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Murry Weiss

Stalinism and the Twenty-Second Congress

(Winter 1962)

From International Socialist Review, Vol.23 No.1, Winter 1962, pp.10-14.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The body of Stalin lies buried in the Kremlin wall but the ghost of the dictator’s policies continues to haunt those who served him well while he lived

THE events surrounding the 22nd Congress of the Soviet Communist Party last October 1961 constitute a remarkable refutation of imperialist cold-war propaganda. The central prop of the cold-war argument is that socialism and tyranny are inseparable; and that the working masses in the capitalist world should never embark on a socialist revolution since the frightful consequences inevitably will be Stalinism. If the US State Department theory made sense, then the industrial, scientific and cultural growth of the Soviet Union would lead to the strengthening of Stalinism. In actuality, however, the impressive advances of socialism in the USSR, which capitalists don’t even try to deny, is resulting in de-Stalinization and tangible gains of democratization rather than the growth of bureaucratic tyranny.

For all its democratic pretensions, imperialism favored Stalinism in the Soviet Union as against the robust and thriving socialist democracy. This is why the trend towards socialist democracy and internationalism within the Soviet orbit is bad news for capitalism and good news for the socialist movement.

A Turkish diplomat, now residing in the US, wrote in a letter to the New York Times, Nov. 23, that Khrushchev “had no desire to alter Soviet policies.” Nevertheless, his

“... peasant shrewdness ... led him to the best and only alternative. By denouncing Stalin’s crimes – and the more violent the better – he was disassociating himself and the Soviet Union from such policies and without undertaking any housecleaning, simply by indirection was creating an image of a more liberal and humane Khrushchev and Soviet Union ... This I sense to be the underlying theme of de-Stalinization, against which we must watch carefully, for in the long run it would deprive us of the one infallible weapon that we have against communism.” (emphasis, M.W.).

This super-clever imperialist diplomat imagines he is matching wits with a super-clever Khrushchev. This reasoning is based on the premise that heads of state can arbitrarily manipulate their respective nations at home in accordance with the needs of diplomatic propaganda.

The diplomat perceives a threat to world capitalism in the dethronement of the Stalin “cult” and the demolition of Stalinism. He correctly senses that a blockbusting power is aiming at the capitalist system. A resurgence of socialist democracy in the Soviet Union will indeed deprive capitalism of its “one infallible weapon” against communism. In the face of this Soviet transformation the whole cloth of the cold-war ideology will be cut to shreds. So, take note all imperialist policy makers, a guided missile of a new type is heading your way. What counter-weapon can you command in your arsenal?

Radicals Ill-Prepared

But the radical movement also has by no means reacted to the 22nd Congress without apprehension. Since the 1956 Khrushchev revelations of Stalin’s crimes at the 20th Congress, those in and around the American Communist Party as in all CPs throughout the world have been unable to find their bearings regarding the crucial question of Stalinism. Some radicals cherished the illusion that the nightmarish specter of Stalin and Stalinism would somehow blow over, go away and disappear.

One of the reasons why the radical movement was ill-prepared to cope with Stalinism was the way Khrushchev presented the 1956 revelations. The facts about Stalin’s frame-ups and mass murders demanded a serious Marxist explanation of the social cause for the “cult of the individual.” But Khrushchev couldn’t or wouldn’t provide an explanation. Instead he wound up the revelations as follows:

“We consider that Stalin was excessively extolled. However, in the past Stalin doubtlessly performed great services to the party, to the working class and to the international workers’ movement ... We cannot say that these were the deeds of a giddy despot.”

THIS soothing syrup became bitter medicine. The 22nd Congress revealed that Khrushchev could never salvage the cracked image of Stalin. It had to be completely shattered. Stalin had to be exhumed from the Lenin Tomb at Red Square. More and more revelations were required. Instead of Stalin alone bearing the blame for the crimes, mounting to a veritable chamber of horrors, it became imperatively necessary to provide the names of some of those who shared Stalin’s criminal deeds. Khrushchev pointed an accusing finger at the “anti-party” group of Molotov, Kaganovich, Malenkov and Voroshilov as those, and presumably those alone, who were guilty of assisting Stalin’s blood purges. But since Khrushchev is naming some, what of the others?

Dorothy Healy, executive secretary of the Communist Party in Southern California, stated to a witch-hunting committee, according to the Los Angeles Times, Oct. 7, 1961, that she was “more devastated by Khrushchev’s [1956] revelations of past crimes by the Soviet regime than you.” She said further that she “would like to see the Soviet Union progress democratically to the point where there would be more than one party on the ballot there.”

Without the slightest aid or comfort to the capitalist propaganda, Healy has raised a key subject of the need for socialist democracy. We for our part would certainly favor the right of socialists to create an independent working class party in the Soviet Union because at present the existing CP in the USSR is completely monopolized by the Soviet bureaucracy.

But the prospect of the right to organize an independent party rivaling the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union is posed concretely at this time over the deep debate between the Khrushchev faction in power and the alleged “anti-party” group of Molotov, Kaganovich, Malenkov and Voroshilov. Why does Khrushchev refuse to grand Molotov’s constitutional right to present his views at the 22nd Congress? Why this torrent of denunciations of the “anti-party” group while it is muzzled? The reason is quite apparent. If Molotov were allowed to talk at the party congress this might disclose that everything Khrushchev said about the “anti-party” group as accomplices of Stalin would be just as true about Khrushchev! And once each faction in the bureaucratic regime had listed its record of denunciation and a counter-record of equally damning denunciations the result would be – the disclosure not of one pack of scoundrels or another pack but a sociological phenomenon: a bureaucracy; not bureaucratic errors or bureaucratic crimes but a social and historical development of a parasitic bureaucratic caste. The working masses are exerting enormous pressure on the whole regime to yield concessions of socialist democratic rights. The bureaucracy in power, headed by Khrushchev, are maneuvering for time to find the line of demarcation between imperatively necessary concessions and repressions in a desperate attempt to save the entire rule of the bureaucracy.

JUST consider the statements of the Khrushchev group at the congress in the light of the record:

Doesn’t this pose point blank the role of Khrushchev as an accessory of Stalin?

If the 20th Congress raised the question of the bureaucracy as the social source of the “Stalin cult,” the 22nd Congress posed the question even more sharply.

Keeping in focus the problem of the nature of Soviet bureaucracy, let us discuss some of the recent reactions in Communist Party and radical circles shortly before the 22nd Congress and following it.

Mandel Requests

In the People’s World October 14, 1961, “Two diverse views of Soviet discussion” were presented by William Mandel, a writer about the Soviet Union, and John Pittman, the PW’s correspondent in Moscow. Mandel said,

“Many letters” in the Soviet press, “support the program’s [Khrushchev’s draft] undertaking to fight bureaucracy. Various amendments are offered to the proposed party rules in that respect but only one writer [in Trud] asks that the program include an explanation of why bureaucracy still exists, in view of the disappearance of the reasons for its existence stated in the program of 40 years ago.”

Referring to the letter writer in the trade union paper, Trud, “who wants an explanation of bureaucracy,” Mandel concludes,

“There is great approval of the condemnation of the ‘cult of the individual,’ but no hint that failure to permit discussion of policy (as illustrated above) instead of techniques may reflect a ‘cult of individual’.”

Pittman takes Mandel to task for adding “a new dimension to presumptuousness” in complaining that there is a “failure to permit discussion of policy instead of technique” in the current discussion in the USSR on the draft program. Pittman is inconsistent. In the first place he argues that there is a policy discussion in the Soviet press and cites some examples which unfortunately do not show such a discussion. In the second place he argues that since there are thousands of daily and factory papers in the Soviet Union how could Mandel assert that there is no discussion. But in the third place he argues that such a discussion is not necessarily required. Here is what Pittman said:

“It is not enough that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Soviet people are undertaking to create a society of abundance for all, to establish the world’s highest living standards, to safeguard humanity from thermonuclear extinction, to assist colonial peoples to achieve liberation and to help newly liberated peoples develop their countries, and to pioneer man’s conquest of the cosmos. In addition to these undertakings, in order to win Mandel’s approval they must discuss and agree with his ideas about Dr. Zhivago, final ballots with more than one name, why a magazine in Yiddish appeared in 1961 instead of 1954, and whether the theoretical resolution by Lenin and Stalin on the issue of ‘cultural-national versus regional autonomy’ half a century ago was really a mistake! Of course, neither Mandel nor I can be sure that these subjects have not been discussed. But I would be surprised if they were ... I doubt very much if people here would consider them pertinent to the building of a communist society.”

THIS is simply not the way to conduct a discussion. It is begging the question to dismiss the need for an explanation of bureaucracy by referring to “grand” questions. This is getting up on a high hobby horse and looking down at a trouble maker who wants to quibble about trivial questions. But these are not trivial questions, neither the Jewish problem, the national problem, freedom for writers and scientists, the multiple choice of candidates on the ballot – or the problem of bureaucracy. Mandel, moreover, doesn’t demand that the CP of the Soviet Union and the people must agree with him to gain his approval. He only raised the question of an explanation of bureaucracy and the source of the “cult of the individual” and regretted the absence of answers and discussion on this point.

Trotsky’s Prognosis

All indications agree that the further course of [Soviet] development must inevitably lead to a clash between the culturally developed forces of the people and the bureaucratic oligarchy. There is no peaceful outcome for this crisis. No devil ever yet voluntarily cut off his own claws. The Soviet bureaucracy will not give up its positions without a fight. The development leads obviously to the road of revolution.

It is not a question of substituting one ruling clique for another, but of changing the very methods of administering the economy and guiding the culture of the country. Bureaucratic autocracy must give place to Soviet democracy. A restoration of the right of criticism, and a genuine freedom of elections, are necessary conditions for the further development of the country. This assumes a revival of freedom of Soviet parties, beginning with the party of Bolsheviks, and a resurrection of the trade unions. The bringing of democracy into industry means a radical revision of plans in the interests of the toilers. Free discussion of economic problems will decrease the overhead expense of bureaucratic mistakes and zigzags. Expensive playthings – palaces of the Soviets, new theaters, show-off subways – will be crowded out in favor of workers’ dwellings. “Bourgeois norms of distribution” [that is, inequality of income] will be confined within the limits of strict necessity, and, in step with the growth of social wealth, will give way to socialist equality. Ranks will be immediately abolished. The tinsel of decorations will go info the melting pot. The youth will receive the opportunity to breathe freely, criticize, make mistakes, and grow up. Science and art will be freed of their chains. And finally, foreign policy will return to the traditions of revolutionary internationalism. – Revolution Betrayed, by Leon Trotsky.

Deutscher’s Prognosis

The dynamics of economic and cultural growth determine the prospects of domestic policy. The Soviet Union is an expanding society, emerging from a period of “primitive socialist accumulation,” rapidly increasing its wealth, and enabling all classes and groups to enlarge their shares of the national income. This makes for a relaxation of social tensions and antagonisms. On the other hand, the social and cultural advance tends to make the masses aware of the fact that they are deprived of political liberties and are ruled by an uncontrolled bureaucracy. In coming years this will impel them to seek freedom of expression and association, even if this should bring them into conflict with the ruling bureaucracy. No one can forsee with certainty whether the conflict will take violent and explosive forms and lead to the new “political revolution” which Trotsky once advocated, or whether the conflict will be resolved peacefully through bargaining, compromise, and the gradual enlargement of freedom. Much will depend on the behavior of those in power, on their sensitivity and readiness to yield in time to popular pressures. Towards the end of the Stalin era the antagonisms and tensions within Soviet society were acute; and if the ruling group had rigidly clung to the Stalinist method of government, it might have provoked a political explosion. This did not happen, however; and in consequence of the reforms carried out since 1953 the social and political tensions have been greatly reduced. Should the ruling group attempt to cancel these reforms, then it would certainly heighten the tensions once again and exacerbate the antagonisms But if the government remains flexible and sensitive to popular demands, there will be little likelihood of any explosive internal development. The prospect would then be one of further gradual reform, of increasing well-being and social contentment, and of growing freedom. – The Great Contest, by Isaac Deutscher.

The Poles

The Communist Party leader, Wladislaw Gomulka, gave his report on the 22nd Congress to the Polish CP’s Central Committee last December 1961. “Broader explanations on the part of our Soviet comrades may be required,” he said, and offered his own line of explanation of Stalinism as “one dark page among the glorious pages of the Soviet Union’s history.” Asking how the “cult of personality” had come about he referred to “The extremely narrow economic base left over by Czarist Russia” and how it “affected the struggle of Russian revolutionists in a multinational country ... No other socialist country had comparable difficulties.”

“Under such conditions,” Gomulka continued, “the Soviet state of the dictatorship of the proletariat had to be merciless ... It could not tolerate opposition groups, which under pressure of existing difficulties sought ways of solving them through wrong means.”

In his further explanation as to why groups had to be suppressed, Gomulka said,

“Because collectivization inevitably provoked resistance, the state of the dictatorship of the proletariat had to strike back. But it should not have done this blindly. Organs appointed to combat the enemies [of collectivization] supervised and inspired by Stalin, exceeded the measure. As a result of Stalin’s theory of the inevitable aggravation of class warfare parallel to the building of socialism and of his slogan about ‘enemies of the people’ the NKVD [secret political police] could brand as enemies ... anyone who dared to utter a word of criticism.”

Referring to 1937 in the Soviet Union, Gomulka said,

“When heads of marshals, generals, and high-ranking personalities of party and state were falling, people were caught by fear, became suspicious, and the mania of spying spread ... Even taking into account all the negative features of his character [Stalin], it cannot be imagined that he would have embarked upon the bloody purge of the high command and the officers corps without the deliberate misinformations planted by the Gestapo.”

Gomulka also offered an explanation for the notorious “confessions” at the Moscow trials in the thirties, when old Bolsheviks like Zinoviev, Kameney, Radek, Bukharin, Rykov, Krestinsky, Preobrazhensky (all members of the Bolshevik Central Committee of the 1917 October Revolution) fell victim to Stalin’s executions. These Bolshevik leaders, in Gomulka’s phrase, suffered “their silent endurance of Stalin’s violence.” Gomulka said, this was “not merely caused by fear,” although “of course, one’s head is dear to everyone.” But, he maintained,

“Communists are courageous people, men of ideals ... Stalin directed the building of socialism in the Soviet Union. A Communist therefore had to face this question: Will he not act to the disadvantage of communism, if he acts against Stalin? This question disarmed Communists and kept them from struggling with Stalin.”

IT IS significant that Gomulka has opened a line of explanation on the cause of Stalin’s Moscow Trial frame-ups and the mass murders. To refrain from any explanation is, of course, the first line of defense of the bureaucratic regime in the Soviet Union and the respective bureaucratic formations in the other workers states in Eastern Europe and Asia. One of the reasons why the CP of Poland is among the first to venture into this explosive realm – the social basis for bureaucratic crimes – arises from the events of the last five years.

In Poland the mass of industrial workers had vast experience in a direct collision with the bureaucratic regime in 1956. The June 1956 general-strike uprising in Poznan ignited a wave of mass demonstrations of workers and youth throughout Poland to overthrow the Kremlin-controlled Warsaw bureaucratic tops.

In October 1956 the Warsaw factory proletariat mobilized around a dissident CP wing of the leadership, Gomulka, who was framed by Stalinism in 1949 as a “Titoist fascist” and locked up in prison for four years, and this wing triumphed against the Kremlin-controlled faction. Over the weekend of Oct. 20-21 the traditionally socialist Warsaw working class, alerted at the work benches, dispatched delegation after delegation to the Political Committee to support Gomulka as against the Khrushchev appointed Polish functionaries. The Kremlin’s Red Army was poised for an attack. But it was the revolutionary mass organization of the working class, deeply anti-Stalinist, that won the day and hurled back the Kremlin’s direct control.

But the Polish CP bureaucratic caste was not shattered, it was reconstituted with a shift in relation of forces between the bureaucracy and the greater voice of the proletariat. Under these conditions, however, in comparison to the Soviet Union itself where the Soviet proletariat has not directly attacked the bureaucracy as yet, Gomulka is compelled to deal with an explanation of Stalinism which has been openly talked about among workers and youth for five years. Gomulka, however, as the new representative of the bureaucracy, continues to refrain from dealing with the nature of bureaucracy as such. He draws a thread of connection between broad objective, historical, economic and social forces – with the personality of Stalin. The missing link is a bureaucratic social formation transmitting objective pressure, pressures that are only personified in a Stalin or a Khrushchev. This is the sensitive, sore point – a bureaucratic caste – and the bureaucracy itself cannot bear to identify the malignant malady or how socialist democracy will conquer it.

A Pat, Tidy Apology

An interpretation of the 22nd Congress was presented in the National Guardian, November 13, 1961 by David Wesley, who offered an explanation of Stalinism as follows:

“China, Vietnam and Korea, like the USSR, have had to industrialize and collectivize virtually from scratch, and are now in a stage roughly comparable to that of the Soviet Union from 1928 to 1934, when Stalin carried through the basic Soviet economic development with ruthless authoritarian control. The Far East states feel the need for similar methods, and it is the Stalin of that period (and of wartime) that they remember and respect. Moreover, they will require those harsh methods for some time to come; for these members of the camp – and for Albania – Khrushchev’s call for an end to dictatorship seems decidedly premature.”

If Wesley thinks he is arriving at a pat, tidy apology for Stalinism, he had better think again. Stalinism was required, you see, for one period in the Soviet Union; is required for a “roughly comparable” period for China, Vietnam, Korea and Albania thrown in for good measure; and Khrushchev’s mistake is a premature call for an end to Stalinist dictatorship for the Far East. QED!

Let’s consider only a few of the contradictions arrived at by this sophistry. If this is a search for the sequence of objective economic causes giving rise to the Stalinist political form, why does Wesley designate the years 1928 to 1934 as the economically motivated “ruthlessness” of Stalin and does not allude to years before and after 1928-34 in which Stalinism prevailed?

In the years from 1924 to 1928 Stalin began the destruction of workers democracy in the name of unyielding opposition to industrialization, planned economy and collectivization. Trotsky’s proposal for a five-year plan was derided by Stalin as “super-industrial”; when Trotsky proposed collectivization and warned of the capitalist danger of wealthy peasants, Stalin leaned on the Kulak and the petty-capitalist forces and refused to carry out the Left Opposition’s policy.

During 1928-34, Stalin deepened the process of extirpating workers democracy, the strangulation of the Soviets, the trade unions and the Bolshevik party itself – this time in the name of planned economy, industrialization and collectivization in recoil from the previous period which brought a capitalist restoration to within an inch of realization.

In the period following 1934, when Stalin, according to Wesley had already “carried through the basic Soviet economic development,” the utter elimination of workers democracy was consumated in earnest under the sign of frame-ups, witch hunts, and mass murders including the repeated execution of Stalin’s own henchmen, layer after layer.

WESLEY’S schema is to box in the “authoritarian” period of Stalin to these six years since that was the period the Stalin faction finally came out for industrialization after demolishing the Trotskyist Left Opposition for proposing this course. In this way, Wesley can justify a historical cause-effect relation between the need for industrialization and the Stalinist destruction of workers democracy.

Moreover, this schema implies a necessary and required relationship between carrying through socialist production and the need for a ruthless despot.

But why not stop to ask: what did the Russian workers, who carried through three revolutions against landlordism, Czarism, capitalism and imperialism, through the historical agency of workers democracy, think about the need for a Stalinst dictatorship and the elimination of socialist democracy? And ask: did the Soviet workers submissively accept Stalinism without a struggle? Were they simply a mass of unthinking sheep just waiting for Stalin to cripple their revolutionary creative capacities in order to allow the all-wise bureaucrats to carry out objective historical tasks of industrialization? If Wesley really ponders this question he might find that he has arrived at the very thesis on which both Stalinism and imperialism agree: that socialist construction in the Soviet Union was synonymous with Stalin and Stalinism, for better or for worse.

This is why it is neccessary to go beyond the reference to Stalin alone and perceive the existence of a social formation known as “bureaucracy” and its polar opposite, workers democracy.

The ever widening and more open debate within the Soviet orbit and the world Communist parties is accompanied by the sharper “debate” Khrushchev is waging against the silenced opponents in the “anti-party” group. But it is becoming clear that these debates are not restrained from fear that the imperialists will discover the “secret” of their differences. The bureaucratic hierarchies fear more than anything else that the working class and youth will enter the open arena, take sides, arrive at judgements, enunciate demands, define goals and drive to achive the restoration of workers democracy.

LEONID F. Ilyichev, a secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU, indicated the tightrope which the Russian bureaucracy is walking on in its “de-Stalinization” campaign.

At a recent national conference on ideological problems the secretary warned,

“We must not allow, comrades, a blow to be dealt to the foundation of Marxist-Leninist theory under the pretext of combating the personality cult in this theory. We must not allow all kinds of anti-Leninist views and trends, long ago defeated and discarded by our party and by Lenin, to come to the surface and leak into our press.”

Does this refer to Trotsky, who while Stalin was alive, became the authoritative spokesman for workers democracy against the entire bureaucratic caste? Does Ilyichev’s warning disclose that the demand to examine the views of Trotsky is reappearing in the Soviet Union?

Audacious fresh approaches to basic problems are appearing in all countries of the Soviet orbit, and within the Communist parties throughout the world. The Italian Communist Party, for example, has plunged into the stream of this discussion. The party newspaper, l’Unita, November 28, 1961, hailed the 22nd Congress’ denunciation of “errors and aberrations of the past.” But even more to the point, the article said:

“The question cannot exhaust itself in a simple denunciation of Stalin’s negative qualities and his errors. How was it possible that in the construction of a socialist society there were so many errors and deformation and what can be done to guarantee that they will not be repeated?”

This is indeed a good question.

One of the leading representatives of the Italian CP, Amandola, a proponent of one of the tendencies in the Central Committee, according to France Observateur, said,

“It is a matter of returning to Leninism by returning political discussion to the international level. This naturally implies that debate on the problems raised take place in realistic terms and not in ritualistic language. This equally requires a critical study of the political documents presented by the communist parties of other countries.”

In keeping with this bold Leninist spirit, it is appropriate that the Young Communist League of Italy should take the lead in defying the Stalinist practice borrowed from the Roman Catholic Index Expurgatorius and publish in its paper a photograph of Trotsky beside Lenin. The Italian YCL official paper, Nuova Generazione, refers to Trotsky as “one of the most original personalities of the October Revolution, about whose ideas discussion is now reopened. Among other works, he is the author of one of the most interesting histories of the Revolution and some of the finest pages on Lenin.” The YCL proceeds to discuss critically and thoughtfully the views of Trotsky.

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