Thanks to John Rudge for unearthing and collecting these reviews
Tony Cliff’s first book, Stalin’s Satellites in Europe, was published in 1952 by George Allen & Unwin Ltd., in London and The Beacon Press in Boston, USA. It appeared under Cliff’s real name of Ygael Gluckstein. Unlike most of the rest of Cliff’s output over a publishing “career” of half a century this was an academic book. Perhaps for this reason it has received less attention than almost all of his more politically orientated material. This is a shame as the book is worthy of study and is a source of a wealth of data on the “People’s Democracies” of Eastern Europe.
The “blurb” on the front cover and inside sleeve of the book tells us that:
“This is a critical study of the economic and political changes that have taken place in Eastern Europe since the Second World War. It describes and analyses the various facets of State Capitalist exploitation: the bureaucratic, dictatorial, management of the factory, the increasing limitation of the workers’ legal rights, the subordination of the consumer to the needs of quick capital accumulation, the enforced “collectivization”, the differentiation of society into the privileged and the pariahs, and social and national oppression.
It goes on to describe and analyse the political concomitants of the rise of Bureaucratic State Capitalism: the totalitarian control of the army and police force, the liquidation of opposition parties, the regimentation of the Churches, the unscrupulous use of the weapon of national hatred, of “divide and rule” policy, etc. It ends with an analysis of the motives of the Tito rebellion and the role it plays in exposing the social and national contradictions of Stalinism.
The vast amount of factual material collected in this study has been extracted almost entirely from official publications – the publications of the Governments and Communist Parties of the Eastern European countries themselves.”
The book is, in some ways, a continuation of the work Cliff started with his 1950 document On the Class Nature of the People’s Democracies. Whereas, however, his 1950 document was a polemic against the Fourth International’s conception of the People’s Democracies, argued in a manner redolent of the Trotskyist movement, the book is a mass of data, statistics and quotations to show us that, as per the title of its final chapter, “Stalin’s Empire has no Future”.
Whilst the reader of Stalin’s Satellitesin Europe should be in no doubt that they are reading the work of a committed Marxist who has no truck with Stalin or Stalinism they will be hard-pressed to recognise Cliff’s very-particular analysis as advanced in his 1948 Revolutionary Communist Party document The Nature of Stalinist Russia. The book contains no outlining or analysis of Bureaucratic State Capitalism as a theory, although the term is used on the inner sleeve and in the text, (see e.g. page 127). Perhaps even more surprisingly, references to Marxism are limited (there are 10 references to Karl Marx in the index).
The book is divided into three parts. Part One deals with “The Economy of the Russian Satellites” – Bulgaria, Rumania, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and Yugoslavia. Part Two covers “Political Life in the Russian Satellites”. In his chapter on “Socio-Economic Relations in the Satellites” Cliff (pages 81-82) positions Parts One and Two as follows:
“The first part of this book attempts to show that the chief means of production and exchange in the Russian satellites are in the hands of the state (in part the Russian state), and that they will be more and more so concentrated. The second part attempts to show that these countries have undemocratic, totalitarian police regimes, which means that they are not “owned” by the people – workers, peasants and intellectuals – but by the self-appointing and self-perpetuating bureaucracy itself. From these two propositions, if they can be proved, the only conclusion possible would be that the Bureaucracy is the owner of the wealth of these countries, that as well as being the ruling class politically, it is the ruling class economically.”
Part Three of the book is dedicated to “The Rebellious Satellite” i.e. Yugoslavia.
I found the book of value and interest but what did other people make of the book at the time?
My primary purpose in this short research note is to highlight a number of the contemporary reviews of the book that appeared in the press in 1952 and 1953. It should be noted that whereas almost all of Cliff’s other published output was reviewed in the socialist press, this book, due to its academic nature, was primarily reviewed in scholarly or popular publications.
I am particularly happy to present here the review written by Jean Tait (using her pseudonym P. Mansell) that appeared in the Socialist Review Group’s own publication Socialist Review Volume 2 Number 1 in April-May 1952.
Stalin’s Satellites in Europe – The Book Reviews
On the front-cover of Gluckstein’s 1957 book, Mao’s China: Economic and Political Survey we find extracts from three reviews of Stalin’s Satellites in Europe. These are listed as numbers 1 to 3 below:
1. Hugh Seton-Watson in Manchester Guardian is quoted as:
“Mr. Gluckstein’s book may be welcomed as a serious contribution to the literature on the subject”.
NB: Hugh Seton-Watson was a distinguished historian of Russia and Eastern Europe. According to Chanie Rosenberg, Cliff was in contact with him during the writing of the book.
2. Cardiff Western Mail is quoted as:
“Scholarly analysis of the new “People’s Democracies”….Mr. Gluckstein’s most notable achievement is the masterly fashion in which he demonstrates the technique of the enslavement of a country and its people by the “divide and conquer” method”.
3. World Review is quoted as:
“This is an important book…it is a remarkably well-documented and lucid summary of a highly complex set of problems”.
4. “East of Europe” by Mark Gayn in The Nation August 16th, 1952 p.135.
Ian Birchall (2011) writes:
“One reviewer found Cliff’s work “diffuse”, surprised that he could rise above a narrowly empirical account to discuss such topics as the Japanese industrialization of Manchuria or Arab feudalism”.
NB: This article was a combined review of two books.
5. F. Lee Benns (Indiana University) in The Russian Review Volume 11 Number 4 October 1952 pp. 247-250:
“It would certainly help greatly in mobilizing the people of the West in the struggle against Communism if all could in some way be made aware of the economic, political, social, and religious conditions now existing in the states of Eastern Europe, as set forth in Stalin’s Satellites in Europe. In the first part of this book Mr. Gluckstein shows how the chief means of production and exchange in these satellites are in the hands of the state (in part the Russian state), and how they will undoubtedly become more and more so concentrated. As to changes in land ownership, he concludes that in Hungary “the elimination of large estates was tremendous, and a progressive step”; in Rumania it “was less extensive but of the same general character”; in Czechoslovakia and Poland it constituted in the main the expropriation of millions of Germans and Hungarians; in Yugoslavia and Bulgaria “the changes were very small indeed.” So far as industry, transport, banking, insurance, and trade are concerned, the author agrees with S. Perlman, in Problems of the Post-War World, that the German occupation of these countries destroyed capitalism, for it “so churned up all existing property rights that their restoration even approximately…. is unthinkable.” The military defeat of Germany left a very great part of the industry, transport, and banks of the East European countries ownerless. Nationalization resulted, and the details of the process are discussed for each country. The differences in the nationalization policies show how the “policy has in every case been determined by the interests of the rulers of Russia.” Mr. Gluckstein points out that the need for capital in Eastern Europe is paramount. “No raising of the rate of agricultural production, no improvement in the standard of living (in the satellites) is possible without rapid industrialization,” but “industrialization on a large enough scale to absorb….the yearly natural increase of the employable population and the agricultural overpopulation can be carried out only by forcing the people to save.” Russia herself can help her satellites very little in the matter of capital, for she is faced with the same problem as her satellites. As a result of her own backwardness Russia looks upon them as an additional source of industrial strength and generally favors their industrialization though “she will of course reserve for herself the first fruits of their industrial development.” Part 1 of this book is a mine of useful information on economic conditions in Eastern Europe since before World War 1.
The second part shows that the satellites have undemocratic, totalitarian, police regimes, so that their resources are not owned “by the people….but by the self-appointing and self-perpetuating bureaucracy itself.” In the chapters of Part II are discussed Russia’s intervention in the satellite states, the Communist seizure of control of police and army, the establishment of the totalitarian “People’s Democracies”, the nationalistic conflicts – particularly between the Slavs and the Germans and Hungarians – with the resultant expulsion of the non-Slavs, and the Communist attempts to regiment the churches. Part III is concerned with the conflict between Stalin and Tito. According to the author, “Titoism expresses the struggle of a small nation led by its bureaucracy against oppression by the Great Russian bureaucracy.” He discusses Stalin’s desire to keep Yugoslavia a backward colonial country, and explains the Stalin-Tito differences over Yugoslavia’s agricultural policy, the role of the Communist Party in the Yugoslav People’s Front, the question of Balkan federation and the future of Macedonia. He enumerates the measures taken by Stalin against Tito and describes the latter’s “exposure” of Stalin. He then discusses the “epidemic of Titoism in Eastern Europe” and even the Titoists within the Soviet Union.
Just as the first book finds an encouraging sign for the future, so does the second. Mr. Gluckstein points out that hardly had Stalin’s empire extended into Central Europe than cracks began to appear in its structure and he raises “the question of whether an empire with a materially and culturally backward “mother” country can exist.” He points out further that in all fairly stable empires hitherto “the ruling nation has had a higher material and cultural level than the ruled nations.” He argues that the Russians as a whole are much poorer than the Czechs, Poles, and Hungarians, and that “the further the Stalinist empire advances westwards the larger will be its population whose standard of living and culture are higher than those of the Russian peoples.” His conclusion is reflected in the title of his last chapter, “Stalin’s Empire Has No Future.” Americans had better not yet abandon their interest in NATO and the Mutual Security Administration, however, for it is as well to recall that in 1918-1919 there were many who proclaimed that Lenin’s empire had no future.”
NB: This article was also a combination of two reviews. Only the Stalin’s Satellites in Europe part is transcribed here. In relation to this review Ian Birchall (2011) writes: “Some of Cliff’s material, which described the conditions and way of life in the so-called “People’s Democracies”, could be harnessed for Cold-War purposes.”
6. “World Notes” by Quincy Howe in The Saturday Review August 23rd ,1952 p. 40:
“Mr. Gluckstein has compiled an overwhelming mass of facts and figures which show precisely what the men in the Kremlin have done to their satellites in Eastern Europe since 1945. Many of these facts and figures are not new, but Mr. Gluckstein writes with perspective as well as knowledge. He knows that both the First and Second World Wars originated in Eastern Europe. Indeed, one British historian has described the First World War as the Second War of the Austrian Succession. After the Hapsburg Empire collapsed, the victorious allies failed to make Eastern Europe safe for democracy. Hitler, between 1938 and 1945, failed to make Eastern Europe safe for the Nazis. Now the Russians are trying to make Eastern Europe safe for Soviet Communism. Mr. Gluckstein announces that backward Russia cannot permanently subjugate the more industrially developed lands of Eastern Europe. “Stalin’s empire has no future,” he declares, citing Tito’s defection.”
7. Margaret Dewar in International Affairs Volume 28 Issue 3, 1st July 1952 p. 390:
“The author of this book has aimed at writing a detailed history of economic, social, and political developments in Eastern European countries since the war. Surveying first their pre-war situation, he then examines post-war changes in agriculture, industry, banking, transport, trade relations, and their dependence on the USSR. On the political side he recapitulates and describes the process of their liberation, the piecemeal destruction of all non-Communist parties, and the final establishment of the “People’s Democracies”. He also examines the Tito-Cominform conflict, its repercussions on the various Communist parties in the satellite countries and the liquidation of all nationalist tendencies. With painstaking diligence, the author has collected, sorted, and arranged a great mass of facts and statements. His main sources of information are, however, not original documents and publications but periodical and newspaper articles in the Western Press (not all of which can be regarded as authoritative), United Nations statistics, and books on Soviet Russia and Eastern Europe, some of which have already covered the ground excellently. Consequently, there is in Mr. Gluckstein’s compilation little that throws fresh light on Eastern Europe.”
NB: Veteran revolutionary Margaret Dewar was, in the late 1940’s/early 1950’s, working for The Royal Institute of International Affairs aka Chatham House and in other Soviet Union research related occupations (see Dewar, 1989). This review will have therefore been done as a part of her “day job” as it were. In his acknowledgements for the book Cliff states that he is “greatly obliged” to the librarian at Chatham House for “ready assistance”.
8. Stephen D. Kertesz (University of Notre Dame) in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Volume 283 September 1952, pp. 227-228:
“Gluckstein’s book gives a realistic picture of the economic and social changes that have taken place in the shadow of the Red Star since the second world war. It contains a wealth of useful although not quite integrated and not always evaluated material. The author is an economist, and the first part of the book dealing with the methods of Soviet economic conquest is far superior to the second and third parts commenting on political developments and on the problems of Titoism.
Comprehensive material on the agrarian reforms, changes in property relations, and the various means of direct and indirect Soviet exploitations are well presented. The author shows how the chief means of production and exchange were concentrated in the hands of the state. Several chapters include selected illustrations of corresponding developments in Soviet Russia and in some cases in Nazi Germany. In these cases of state capitalistic systems the various means of economic exploitation, such as recourse to extreme piece-work wage policies, aim at the establishment of a strict control over the individual in all facets of human relations. The author correctly pointed out that the primary goal of social and economic reforms in the satellites was to subordinate the individual to the state and to subordinate the state to Moscow. Soviet Russia intervened actively to implement changes, but the Communist recipe was a changing pattern. For example, in the difficult postwar period capitalist production was encouraged and nationalization came only later. Today the Russian and joint companies are the only capitalistic enterprises in the satellites. Through these the Soviet Union has been draining satellite economy. For similar reasons the Soviet Union has been opposing nationalization in Austria and Finland.
The second part of the book describes how the totalitarian police regimes were established, the methods of direct Russian action, the liquidation of actual or potential opposition, and Soviet manipulation of the various conflicting national aspirations. The long report on Czech atrocities committed against the Sudeten Germans (pp. 195-200) does not fit into the general framework of the book, and the presentation of antichurch measures reveals some lack of knowledge of facts and understanding of the Eastern European situation. There are some gratuitous statements, like the remark that Cardinal Mindszenty “had welcomed the extermination of millions of Jews by the Nazis” (p. 217). On the fate of the Hungarian Jews and on the attitude of the Catholic hierarchy in Hungary, there are Jewish publications in English from which the author could have ascertained the facts before passing judgement.
The third and least integrated part examines the Tito-Stalin conflict and the epidemic of Titoism in Eastern Europe. The author ends with the optimistic conclusion that Stalin’s empire has no future. He supports this thesis with the internal contradictions of Stalin’s empire and especially the latent antagonism existing between the satellite Communist parties and the Kremlin. In the light of various historical examples, the author considers the mass terror and the extremely exaggerated leader cult as symptoms of decline of a reactionary doomed society. His examples, however, do not support his conclusions in view of contemporary world conditions. Modern technology enables a totalitarian dictator with a relatively small group of well rewarded collaborators to terrorize and control millions of people. The era of popular uprisings is over, and only a clash between the various ruling groups – such as party, police, or army factions – or external intervention may expedite the dictator’s fall.
All in all Gluckstein’s work is a useful contribution to the literature dealing with Stalin’s captive states.”
9. “Restatement on Russia” by Elizabeth Wiskemann in The Spectator 21st March 1952 p. 378
“This is a not very fortunate restatement of the case against Russia’s behaviour in Eastern Europe, for it is on the whole superfluous and frequently inaccurate. The pattern—as it is usually called—of Soviet Russia’s behaviour in the satellite area is not very complicated, and has been a good deal more clearly described and analysed by writers like Mr. Hugh Seton-Watson. It is much to be deplored that enemies of Communism such as Mr. Gluckstein should feel obliged to borrow Communist jargon in order to confound Communism. Mr. Gluckstein treats us to ” socio-economic relations,” ” the divorcement (sic) of the workers from the means of production ” and ” the liberatory, progressive role of revolutionaries,” and punctuates his writing with that ambiguous word ” reactionary”. He claims that his book is mainly based upon official sources. That may well be. But it is unfortunate that it often seems to consist of a string of quotations from other people’s books.
On one page this goes so far that we are given a quotation from S. Perlman and are then told that what he said is proved to be no exaggeration because S. L. Sharp has said the same thing at greater length. This is about the destruction of capitalism in Europe by the Nazis and is probably true, but the one statement does not prove the other. Mr. Gluckstein, by the way, seems to be most conscientious in naming his sources, but his references, being inserted in his text, overload it, and are then inconveniently concealed. The more usual method of putting all references into footnotes and supplying a bibliography would make the book easier to use.
Mr. Gluckstein’s central thesis seems to be that Communism has brought enslavement by a parvenu bureaucracy, the managerial revolution at its worst. With this nearly all his readers will certainly agree. Finally, he holds that “Stalin’s Empire has no future” because the revolt of Tito will undermine the divine prestige of Stalin, a view which has been expressed very frequently since the breach between Moscow and Belgrade. In matters of detail Mr. Gluckstein strains one’s confidence from the beginning when, for instance, he declares Slovenia to have been Hungarian before 1918, or that the Czechoslovak land-reform of 1919 provided for the dividing up of all estates over 100 hectares when in fact much larger estates were allowed.
As a Socialist Mr. Gluckstein attacks piece-work as “completely demoralising”, as a means of “atomisation of the working class,” &c., and condemns the Communists for having adopted it. The unpleasant fact remains that the free world—and Britain in particular—has found no satisfactory answer to the problem of incentives in industry.”
NB: The Spectator was, no doubt, as conservative in 1952 as it is today!
10. Alfred Rosmer in Preuves November 1953:
“The Prague trial took place amid ‘confessions’ and ended up with the gallows, following a scenario which is now familiar and so well arranged that there is no possibility of surprises. But since this time it was set in Prague, there were, if no revelations, at least some lessons to be drawn from this new ‘Moscow Trial’. By having it staged in Prague, Stalin wanted to make clear that none of the ‘people’s democracies’ could aspire to escape from total Stalinisation. But the imposition of authority to which the ‘people’s democracies’ are being subjected is even more pitiless than that envisaged by Hitler, for the fundamental reason that this time the metropolis is more backward than some of its new colonies, which it has to exploit to meet its own needs, and where it cannot allow any exceptions to be made.
On all these questions, a book recently published in London provides a great deal of information. The author is Ygael Gluckstein, and the work is entitled Stalin’s Satellites in Europe. The publishers, Allen and Unwin, describe it as a critical study of the economic and political changes which have taken place in Eastern Europe since the Second World War, the description and analysis of various forms of capitalist exploitation – the capitalist here being the omnipotent state –, the bureaucratic and dictatorial management of factories, the increasing attacks on the social legislation which protected workers before the war, the subordination of consumers’ needs to those of the accelerated accumulation of capital, the imposition of collectivisation, the differentiations between members of Stalinist society ranging from outcasts to the new highly privileged groups of the regime, and finally social and national oppression. The documentation on which the author bases himself in his expositions and commentaries is irrefutable, since it is almost entirely drawn from official Russian publications and from those of the Communist Parties in the satellites.
The study of conditions existing in the countries occupied by the Russian army is not merely interesting in itself as far as each separate country is concerned; it is perhaps even more interesting for the light it sheds on Russian reality. It is highly relevant for the author to quote one of Napoleon’s aphorisms: ‘An army abroad is the state travelling”. And the Russian state has travelled a lot since the war.
Rather than proceeding to what would necessarily be a very abbreviated summary of the various chapters of the book, I prefer to take one of them which can be examined in greater detail, and precisely one which stands at the very heart of the whole and influences every part: the agrarian question. This enables us to classify the satellites according to their economic structure. Bulgaria and Romania are almost exclusively agricultural, with 80% and 78% respectively of their populations employed in cultivating the land. Poland and Hungary are substantially less so, with 55% and 53%; and the special position of Czechoslovakia is clearly visible, since here the industrial population is larger than that engaged in agriculture, which is only 38%.
A further interesting observation on which the author is quite right to insist: it has been widely believed that a feudal system with the characteristic feature of large latifundia existed to the East of the Elbe until the arrival of the Russian army. This belief was partly due to ignorance, but it has been mainly perpetuated by propaganda. In fact, major agrarian reforms had been proposed and carried out in these countries between the two world wars, and sometimes even before 1914. Bulgaria had become a nation of small landowners; in Romania the law limited the size of estates to fifty hectares; in Czechoslovakia, the land redistribution as it was being implemented until July 1947 shows that it was primarily a question of finishing off an internal colonisation by expropriating ‘foreign’ landowners, German and Hungarian landlords. To state briefly what these various reforms led to, we can say that in Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, the changes have been insignificant; that in Hungary, on the contrary, there was a real transformation brought about by the destruction of the big estates; in Romania an earlier reform was completed and extended; in Poland and Czechoslovakia there was an internal colonisation effected by the expulsion of foreign landowners.
There is a certain element of optical illusion in the recent spectacular redistributions, but the exploitation of the resources of the satellites by the metropolis is wholly real and total. It takes on different forms: looting pure and simple, dismantling of factories, reparations, in the case of nations which were hostile during the war; for the others use has been made of the formation of Mixed Companies where the Russians dictate their conditions and arbitrarily fix the price of products traded when they conclude commercial agreements. In the course of debates in the United Nations Economic and Social Council, the Yugoslav delegate gave detailed information on the Mixed Companies created in order to contribute ‘to the reconstruction and development of Yugoslavia’s productive capacities’.
The Stalinisation of the satellites dictates how labour is organised in the factories; piecework, which, in Marx’s words is ‘the most suitable to capitalist methods of production’, is, as in Russia, encouraged everywhere. According to the paper of the Romanian Communist Party, it is a ‘revolutionary system that eliminates inertia and makes the labourer hustle. Under the capitalist system loafing and laziness are fostered.’ However, other texts reveal resistance on the part of the workers, and the hatred they direct towards the Stakhanovites. The same imitation can be seen in the creation of forced labour camps; minor thefts (of bread or an apple) lead to those guilty being sent there for ten or fifteen years, the numbers being determined by the needs of the moment.
From all these patiently assembled facts, Gluckstein concludes that ‘Stalin’s empire has no future’. When the enslaved peoples of Africa and Asia are awakening and fighting for their liberation, it is impossible to imagine that the peoples of Europe will accept for long being subordinated to an imperialist power. By breaking with Moscow, Tito has shown in practice the limits of Stalinist terror; he has destroyed the essential element required for its success, namely the belief by its victims in its omnipotence.
In 1936, Freda Utley wrote a book on Japan entitled Japan’s Feet of Clay. As this was the time when Japan was laying down the law to China and was colonising Manchuria, it was widely mocked, and even more so in the first years of the war when the Japanese armies and navy seemed to be threatening both India and Australia: these ‘feet of clay’ were certainly proving to be very nimble. But the end of the story was to show that Freda Utley had been right.”
NB: This book review was previously published in International Socialism Journal Number 103 Summer 2004. The background to the original 1953 review by Rosmer is covered by Ian Birchall here:
11. Anon (but Peter Morgan assumed) in The Birmingham Journal (Organ of Birmingham Trades Council) Vol. V May 1952 p. 26:
“This, too, is a formidable addition to the library of every serious Socialist. The author presents an almost inexhaustible supply of material to show what is going on in Eastern Europe (including Yugoslavia) and then proceeds in Marxist fashion to examine the reasons why this is so. He devotes particular attention to the Tito-Stalin conflict and analyses the causes for this surprising departure from pattern. He treats both contestants in the dispute with equal impartiality and concludes that the Stalinist empire fulfils only a temporary historical function and can have no future. Anyone who seriously believes that Russia is a Workers’ State has a duty to read this book and ponder its message.”
NB: No author is shown for the actual book review. Socialist Review Group founding member and one of its leading trade union activists, Peter Morgan, was the editor of The Birmingham Journal. It is therefore highly likely that he was the author.
12. “Spoils of War” by P. Mansell in Socialist Review Volume 2 Number 1 April-May 1952 pp.11-12:
“Books about Russia and Eastern Europe which are published to-day by the apologists of capitalism not only condemn the Stalinist system root and branch, but seek to show that the monstrous oppression of which it is guilty is some form of socialism or communism, and thereby discredit these ideas in the minds of their readers. Stalinists and their fellow-travellers also claim that socialism exists in Russia and the “People’s Democracies”. This propaganda is an equal disservice to the working-class movement, for if these regimes indeed be socialist, then most people would much prefer to dispense with socialism.
The approach of the book under notice differs fundamentally from both these points of view. Here, for the first time, is a profound Marxist study of the post-war developments in Eastern Europe.
Dealing with his subject in three main sections – the economy of the satellites, their political life, and the “rebellious satellite” Yugoslavia – the writer has packed an enormous amount of precise and well-documented information into this book. In the space of a short article it is not possible to do more than touch upon a few of the little-known and significant facts which he brings to light.
In dealing with land ownership, Mr. Gluckstein shows that, contrary to the belief sedulously fostered by the Communist Parties, an agrarian revolution was not carried out in all the countries of Eastern Europe after the war. In some the changes were very sweeping, but in others, such as Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, the changes were trifling compared with those carried out before 1939. The extent of this pre-war land distribution by governments which by no stretch of the imagination could be called socialist, but in some cases were clearly semi-Fascist, completely refutes the argument that because the Stalinists distributed the land in, for example, Hungary, they have by virtue of that fact, introduced socialism. This familiar argument continues, of course, with the claim that the widespread state ownership in Eastern Europe, as in Russia, is a proof that these are workers’ states. But this proposition does not survive Mr. Gluckstein’s analysis. He shows that many of the industries became national property after 1945 – in some cases before the Stalinists came to power – because the defeat of Germany had left them ownerless, and not as the result of successful workers’ revolutions. So far was Russia from regarding nationalisation as a principle, that the mixed companies – owned half by Russia and half either by private capitalists or the national states – were untouched by nationalisation.
The traditional pattern of trade between imperialist powers and their colonies is for the former to export manufactured goods to, and to import raw materials from, the latter. How then can one speak of Russia as an imperialist power when, with her backward economy she is obliged to some extent to reverse this process? Mr. Gluckstein explains that although Russia is indeed forced to some extent to industrialise her colonies in order to increase her own industrial potential, the terms on which she carries on trade with her satellites can leave no doubt that this process is at least as rapacious as the exploitation suffered by the colonies of the older imperialist powers. Poland, for example, was forced to sell coal to Russia at $2 per ton – one authority says $1.25 – at a time when she could have got $12 per ton elsewhere.
Discussing political life, the author makes it clear that democracy and workers’ control simply do not exist in the satellites. The Stalinist method of gaining power by infiltrating into the Army and police; their persecution of racial minorities like the Germans in Sudetenland; recognition of state churches; their “elections” at which only one list of candidates appears – all these are the very antithesis of working-class methods and ideology.
Questions which must be answered by any who claim that the countries of Eastern Europe are workers’ states are: Unless the fullest democracy exists how can the working-class control the state and if they do not control the state how can they be said to control the statified economies?
How stable is Stalinism? Since the war we have seen the giant strides which it has made in Eastern Europe and China. Is it likely to establish itself for a whole historical period? Mr. Gluckstein points to the rupture between Tito and Stalin as clear indication of the strains and stresses within the Russian Empire, and analyses the fundamental cause of the rift as economic and political. Russia’s opposition to the speedy industrialisation of Yugoslavia and to Tito’s policy of slow collectivisation of the land are analysed as well as his project of Danubian Federation. While describing Tito as a successful leader of a national movement in a colonial country, the author does not make the mistake of raising him to the status of a proletarian hero. Tito was and remains the leader of a bureaucratic state-capitalist regime. Nevertheless, he is a portent. In Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Albania and even in “Free Greece”, prominent Stalinist leaders who had previously been praised as extravagantly as Tito, have, since 1948, been disgraced and “purged” for “nationalistic deviations”. How much more likely, contends Mr. Gluckstein, is a similar development within the Communist Parties of Western Europe should they come to power. Here Stalin would be faced by a highly organised working class, accustomed to basically democratic methods of struggle. How could the French working-class, for instance, be persuaded that Russia is the cultural centre of the universe or the lavish dispenser of socialist gifts when it would be obvious that the standard of life in Russia and the cultural level are so far below their own? This is one of the fatal contradictions within Stalinism. To fight against private-enterprise capitalism it must have the support of the working class; to come to power, and still more to stay in power, it must convert working-class parties into subservient, bureaucratic state machines.
The book ends on the note that “Stalin’s Empire has no future”: that materially and culturally backward Russian state-capitalism cannot hope indefinitely to hold more advanced countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia, far less Western Europe, should she conceivably conquer it.
This capable study – which we unreservedly recommend to our readers – advances ample proof in support of the author’s thesis that the “People’s Democracies”, like Russia, are bureaucratic state capitalist regimes. It also gives fresh confirmation to the point of view consistently advocated in Socialist Review: namely that Stalinism constitutes as great a threat to the working-class as does Western Imperialism, and that only by opposing the war-plans of both blocs can we achieve our socialist aims.”
NB: Jean Tait was one of the most important of the 33 founding members of the Socialist Review Group. The founding conference of the group was held in her London flat in 1950.
Some Final Remarks
What do the reviews tell us about Cliff? What do the reviews tell us about the book? For that matter, what do the reviews tell us about the reviewers?
I will only make a few short comments and will take these three questions in reverse order.
To a political activist Stalin’s Satellites in Europe is unmistakably the work of a non-Stalinist Marxist. It is quite remarkable that none of the reviews that were done for an academic or popular publication recognise this fact. Whether this is due to a “Cold War mentality” – if the author is against Stalin he must be for western values – it is hard to say. Even though one accepts that the reviewers will not have been aware of the author’s political background – and the decision to use the name Ygael Gluckstein rather than Tony Cliff was clearly a deliberate policy in this regard – it is difficult to credit how most of the academic reviewers missed the point!
Notwithstanding the above, the book itself is what one would normally regard as an academic work. That is not to say that an academic work cannot also be a political work – it can and in this case, it is. However, the question is begged as to what purpose the book was set to serve. Socialist Review Group members Peter Morgan and Jean Tait might respectively have written that the book is “a formidable addition to the library of every serious Socialist” and is one we “unreservedly recommend to our readers” but, the truth is that it was a hardback-only publication with a selling price of 21shillings (£1.05). In 1952 the average weekly wage for men was £9 per week and for women £5 per week. It was hardly likely to become a socialist best seller in the working-class movement. That said, it clearly was of some benefit. Another founding member of the Socialist Review Group, Ken Tarbuck, has written:
“There was one small bright light for us in 1952, this was the publication of Cliff’s book Stalin’s Satellites in Europe, this was published by Allen & Unwin. Unfortunately, this was of limited value to us in our general propaganda work since it was produced under Cliff’s original name of Ygael Gluckstein, and because of his residence problems we could not officially link Gluckstein with Cliff. Nevertheless, it was extremely useful in providing us with ammunition about the role of Russia in Eastern Europe in the immediate post-1945 years. Indeed, the book is still worth reading to gain some understanding of how the Soviet bureaucracy clamped down on Eastern Europe and proceeded to milk it for all it was worth.” (Tarbuck, 1995).
Nevertheless, if the book was not a tremendous amount of use for the Socialist Review Group’s general propaganda work, its purpose must have been something different – and this leads us to consider some things about Tony Cliff.
In a quite different context Ian Birchall once said to me that up until the early 1960’s he thought Cliff “may still have envisaged a possible academic future for himself developing the theory of state capitalism and its applications” (Birchall, pers. comms.). I think that is true – in 1957 Cliff published another academic book “Mao’s China: Economic and Political Survey” again using the name Ygael Gluckstein and again through George Allen & Unwin. As late as 1963 he was working on a further academic-style book, this time on the collectivisation of agriculture, although it was never published.
Personally, I found a lot in the book to interest me, both in general terms and in terms of learning a bit more about Cliff and his views in 1951-1952 (Cliff has dated his Preface to the book as February 1951 – so it seems it was written whilst he was living in Dublin). For me, as well as the wider economic analysis there are particularly interesting insights into workers’ resistance, socialist democracy, religion, the Warsaw Rising and much more. The closing section of Part 2 of the book titled “Democracy – The Only Way to Socialism” is particularly memorable. Another particularly interesting section is the closing of Part 3 and Cliff’s analysis of what would happen to the Western Communist Parties, including the British, in any transition from opposition to power
Stalin’s Satellitesin Europe has also helped me to clarify something about Cliff’s politics and what I perceive of as his strengths or otherwise as a political leader. This book shows his great strength as a person who can collect, collate, interpret and make masses of information into an ordered whole and into reasoned political output using his well-rounded Marxist knowledge. Cliff at his best combined this skill with the ability to sense changes in political climates somewhat earlier than many of his peers. Where generally Cliff was not so proficient was as a genuinely great original thinker or theorist. He seems to me to be better suited to taking the work of others and, it was from there, that he often generated new insights.
Finally, it must be said that the number of reviews identified here indicate that Cliff’s book must have had some impact and some success. It also must be said that, in the main, the reviews are positive – and rightly so. Whilst I have covered 12 reviews I should mention that I am not claiming to have covered all the reviews of Stalin’s Satellites in Europe that have ever been published. In fact, I have knowingly left out one by Henry L. Roberts from the July 1952 issue of Foreign Affairs as this is a combined review of 18 books on international relations. More to the point, however, the book appeared in a French language edition in 1953 and a Spanish language edition in 1955. I am sure that there will be many reviews in these languages that I am in no position to cover here.
My thanks to Paul Flewers and Ian Birchall. Without their assistance this research would not have seen the light of day.
Birchall, Ian. 2011. Tony Cliff: A Marxist for his Time. Bookmarks Publications, London. 664pp.
Dewar, Margaret. 1989. The Quiet Revolutionary: The Autobiography of Margaret Dewar. Bookmarks, London. 220pp.
Tarbuck, Ken. 1995. Ever Hopeful – Never Sure: Reminiscences of a Some-Time Trotskyist. Available online: