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New International, January 1949


Juan Andrade

On the Psychology of Stalinism

(November 1948)


From The New International, Vol. XV No. 1, January 1948, pp. 27 & 32.
Translated by R.S.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


This is only a part – the concluding section – of an article by Juan Andrade, one of the leaders of the Spanish POUM (Workers Party of Marxist Unity), entitled The Discipline and Psychology of the Militants in the Labor Movement. It is here translated from the November 6, 1948 issue of the POUM organ, La Batalla. – Ed.


The old political terms that were formerly used to describe particular errors or philosophies – such as “anarchist,” “social-democrat,” “sectarian,” “vulgar rebel” – today take on actual criminal significance in the discussions and press of the Communist Parties. And the word “provocation” arouses the same reaction in them that it does in the police of a capitalist regime. The purpose for which it is used is also identical: when they state that a member has “deviations,” it is the same as when the police term someone a potential criminal; that is, it is a pretext for submitting an individual to intensive surveillance and for bringing him to the attention of all the authorities of the party.

The capitalist police endeavor to condemn an agitator to hunger, hindering his ability to find employment by means of the blacklist. Once a member has disagreed, the CP police exclude him from the least post of responsibility, preventing him from expressing his opinions under threat of expulsion. Since, in the Stalinist movement, the freedom to criticize is not a right – and even less a duty – it is considered a crime. Just like any bourgeois constitution, which recognizes all liberties on paper and denies them in practice, Stalinism looks on any militant who tries to exercise his rights as unorthodox and liable to expulsion. The success of its discipline is found in this intolerance.

The extremely hierarchical regime of Stalinism is a type of “benevolent paternalism.” This tradition became entrenched through the practice of idealizing the top leader and attributing all virtues to him.

“Nothing human is alien to him!” said Marx, speaking of the overweening love of life which guided the whole personal conduct of his great friend Engels. We would say the opposite of the top Stalinist leaders, if we are to consider them as their subordinates picture them. They are alien to all humanity, for they are supernatural beings and are represented as absolute.

The simple militant who reads no more than the party press acquires and holds tenaciously to the belief that Stalin is “the father of the peoples” or “the greatest strategist in history”; that La Pasionaria is the most competent Spanish politician of the twentieth century, and that Maurice Thorez is “the genial leader of the French people.” And they celebrate their anniversaries with as much pomp as if they were the centennials of the saints. By means of identical propaganda methods they bestow the title of scholar or friendly writer only upon those teachers or intellectuals who are active in the party or do its work. Thus the militant, innocently and inexorably, comes to believes that only militants of the party have a positive value in our society.

Nothing is so foreign to socialism as this fantastic cult which glorifies human beings. A man reserves his respect and love for those of his comrades who in their epoch have distinguished themselves by their qualities of intelligence and devotion in the fields of moral and material progress. Socialists will always honor the memory of their leaders – Marx, Engels, Lafargue, Bebel, Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky, etc. – because they helped develop the doctrine and tactics which will make possible the realization and development of socialism, because they have devoted themselves to their ideas.

But the socialist movement does not canonize its most prominent leaders, nor does it convert its doctrine into dogma; much less does it grant one man power over lives and thoughts. The liberation of man from all moral and material fetters must be the work of man himself through a struggle against economic compulsion and moral prejudice. The paternalist regime entrusts this great task to the good will and wisdom of a single man, taking away from the producer all confidence in his own free and independent action. In this type of totalitarian paternalist dictatorship, we see also many features of a “pseudo-proletarian” and definitely fascist character.

There are not only simple workers but militants – i.e., “elite” proletarians – who can be bracketed with those workers of feudal times who were convinced of their own inferiority and the superiority of their masters. This explains the unbounded faith that a great number of petty bureaucrats exhibit toward their political leaders. In the main these people are inspired by motives of opportunism with respect to their positions; however, it is no less certain that others come to have a truly sincere attitude of fanaticism for their leaders.

Today in fact, by means of political mystification, the proletariat is subjected to moral slavery by just that party which claims to be the vanguard which will lead it to liberty; for to submit to the worship of myths or human deities is moral slavery. Hypnotized by a belief in heavenly beings or miracles, it permits itself to be led blindly. It loses its ability to go forward on its own and needs apostles and priests to whom it commends its soul.

Religious mysticism is a phenomenon characteristic of the decadence of a civilization. The mysticism which has been deliberately and surreptitiously introduced into socialist circles is also a symptom of degeneration. Because of its rational character, socialism rejects all deification of institutions and men. Socialism has evolved historically by a series of struggles, some peaceful, some bloody; by the efforts of the workers to free themselves from both misery and mystification.

Never in the history of the labor movement were idols created, or supermen, for the simple reason that this is alien to the whole spirit of socialism and the ideology of the socialists themselves. Can anyone conceive of Marx or Engels permitting himself to be lauded and eulogized as any CP general secretary is today? Can anyone imagine Lenin dressed as a marshall with his chest full of ridiculous decorations!

Certain manifestations of this fanaticism exhibit features similar to that of Catholic fanaticism. The Catholic fanatic lives in continual fear of heresy, holy terror of the devil and of the spirit of evil; the Stalinist is obsessed with the idea of conforming to the “line,” of observing perfect discipline.

The fear of isolation is a consideration which in our times carries much weight in the problems of conscience confronting militants of determination in certain crises. Despite the totalitarian internal regime, it is unavoidable that some discontent will show up in the heart of the party, in concrete circumstances and above all in moments of serious political or economic crisis. Sometimes this discontent is brought into the open by a leader of greater or lesser rank who formulates the criticism by the usual means. Through this channel there is expressed a state of discontent and the political aspirations of the most progressive elements of the party. Such a spokesman for a current of opinion within the party can count on the support or sympathy of a nucleus of militants as long as his views are not denounced as contrary to the spirit of the party. When this happens, when the offensive against the dissenter is launched, he can expect to see all those who had agreed with his point of view up to the day before, desert his side. For him alone, then, is posed the dilemma: capitulate or break with the party.

To capitulate sincerely while convinced of the correctness of one’s views is to betray the truth; it is to negate oneself as a revolutionary. But departure from the party is final; it means isolation – complete divorce. This problem of conscience is most generally solved by capitulation: the fear of isolation carries more weight in the dissenter’s mind than fidelity to the truth. He also knows that few will go through with the struggle, that they will desert him, not at the end of the road but as soon as they discover that they walk alone.

Who knows how many crimes are committed out of the holy fear of “remaining alone”! One characteristic which distinguishes the conduct of many prominent revolutionaries is the very anti-revolutionary attitude of fearing “unpopularity,” of not wanting to go against the current. At the least it can be called a reactionary sentiment; but it is generally inspired by opportunist motives.

Naturally, these are not the only considerations which induce members of a faction to separate themselves organically from a tendency with which they have identified themselves over a period of time. They know well enough that in our time what counts in the dissemination of propaganda is the material means, over which the party alone has control.

Any faction that arises runs the risk of being overwhelmed under an offensive of articles and ridicule without having the least opportunity to defend itself and answer the attacks. A reduced and independent nucleus cannot develop that kind of intense activity. To the militants accustomed to that fever of activity of which we have spoken, the renunciation of it would create a void in their daily life. Therefore they silence their real thoughts, betray what they supported in struggle – and remain in the party. We can say that this is the real explanation of the fact that factions do not occur in the Communist Parties despite the fact that discontent sometimes arises.

The egoistic spirit, the conservative spirit, is so rooted, in consequence of a centuries-long education in the rule of private property, that when a man has no personal wealth to cherish he becomes an egoist of his own party or organization. This is the explanation of that type of party patriotism which has kept many old militants, who are always in disagreement with their own party, in the ranks of the social-democracy.

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