties”, some of which have only a remote connection with the subject, would necessitate a document of formidable dimensions. I cannot find the time to write such a document, and, much more important, I suspect that many comrades would not find the time to read it. The following, then, is a bare outline of my own conceptions. (All unidentified quotations are taken from “The Nature of the Stalinist Parties” by E. Hillman.)
Trotsky’s Analysis of the Stalinist Parties
Trotsky did not assume that “in some unspecified way, the Stalinist parties were parties of the working class”. His conception was perfectly specific. He designated them as centrist parties of a particular kind. Later (after the Seventh Congress of the Comintern) he decided that they had evolved into neo-reformist parties. These clear and concrete descriptions have become blurred by the use of the meaningless term “degenerated workers’ parties”, a term which may tell us something of their origin, but which tells us nothing at all of their present role, a term which covers all kinds of different analyses – hence its popularity within the FI in the post-war period. To avoid any possible confusion, I give Trotsky’s definition in his own words:
“The ruling faction of the Comintern represents, not centrism “in general” but a quite definite historical form of centrism, which has its social roots, rather recent, but powerful. First of all the matter concerns the Soviet Bureaucracy … The party as a self-controlling vanguard of the proletariat no longer exists. The party apparatus has been fused with the administration. The most important instrument of the “general line” within the party is the GPU. The ruling and uncontrolled position of the bureaucracy is conducive to a psychology which in many ways is directly contradictory to the psychology of a proletarian revolutionary … In the course of a number of years the stalinist faction demonstrated that the interests and psychology of the “strong peasant”, engineer, administrator, Chinese bourgeois intellectual and British Trade Union functionary were much closer and more comprehensible to it than the psychology and needs of the unskilled labourer, the peasant poor, the uprising Chinese national masses, the English strikers, etc. But why, in that case, didn’t the Stalinist faction lead to the very end of its line of national opportunism? Because it is the bureaucracy of a workers’ state. Hence is derived the dual psychology and policies of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Centrism, but centrism on the foundations of a workers’ state, such is the sole possible expression for this duality.”
(“Centrism “in General” and the Centrism of the Stalinist Bureaucracy”, L.T. 1931. All emphases in original.)
(Notice that Trotsky does not distinguish between the CPSU and the other parties of the Comintern. In fact the article quoted from is concerned with, chiefly, the German Communist Party.)
A centrist tendency is, by definition, evolving either towards or away from Marxism. Trotsky believed that the fundamental evolution of the Comintern was towards classical reformism, just as the evolution of the Russian bureaucracy was towards the restoration of “private” (i.e. monopoly) capitalism. Hence he believed that the ultra-left line of the “Third Period” (1928-34) must inevitably be replaced by an ultra-opportunistic one.
“The Brandlerites, including the leaders of the S.A.P., remaining even today the theoretical pupils of Thalheimer, saw only “ultra-leftism” in the policies of the Comintern and denied (and continue to deny) the very meaning of bureaucratic centrism. We, on the other hand, were able to forecast with absolute precision the inevitability of a new opportunistic turn. The present (Fourth Period), when Stalin is pulling the European workers’ movement on the hook of the Comintern to the Right of official reformism, demonstrates how shallow and opportunistic is the official philosophy of Thalheimer-Walcher and Co.”
(“The Soviet Union To-Day”, (footnote) L.T., 1935. Emphasis in original)
The Seventh Congress of the Comintern in 1935 was, for Trotsky, the culmination of the evolution of Stalinism towards reformism.
“The “defence of the USSR” is the excuse – not the reason but the excuse – for the capitulation of the Cachins, Jacquemottes, Gottwalds, etc, to the “public opinion” of “their own” bourgeoisie.”
(“The Seventh Congress of the Comintern”, L.T., 1935)
The same idea is repeated several times in the fundamental document of the FI, e.g.
“The definite passing over of the Comintern to the side of the bourgeois order, its cynically counter-revolutionary role throughout the world particularly in Spain, France, the United States and other “democratic” countries, created exceptional supplementary difficulties for the world proletariat.”
(“Transitional Programme of the Fourth International”, 1938. My emphasis, D.H.)
Finally, in the event of war, the Stalinists would behave no differently from the reformists of 1914.
“No less traitorous is the role played by social democracy and Stalinism in the face of the imminent war danger … They have neither the desire nor the possibility of organising the struggle against the coming imperialist war. On the contrary, completely corrupted by social patriotism and flying the pirate flag of “democratic” imperialism, they are already acting as recruiting sergeants of imperialism.”
(“Transitional Programme”, 1938)
This then is Trotsky’s position. Bureaucratic centrist parties swinging right (1923), left (1924), right (1925-27), left (1928-33), right (1934) and finally ending up on the side of the bourgeois order (in its “democratic” form) from 1935 onwards. This conception is clear and unambiguous. We can now [see] that it is clearly and unambiguously wrong. The early war period (1939-41) cast doubt upon it. The post-war period (especially 1947 onwards) has finally disproved it. Today nobody but an imbecile can maintain that the stalinist parties are capitulating to “their own” bourgeoisie. And nobody – not even the I.S. – does so.
Hence we have to re-investigate the question. We cannot maintain our old position. It simply isn’t there to maintain. What, then, are the Stalinist parties?
Cde Hillman – and also Schachtman – is anxious to show that the stalinist parties are not workers’ parties. What is meant by this term? A party can be defined according to its composition, its leadership, or its programme – the real, not the formal programme – or according to a combination of these three factors. Cde Hillman – and also Schachtman – take the leadership and (real) programme of the Stalinist parties and conclude that they are not workers’ parties. In the case of Schachtman, the question of composition is ignored. In the case of Cde Hillman an attempt is made to show that the composition is not predominantly proletarian, or that, if it is, workers become “declassed” when they join the party. Let us apply this method to a reformist party.
The leadership of, say, the British Labour Party [B.L.P.] is not proletarian. It consists of Trade Union functionaries, lawyers, clergymen, doctors, professional “liberal” politicians, company directors, ex-civil servants, ex-university teachers, scions of the nobility, etc. It is formed of various sections of the middle classes, including an important (but numerically declining) group from the bureaucracy of the TU’s. It is a petty-bourgeois leadership in ideology as well as in composition. The (real) programme of the party is neo-liberalist class collaboration and pro-imperialism. It is diametrically opposed to the struggle for the unity and emancipation of the workers in Britain or anywhere else. It is a petty-bourgeois programme – and a very reactionary one at that. Finally, the internal regime of the party is not democratic. The democratic façade conceals the dictatorship of the parliamentary leadership and the T.U.C. bosses. All these facts are well-known and beyond dispute. The conclusion that would have to be drawn from them, working by the Hillman-Schachtman method, could only be that the B.L.P. is not a workers’ party. But it is not only the B.L.P. that has to be considered. All the other reformist parties have similar features; in some cases without even the proletarian membership of the B.L.P. (e.g. the S.F.I.O.). But practically the entire international working class is lined up behind the Stalinists and the reformists, or behind semi-fascist nationalist movements (Peron, Vargas, etc), or behind “democratic” bourgeois parties (M.R.P., Democratic Party of the U.S.A., etc). Therefore, the logical conclusion to be drawn from the Hillman-Schachtman thesis is that there are no workers’ parties at all in the world today. In one sense this is perfectly true, of course, for, if we define a workers’ party by programme and leadership, then the only workers’ parties are proletarian revolutionary, Communist Parties. That these do not exist (on any scale) is obvious. However, this does not elucidate the question of the nature of the Stalinist parties. The whole discussion of “workers’ parties” or “not workers’ parties” is in fact a red herring. The only meaningful definition of a workers’ party is in terms of composition. A party which bases itself mainly upon the working class is a workers’ party. The nature of its leadership and programme has nothing to do with the question. Naturally, such a party cannot have any programme. It cannot have the programme (openly) of the Economic League or Hitler. Naturally also, such a party, with a petty-bourgeois leadership, must play a dual role corresponding to the conflict of interests between the leadership and the membership. All this is obvious. The reason we (as revolutionaries) are concerned with the question at all is because, in order to win the working class, it is necessary to approach such parties in a certain way. That is to apply the united front tactic to them in order to win the proletarian rank and file from the bourgeois ideologies of the leadership. No-one has yet shown any other way of doing this.
However, Cde Hillman (and also Schachtman) have another argument up their sleeve. Whereas the reformist parties have their basis in the bureaucracy of the Trade Union and Co-operative movement and are tied to, are part and parcel of, bourgeois democracy, stalinism, like fascism, is a totalitarian movement which can only come to power by destroying the workers’ organisations. Since Stalinism is in an entirely different category from reformism, the united front tactic cannot be used against them any more than against the fascists. Logically, one would suppose, the tactical approach to them should be expressed in the slogan “Smash the Stalino-Fascists”. (Why not, Cde Hillman?) This thesis, absurd as it appears on the surface, contains elements of truth and must be carefully examined.
This is in reality a theory of “social-fascism”. It makes no difference whether one calls the Stalinist parties “bureaucratic-collectivist parties”, “Red Fascism”, “totalitarian state-capitalist parties”, or any other name. (We will leave Cde Hillman’s personal aberration “totalitarian state-capitalist societies in embryo” for another occasion. In reality, Cde Hillman draws his conclusions not from this conception but from the social-fascist thesis). The essence of this theory is that the Stalinists, like the Fascists, seek to, and under certain conditions, are able to seize power, smash the working class and establish a totalitarian society.
The theoreticians of this school are unquestionably correct when they state that this is the aim of the Stalinist leaderships. They are also correct when they say that the methods of Stalinism in dealing with opposition are identical with those of Fascism. Whenever it is able to do so, Stalinism reinforces its slander machine with thugs and gunmen. Conditions permitting, the beating-up and murder of opponents (especially revolutionaries) is a normal Stalinist tactic. In this respect there is no distinction between the Storm-Troopers of Hitler and the Storm-Troopers of Stalin. There is a further analogy in the internal structure of their parties and in the character of their propaganda and agitation. For all their pseudo-Marxism, the ideology of Stalinism is as much based on leader-worship as that of fascism. The psychology of Stalinism is similar to that of fascism (summed up in Mosley’s slogan “ACTION!”) and so on.
The fundamental defect in the social-fascist thesis is that it ignores the class struggle. Given that the Stalinist parties are social- fascist – and the description is not wholly inaccurate – the question is: Can these parties take power in the same way as the fascists can (and have)? The question has only to be posed to see the fallacy of the idea. Fascism in Germany, for instance, was a movement of petty-bourgeois and lumpen-proletarian radicals which was lifted into power by the big bourgeoisie in order to preserve monopoly capitalism or state-monopoly capitalism. In no case whatever did fascism seize power against the big capitalists – it could not do so. The only way to do so is to lead the masses into head-on conflict with the state machine and thereby smash it. But these same masses would not then permit the fascist bosses to enslave them. The result would not be fascism but socialism. Now, unlike fascism, stalinism seeks, not to preserve monopoly or state-monopoly capitalism, but to establish the “Russian System” (it is immaterial, for this argument, whether this system is called “bureaucratic collectivism”, “bureaucratic state-capitalism”, or what have you) and this system involves the liquidation of the big bourgeoisie (as a class) and their replacement by a single bureaucratic corporation. We can therefore say with complete confidence, that the big bourgeoisie will not lift Togliatti and Reimann into power as they lifted Mussolini and Hitler. (For notwithstanding Cdes Hillman and Schachtman the bourgeoisie is by no means baffled by “this movement that has hitherto defied logical explanation”). There are two other possible roads to power. The road of revolutionary struggle – from which the Stalinists are barred for exactly the same reason as the Fascists – and the road of becoming gauleiters for a foreign conqueror. This last road is the only real one (except under certain conditions discussed later). This is the reason, as Johnson (quoted by Hillman) correctly states, for their “loyalty” to the Kremlin – “sheer naked self-interest”.
The objection will be raised that the theory that Stalinism cannot seize power against the bourgeoisie has been disproved in practice in two cases – Yugoslavia and China. In fact, the “exceptions” do not disprove the case but they do raise an extremely important issue. What had China and Yugoslavia in common? The simultaneous existence of an extremely weak and impotent bourgeoisie which did not control the state machine (in Yugoslavia the state machine was simply a shadow of the Wehrmacht, in China the state machine was in the hands of the Bonapartist clique of Chiang-Kai-Shek) and an extremely weak, scattered and impotent proletariat in a predominantly peasant country. Under these circumstances, it was possible for the stalinists to build a Bonapartist military-state-machine based on the peasantry and to conquer, by military means, a disintegrating opponent. The resulting regime is bureaucratic-state-capitalism imposed upon a primitive peasant agriculture. Obviously, then, we have to admit the possibility of the stalinist parties taking power in other areas given similar conditions. In those countries where the bourgeois revolution was never achieved stalinism represents a possible means of destroying the old society, given the impotence of the working class. The theory of Permanent Revolution has therefore to be modified to meet this case as also to meet the case of the bourgeoisie, again under exceptional conditions, achieving the main essentials of a bourgeois revolution. The theory then appears as a statement of revolutionary strategy and not as a law of development. This does not involve any modification of the conception that the stalinists cannot seize power by a revolutionary struggle. The decisive battle for socialism must necessarily take place in the areas of proletarian concentration, i.e. in the advanced countries. The colonial revolts are only an auxiliary, an important auxiliary but only an auxiliary force.
The Nature of Stalinism
Stalinism is a unique phenomenon. Like Fascism, it is a “thing in itself” and not some variety of any well-known movement. It is, as Hillman and Johnson stress, a product of the defeat and demoralisation of the working class. The Stalinist parties are, like both fascism and social-democracy, petty-bourgeois in their ideology and leadership. Like the social-democratic parties but unlike the fascist parties, they base themselves in the advanced countries upon the working class, i.e. they are “workers’ parties”. Like the Fascist parties but unlike the social-democratic parties, they are totalitarian in structure and aim. Like social-democracy, stalinism exists by virtue of the absence of a revolutionary proletarian movement. Marx said that society was more and more splitting into two great classes. This is true but it is also an oversimplification. State-monopoly capitalism creates a whole series of intermediate castes or sub-classes whilst at the same time preserving large sections of the “old” petty-bourgeoisie (shop-keepers, small businessmen, etc.) as its captives. The most easily recognised of these castes is the labour bureaucracy – the real backbone of “classical” reformism. But other castes, not tied fundamentally to bourgeois democracy, are also created – professional administrators, technicians of all kinds, some socially necessary engineers, chemists, etc., others purely parasitic – advertising agents, insurance brokers, etc. It is the aspirations of these strata that are reflected, in varying conditions, by both stalinism and fascism. (Both movements gain substantial support also, from pre-capitalist survivals – especially the peasantry – in countries where these classes are numerically important.) These groups do not invariably support either of the totalitarian ideologies – quite the reverse, they are often supports for social-democracy or “democratic” conservatism. But under conditions of great social conflict, given the absence of the revolutionary party, they are impelled against the working class either directly (fascism) or indirectly (stalinism). There are considerable differences in the ideological content (apart from the obvious difference in form) of fascism and stalinism corresponding to their differences in aim. Stalinism reflects more the “pure” managerial outlook of the “new petty-bourgeoisie” and the totalitarian labour bureaucrats with their contempt for bourgeoisie and proletariat alike. Hence its pseudo-rationalism and “marxist” phraseology. It is the most up-to-date “scientific” totalitarianism. Whereas fascism, with its irrationalism and Blood and Soil nonsense, has only violence to offer as a solution to the crisis of civilisation. Stalinism, proposing a radical reorganisation of class society in order to save class society, is able to dominate the working class, under favourable conditions, and thus it is the most reactionary (because most effective) of all the petty-bourgeois ideologies. On the other hand its weakness, as compared to its rivals, is its inability to take power and its dependence upon the Kremlin bureaucracy. The fact that it is a “workers’ party” (in the sense described) is its Achilles heel as well as its strength. It is this vital distinction that enables it to be disintegrated by a growing revolutionary tendency instead of, as in the case of fascism, necessitating a frontal assault.
The Struggle against Stalinism
The weakness of the “neo-reformism” conception of stalinism is shown clearly by its inability to explain the facts of life. Its proponents are compelled to construct a dream world for themselves and thus become completely disorientated. This was the fate of the I.S. and its adherents. Their latest lurch into pro-stalinism is the result. The weakness of the “social-fascism” conception, on the other hand, becomes clear only when the question of a practical struggle against a mass stalinist party is posed. Since this is not an issue in the U.S.A. the falsity of Schachtman’s line is not so clear as the stupidity of Cannon’s. Once the question is faced – how do we win the workers from stalinism? – the error of “social fascism” is obvious. The workers, far from ceasing to be such on joining the C.P., join (in the main) because for them the C.P. is the party of working class struggle. They will break with stalinism only in the course of struggle. Our whole future perspective is based on the conception that, in the long run, the class struggle will prove stronger than the most solid party apparatus. It is from this fact that the conclusions must be drawn. From this flows our line for the struggle against Stalinism – the tactic of the united front. Of course this is not an immediate slogan. To demand that someone form a united front with us presupposes that we dispose of a force of our own – which we do not! Cde Hillman is probably correct when he says that our forces will come, in the first instance, from left social-democracy – at least in many cases though not necessarily in all (e.g. in Germany our obvious line is to assist the leadership of the U.A.P.D., stalinist in origin, to a revolutionary position). But having got a cadre party, the question remains – how do we win the workers from stalinism? The only serious answer is – in the same way as we win them from social-democracy, the united front tactic. Cde Hillman says (correctly), “When the Stalinists operate a united front it is invariably led by them and is invariably bureaucratic, counter-revolutionary …” etc. etc. Of course. But this is not the question at all. The united front tactic presupposes also that the leadership of the anti-revolutionary organisation is against a united front. The whole point of the tactic is to unite the workers in spite of their leaders either by forcing them (by the pressure of their membership) into united action (the best variant) or by tearing away sections of their following. That this is more difficult in the case of a stalinist organisation with its monolithicism, discipline and leader-cult than with the more heterogeneous social democracy, is indisputable. To say that it is impossible is to ignore the dual character of the stalinist party and to lose, in advance, any prospect of winning the workers away from it. The “social fascist” theory ignores the fact that every successful action by the working class enhances its self-confidence and its will to fight – and to that extent undermines the basis of stalinism. An upsurge of the masses creates the possibility of building a revolutionary party. A defeat, as Cde Hillman himself tells us, produces reaction and demoralisation. Obviously then we work to strengthen the upsurge – by trying to force the reactionary leadership into the fight. If the stalinist leadership itself is prepared to conduct a struggle within certain limits (for its own reasons, of course) so much the better. Neither Cde Hillman nor anyone else has told us any other method of participating in and helping forward the class struggle. Adherents of the “social-fascist” conception should ask themselves – why is it that the stalinist leaderships are always against a united front with revolutionaries? Because it will strengthen stalinism?
There is no doubt that the G.P.U. is a serious threat in disturbed conditions – but the only way to fight it is by gaining a mass base. Moreover, the use of terrorism against revolutionaries is not avoided by a sectarian attitude towards stalinism – it is enhanced as the revolutionaries have less contact with the stalinist-influenced workers. To murder Erwin Wolf was simple, to murder Nin a great deal of trouble, to murder Vasquez impossible. It is not a question of defensive precautions (necessary as these are) but of a mass base.
I have not dealt at all with the question of the struggle against stalinism in power. This is simply the class struggle itself. There are many problems involved, of course, but they have no particular reference to this discussion.
The above is only an outline of a position. It does not deal with a great many minor difficulties or with the general prospects for stalinism. The latter omission is deliberate. It is impossible to make short-term forecasts without fortune-telling and the future of the stalinist parties depends above all on the development of a revolutionary movement. One topic must be touched upon, however. What is the probable evolution of stalinist splinter groups? Several such groups have appeared in recent years (“Red Flag” group in Burma, Schappe and Co in Germany, Cuicci-Mangano in Italy, le Corre in France, etc.) and others are inevitable in the future. On the social-fascist theory these are merely rival aspirants for power in the (future) state-capitalist society – like Strasser or Leese in the Hitler and Mosley movements. This again illustrates the error of this theory. The very fact of breaking with the party compels such groups to struggle against the fountain head of stalinism – and once having been forced into an anti-Moscow attitude they must necessarily rely upon gaining working-class support on a class struggle basis regardless of the needs of Russian diplomacy. The present line of stalinism, which they have accepted, makes it difficult for them to go over immediately to social democracy and Belgrade is no substitute for Moscow. Thus they become centrist groups evolving towards a revolutionary position. As such, they offer a major possibility for us to win over. On the other hand, no confidence can be placed in such groups in advance. Their leaders have had many years’ training in bureaucratic manoeuvres and in many cases will no doubt prove incapable of freeing themselves from their past. Previous experience leads us to suppose that such elements will evolve towards social-democracy or fascism. But it is essential to remember that this experience was gained in a period of defeat. There is no a priori reason why such an evolution is inevitable. Above all the issue depends on the revolutionary forces, upon our ability to demonstrate in practice that we are capable of building a serious movement. Our attitude towards such groups must be one of friendly collaboration in practical work, together with firm political criticism. It would be fatal to approach such groups in an ultimatist spirit; no less fatal to ignore or whitewash their errors. Our approach to them, as to the stalinist parties proper, must be based upon a practical, concrete programme of struggle against the bourgeoisie. Outside the Russian Empire and Yugoslavia it is sheer nonsense to assert that “the struggle against stalinism is, in fact, the sharpest and highest expression of the class war”. Exactly the opposite is the case. It is the struggle against the bourgeoisie and its social-democratic agents that is the decisive one. The struggle against stalinism is subsidiary to that major conflict and flows naturally from it. Without in any way underestimating the difficulties and dangers of unity in action with the stalinist workers we have to say that such unity is an absolutely essential step towards the goal of breaking up stalinism. We have broken with the paralysing conception of workers’ statism. We are in no danger at all of falling into pro-stalinism: we are in considerable danger of following Schachtman and Co in the no less dangerous mistake of Stalinophobia.
The SRG Secretariat’s Recommendation to Members
The Secretariat asks the comrades to reject the thesis of Comrade E.H. as it believes that it is based upon a departure from the Marxist method of thought and analysis.
We will attempt to deal with this thesis as briefly and specifically as possible.
- While E.H. is right concerning the old Trotskyist position on the nature of the Stalinist parties, what is forgotten by Cde. E.H. is that this evaluation flowed from the concept of Russia as a degenerated workers’ state. We believe that in the past the C.P.’s were not assumed to be parties of the working class “in some unspecified way”, (E.H.’s document, P.1.). To the contrary, although the leadership were bureaucratic centrists, the appeal they made to the workers was as a class in opposition to the bourgeoisie, although in a distorted manner. In the same way, we characterise the Labour Party as the mass party of the workers in Great Britain, despite its reformist programme and leadership.
- Comrade E.H. gives many statistics on the composition of the pre-war German C.P., and concludes that the Stalinist parties are composed of declassed workers and petty bourgeoisie. He does not discuss, however, the post-war French and Italian C.P.’s. Are we to believe that all the members of the parties are declassed elements? That in France a revolutionary grouping should not try to win the C.P. rank-and-file? To pursue such a policy, when the majority of the working class of these countries are influenced to such a great extent by the C.P., would be suicidal sectarianism. In Germany it was from the Stalinists that the U.A.P. came. It is from this party that we have high hopes of a rebirth of the Spartakus tradition. In Italy, too, a similar grouping is emerging from the C.P.
- Comrade E.H.’s thesis is a departure from Marxism in his conception of Russia, for the following reasons:-
He writes, (P.9. “Stalinist Parties of Eastern Europe”),…..”it is the party operating the state machine that decides, controls, directs and dictates, and not the non-party capitalists, technicians and engineers….thus it is legitimate to talk about political exploitation in the U.S.S.R. as the determining and decisive essence of the society, and economic exploitation as a function or a derivative of this primary oppression. The alienation between labour and the product of its activity is basically political and only secondly economic”. Here we have the essence of Cde. E.H.’s undialectical and metaphysical reasoning. Marx and Lenin always taught that the state was the executive organ of the economically dominant class in society, that politics is concentrated economics, and the class struggle in the last analysis is the struggle for surplus value. What then is the essence of the class struggle in Russia? Cde. E.H. tells us that the struggle is not economic, i.e. for surplus value, but political. The facts, as shown in T. Cliff’s document “The Nature of Stalinist Russia”, prove that step by step, the monster police regime of Stalin took shape with the ever-growing demand of capital accumulation, an economic function, and that the politics of Stalin flow from this, and no other source.
From Cde. E.H.’s unMarxist analysis of the C.P.S.U. and its relation to the Soviet economy, flows his vague definition of the role and composition of the Communist Parties of the West. He twice refers to them as “state-capitalist societies in embryo”, without further defining their economic function (if any) inside bourgeois countries, and their relationship vis-à-vis the workers or the capitalist ruling class. Marxists normally use the word “society” to define groups of people existing together with certain economic and social relationships. Is it Cde. E.H.’s contention that the Western C.P.’s are attempting to build Stalinist “New Lanarks”* within Western capitalism?
The only other conclusion visible in such a definition is that the membership of the Western C.P.’s is composed mainly of those who see themselves as the dominant class in the state-capitalist economy of the future. Such a conception is equally fantastic. Throughout the Balkans the conquest of power by the Stalinists has always led to the jailing, persecution and physical annihilation of the flower of working class militants who spent years in the C.P. with the best possible intentions. Violent purges and vicious blood-letting are inevitably followed by the scum of the party (like Stalin himself) rising to the top and assuming the role of counter-revolutionary hangmen.
It is not denied for an instant that the leadership of the Western C.P.’s is, generally speaking, composed of opportunist bureaucrats fully conscious of their economic function in a state capitalist economy. The same can be said with equal bitterness of the Social Democratic fakers, but this does not make the Labour Party a party of reactionaries, or a party divorced from the working class movement. In both cases the leadership is forced to appeal to the workers for support on the basis of class ideas and in Socialist phraseology. This is even more true of the Stalinist leadership. The Fabian fakers have taken upon themselves to defend “their” bourgeoisie, and “their” variation of capitalism. The Stalinist leadership is out to smash the existing ruling class and its raison-d’etre, and aspires to the role of Gauleiters for a foreign imperialism. In this death-struggle they are compelled to employ revolutionary slogans, to pay lip-service to Marxism, and to prostitute the genuine grievances of the workers in strikes and mass-protests to their own ends. It is this clarion-call which attracts the majority of C.P. members.
From such an analysis not only does an estimation of the Western C.P.’s become easier, but our attitude towards the C.P. rank-and-file can be clearly defined. It is quite obvious that at such times as the Stalinists are an oppositionist force within an economy alien to state-capitalism that they can play (and very often do play) a pseudo-progressive part in internal affairs.
If the Stalinists assume control of an economy they become completely exposed as a counter-revolutionary force (disarm the workers, disband the factory committees, and attack the workers’ standard of living).
The job of our Russian, Polish and Balkans comrades is quite clear – they should support and develop whatever form the workers’ protests against the Stalinist “betrayal” takes. In the West it is our job to defeat our ruling-class – this may mean allying ourselves in United Fronts on specific issues with the Stalinists, or any other organisation based on the working class. In fact, our task is almost identical with that in relation to the Social Democratic leadership. Where the
*Comrades will remember the idealistic attempt of Robert Owen to build “islands” of Socialism within the framework of capitalist society.
fakers adopt Socialist slogans or an attitude of defence for the working class, we force them towards the ultimate step inevitable in such a process – the establishment of Socialism. In the Trade Unions, where we cannot put a candidate of our own, we must critically support the candidate with the most militant and progressive programme, the operative word being “critical”. This is the thing that counts, and not the consideration of whether he is a Social Democrat or a Stalinist. In the recent A.E.U. presidential elections the two candidates were Tanner and Berridge. In the final ballot we would have had to critically support Berridge, bearing in mind that it is not the actual vote cast that counts; it is campaigning for, and expanding of the programme on which he stood.