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Emanuel Garrett

The Class Nature of the Stalinist Parties

A Resolution Submitted for Discussion

(April 1946)

From New International, Vol. XII No. 4, April 1946, pp. 126–128.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

The document that appears below was presented at the recent Plenum of the National Committee of the Workers Party by Comrade Garrett, as a statement of views prepared by way of opening a discussion in the party on the question of Stalinism. Without voting on the views presented in the document, the Plenum devoted a lengthy and fruitful discussion session to it, and decided to initiate an educational discussion in the party on the question. It is here presented with the full admission of the writer that the document is far from complete in its investigation of the problem, and that all its formulations are by no means definitive. Its publication in The New International is intended to initiate the discussion in order that, on the basis of such a discussion a finished party document may be prepared. – Editors

1. Russia emerged from the Second World War as one of its two principal victors. To the degree that the relations between Russia and the rest of the world have undergone a significant change has a change of equal significance developed in the international role of Stalinism, hence in the role of the Stalinist parties. Bureaucratic collectivism has extended its domain and military position, and, coupling its new strength with the crisis of European capitalism, it has altered the objectives of the Communist Parties to conform more specifically to the requirements of bureaucratic collectivism as a unique and uncertain social system.

Stalinism, as the greatest organized threat to socialist mass action on an international scale, has its well-spring in the Russian counter-revolution. The defeat of the revolution outside of Russia in the early 1920’s, and the consequent isolation of the workers’ state, produced the reactionary theory of “socialism in one country.” In the wake of this theory and the outrageous international policies it dictated, a series of terrible defeats were inflicted upon the revolutionary socialist movement, culminating in its virtual destruction. Simultaneously, the defeat of the revolution outside of Russia, and the impossibility of building socialism in one country, set into motion that chain of historic circumstances which produced, through the triumph of the counter-revolution in Russia, the entirely new and unforeseen class state we have described as bureaucratic collectivism.

2. During the pre-war years, Russian foreign policy sought to secure the frontiers of Russia against attack. Thus it cultivated a reasonably powerful Germany as a mid-continent bulwark against English, French and American intervention. Thus, too, it reduced the Communist Parties of the world to border patrols of the Kremlin. The Stalinist Parties served generally to maintain the status quo – either by “respectability” or by the threat of provoking revolutionary actions, according to which best suited the purposes of the Kremlin in its relations with any given country.

In its new position of continental colossus, and conqueror, Russia no longer needs an independently strong Germany. And by the same token it is able to direct the Stalinist Parties towards perspectives more intimately in accord with the ideology and objectives of bureaucratic collectivism. We are therefore compelled to amend our evaluation of international Stalinism in order to bring this evaluation up to date with the new developments.

As Trotskyists, we have traditionally described the Stalinist Parties as agents of the Kremlin or as social patriots executing the role assigned them by the Russian foreign office. However, accepting the reasoning of comrade Trotsky, we also predicted that under the momentum of social patriotic policy first dictated by Stalin’s needs the Stalinist Parties would become indep.endently and permanently social patriotic, regardless of what subsequent orders came from Stalin. That is to say, we predicted that the Stalinists in America, once embarked on the roal of social patriotism, would end their subservience to Stalin and remain a social patriotic party. Facts, however, have proved us in error. In reviewing the general correctness of our evaluation of Stalinism and, in arriving at a new evaluation of Stalinism, we are obliged to discard what has been proved wrong, and to add what is new.

Doing that, we arrive at the following evaluation:

The Stalinist Parties are an internationally organized ANTI-SOCIALIST and ANTI-CAPITALIST force whose aim it is (a) to defend and extend the power of the Russian ruling class, and (b) where class relations in the capitalist countries make possible the development of Stalinism into a mass movement with decisive influence, to overthrow capitalism and replace it by bureaucratic collectivism.

3. It is no more possible for bureaucratic collectivism than for socialism to establish a more or less historically permanent stability on a national scale. Bureaucratic collectivism therefore seeks to create for itself international conditions of stability in economy and politics (as did capitalism in its day, as will the proletarian dictatorship in its day). At one stage, while the new ruling class is taking shape, and general international conditions require it, it is the exclusive duty of the Stalinist Parties to defend Russia by compromise with the bourgeoisie or by militant action. With Russia’s new strength as a war victor, and in the complex of capitalist instability, conditions arise for the extension of bureaucratic collectivism by defeating both the capitalist class and the working class. This development manifests itself on different levels, depending upon the degree of capitalist convulsion and the relationship of class forces in any given country.

In the Baltics and in parts of the Far East bureaucratic collectivism has imperialistically spread its rule through military conquest and outright territorial acquisition. In Yugoslavia, Tito’s puppet government is establishing bureaucratic collectivism through liquidation of the native ruling class and suppression of, the masses. In France, the situation has sufficiently developed to disclose the objectives of Stalinism, although the issue is far from having risen to the point of decision. In the United States, where capitalism enjoys a relatively greater stability, and where the CP is still far from the mass movement it must become to effectuate its role, its activities and objectives are necessarily restrained to the traditional framework of simple service to the Russian ruling class.

The objective condition for the development of Stalinism in the capitalist countries is the inability of capitalism to reestablish any kind of organic stability, the bankruptcy of the old ruling class and the disruption of the socialist movement. In France the social system has reached a degree of disequilibrium, and the Stalinists a degree of mass influence, to make it possible for them to consider, however distant it may at the moment be, the question of power. To take power, Stalinist reaction must simultaneously engage in the defeat of the capitalist system, and in the destruction of the socialist movement. Thus the issue there (omitting for the present vital international considerations) can only be decided by the outcome of the class struggle, principally the destruction of the proletarian movement through actual combat or absorption. And there is the great obstacle to Stalinist triumph.

In making our analysis of the new phenomenon of bureaucratic collectivism in Russia we carefully avoided predictions as to the ultimate stability and duration of this historical monster. For that, we said (and must again repeat), is an issue that can only be decided in the actual development of the class struggle. So especially is this true of its international aspirations as a social system. It has not yet won a single major class battle outside of Russia. It has strengthened its power tremendously through annexation or puppet rule, but it has not yet triumphed as a system of class rule over any significant proletariat or bourgeoisie – as capitalism triumphed over feudalism – despite its tremendous forces and reserves. Stalinism, sweeping to power in France, would change the character of our epoch. Precisely for that reason, it would find itself embroiled in actual combat with Britain and America should it take any serious steps towards exclusive state power and war with American imperialism is certainly far from Stalin’s, desire, or capacity today. Stalinism has won a victory in Yugoslavia, but Yugoslavia is far distant in the scale of historical decision from the class forces that would have to be defeated in France. And there is no reason to believe that over there is has entirely crushed the resistance of the workers and peasants who were deceived by Tito and will yet seek to throw off the yoke.

4. Unlike all other reactionary movements we have known, Stalinism has a mass base in the working class. This is a point of extreme significance. Stalinism is able to appear as the champion of the working class precisely because its object is to destroy capitalism as well as to enslave the proletariat. It does propose to nationalize property. However, nationalized property without political control of the working class is, as we have learned, not socialism, but bureaucratic collectivism. The nationalized property belongs to the state, the state belongs to the bureaucrats, and the proletariat continues to be exploited as a class.

In executing its first duty, defense of the Russian ruling class, the Stalinist Party may and often does (as it has in the United States) support bourgeois parties and engage in obvious anti-working class actions. Similarly, it may instigate and support working class action, against capitalism (a) as a threat against anti-Russian policy (for example in the United States today), or (b) to make headway among the working class so that it can improve its effectiveness as an agent of Russian Stalinism, and, at a later stage strike out more boldly on its path towards bureaucratic collectivism.

Stalinism is totalitarian, but it is a peculiar kind of totalitarianism. It is, at once, anti-socialist and anti-capitalist; and it attracts the working class. Stalinism understands the meaning of the class struggle. It understands that it must have the intervention of the working class to defeat capitalism. Attracting the working class through its anti-capitalist appeal, it utilizes the working class for its own reactionary ends. Thus, the Stalinist parties are not working class parties, but totalitarian parties with a mass base in the proletariat. They do not advance the cause of the proletariat in any sense whatsover, not even in the limited sense in which the reformist parties are compelled to do solely their very nature and historical function.

While it derives its mass base from the working class, a symptomatic source of Stalinist recruitment and ideological direction is the labor bureaucrat, the declassed intellectual and middle class professional who see no way out of the dilemma of capitalism save through Stalinist rule. Together, all these form a significant social grouping in the Stalinist Parties. Certain labor bureaucrats whose interests clash with sinking capitalism precisely because their position rests on labor, see the possibility of retaining their privileged position in the much higher level of Stalinist rule. Scientists, professors, literati, middle class elements of all kinds face the impossibility of capitalism, and see in the Stalinist organization of a planned economy an opportunity to save themselves, to exercise their skills under conditions of extreme social privilege. While policy does not emanate from this group (it generally comes from the Russian bureaucracy), they nevertheless influence it in the sense that they form a top social layer or grouping whose interests are most adaptable to bureaucratic collectivism.

The Stalinist game is a completely reactionary game which can only end in disaster for the proletariat if successful. Should they gain complete ascendancy in such a country as France, through decisive influence over the working class and state rule, they would bind the working class in a bitter totalitarian vise. The class struggle would continue and eventually triumph, but only after doubly severe, doubly hard sacrifices had been imposed on the working class. We cannot, therefore, give any kind of support to Stalinism, either electorally or otherwise. Because of the peculiar nature of this reactionary movement we may sometimes have to enter into certain forms of collaboration with it (as in certain strikes or unions they control). But we must relentlessly wage warfare, class warfare against Stalinism, as we wage it against capitalism. Whether this involves working among the genuinely proletarian elements it has sucked into its movement, or attacking it from the outside, our obligation remains the same: to expose the Stalinist parties as anti-working class, to destroy their, influence.

5. Because bureaucratic collectivism has spread its wings, it by no means signifies that the issue is thereby settled. Neither history, nor the, working class have yet yielded. We have said that it is the historical duty of the working class to defeat international capitalism, to create its proletarian dictatorships that will usher in the next stage of world history, socialism. That is still our view, it is still the key to our entire program. Capitalism has created the conditions which make it possible for humanity to advance to a higher social order through proletarian conquest. Should bureaucratic collectivism triumph universally, it would have proved that the proletariat was incapable of organizing for power in this period, that unable to take power from collapsing capitalism it had to yield for a period of uncertain duration to a new system of exploitation into which history had been deflected from its natural course. But that is a long way from being established. Socialism is still the first point on today’s historical agenda.

A combination of unusual circumstances – the usurpation of power by a bureaucracy in a country where the proletariat had already defeated capitalism – gave birth to the monstrosity of bureaucratic collectivism. Impulses toward bureaucratic collectivism exist in the capitalist countries, notably among those who would free themselves of capitalist chaos and still retain a privileged position in society. But that is all. Stalinism has not yet so completely fastened itself on the proletariat that it can bend it to its bureaucratic will. It has one advantage: the absence of an organized socialist movement of mass proportions. Therein lies the weakness of the proletariat. Therein is Stalinism’s great opportunity.

The class struggle, however, continues. The socialist movement can be regenerated. Inside and outside the Stalinist parties are the proletarians who, once again organized in a revolutionary party, under the inspiration and activity of a program that speaks their needs, not only can but will fight the class struggle against capitalism and against Stalinism. Stalinism is already beset by opposition in Yugoslavia. Mass resentment must run high in the countries it has annexed as well as in Russia. There are signs of a declining influence in France. Vast numbers of French workers are outside the Stalinist movement and are socialist in consciousness. In the United States, the Stalinists are nowhere near having decisive mass influence. A defeat visited upon Stalinism in such a country as France would have its immediate repercussions elsewhere. The reconstitution of a mass socialist movement in France, or the United States, would sound the death knell of Stalinism and capitalism equally. That is our unrelinquishable need, our greatest obligation: the building of the revolutionary party.

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