stalin etc

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sat Aug 7 05:52:23 MDT 1999

>>>Yes, the extremities of being an isolated socialist country generated
>extreme behavior at the top<<
>Extreme by what standards? When is the necessary also
>axiomatically the extreme?

Now that you mention it, the Bolshevik Party operated under extreme duress
prior to seizing power. Under Czarism, they were a clandestine organization
who faced beatings, jailing, torture and murder. If anything, the advent of
WWI increased the repression. Antiwar voices were hounded into silence. And
it was exactly during this period of extreme terror and repression that
Bukharin challenged Lenin in the public pages of a Bolshevik newspaper on
core programmatic elements, including the national question. A wrong
position on the national question, if adopted by the party, could have
arguably resulted in a defeat of the revolution. But Lenin did not object
to this challenge because it was normal and accepted. Bolsheviks quarrelled
with each other vociferously, often and in public.

Stalin put an end to all this nonsense. He made sure that he would put
teeth into the "Bolshevization" strictures of the 1924 Comintern. Not only
would it be essential to have democratic centralism, it would be important
to weed out oppositon in the party prior to party conventions. If, after
all, Bukharin or Zinoviev, were transmitting alien class influences, it was
necessary to protect the ranks of the party from such germs. Eventually
this led to the death penalty for incorrect ideas.

Because of this, the Stalinist movement internationally operating under
Stalin's guidance became characterized by sycophancy. It was impossible to
criticize Stalin or else face expulsion. This meant that when the CP of
Cuba, for example, operating under the guidance of its big brother in the
US, backed the thug Batista, anybody opposed to the turn would have to keep
his mouth shut. Everybody knew that the American party was the transmission
belt of Stalin's wisdom.

I myself have no use for sycophancy. I wouldn't put up with it in the
Trotskyist movement, nor would I have any use for it in the Stalinist
movement. Although most of my polemics in recent months have been directed
against those who want to burn altar candles to Trotsky's icon, it might be
the right time to remind us of how Stalin destroyed independent thought in
the CPUSA.


"Our Party alone knows where to direct the cause; and it is leading it
forward successfully. To what does our Party owe its superiority? To the
fact that is a Marxian Party, a Leninist Party. It owes it to the fact that
it is guided in its work by the tenets of Marx, Engels and Lenin. There
cannot be any doubt that as long as we remain true to these tenets, as long
as we have this compass, we will achieve success in our work."

Who in the world would write simpleminded nonsense like this ? Actually,
the words are by Joseph Stalin, from "Foundations to Leninism". That Stalin
could represent himself as the foremost Marxist thinker in the world from
the late 1920's to the 1950's does more to explain the current crisis in
socialism today than anything else. Not only did this hogwash pass for
Marxism during this period, if anybody attempted to present a political
alternative they would end up with broken teeth or a bullet to the head.

This type of simple-minded nonsense has pretty much disappeared from the
world of Marxism, except for the occasional Maoist manifesto here and
there. We can read the following in "World to Win", a theoretical journal
started by retro-Maoist Robert Avakian and his co-thinkers in other
countries, who simply adapted Stalin's fulsome praise to Lenin for another
demigod: "By looking at the life and teachings of Mao Tsetung, a new
generation who themselves never witnessed the dramatic changes wrought in
revolutionary China could begin to understand that the poor and oppressed
could indeed rise up and transform the world through revolution; that the
imperialists' declarations that 'communism is dead' reflect their hatred
and fear of the very class of proletarians that can and will do away with
them forever; and that to move forward to all the way liberation, the
understanding forged by Mao Tsetung in the Chinese revolution and summed up
as Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is the indispensable weapon for victory."

It was Stalin's intention to turn Marxism into this sort of crude dogmatic
hero worship. He wrote in 1925 that the 'new type' of Communist leader
should be no man of letters; he should not be burdened by the dead weight
of social democratic habits; and he should be feared as well as respected.

Let us take a close look at Stalin's intervention into the American
Communist Party in order to understand how unlike Lenin's Bolshevik party
these Comintern parties had become. Let us review what Lenin understood as
Bolshevism in the early 1900's: simply put, democratic centralism in action
and a newspaper that allowed various tendencies within Marxism to contend
with each other.

In the initial fervor over the Russian Revolution, radicals all over the
world made the decision to form parties on the Bolshevik model. They did
not really have a very clear idea of just what such a party should be. They
often brought often their own political experiences to bear on the
formation of new organizations--as they should have. The American Communist
leader, Charles E. Ruthenberg, explained Bolshevism early in 1919 as
something that was not "strange and new." Bolshevism was merely the
consequence of the same type of education and organization that the
Socialist movement had been and was carrying on in the United States. His
Socialist-syndicalist background showed in his description of the infant
Bolshevik state as a "Socialist industrial republic". His instincts were
completely correct.

By 1920, everything changed. A resolution passed at its second convention
of the American Communist Party stated, "The Communist Parties of the
various countries are the direct representatives of the Communist
International, and thus indirectly of the aims and policies of Soviet
Russia." Among the people voting for the resolution was James P. Cannon,
who went on to form the Trotskyist movement in the United States. He
retained the same hierarchical understanding of the relationship between an
international center and member parties, except he switched allegiance from
the Comintern to the pope-like authority of Leon Trotsky.

Let us examine the case of Jay Lovestone's fall from leadership of the
American Communist Party to illustrate how harmful Stalin's heavy-handed
interventions were.

In the 1920's, Bukharin was the top leader of the Communist Party and the
Comintern. Bukharin spoke for the right wing of the Bolshevik party and had
allowed the NEP to get out of hand. Rich peasants withheld their grain from
Soviet authorities and food riots began to appear. Stalin allied with
Bukharin for most of the 1920's but grew alarmed at the threat posed by the
Kulaks. Stalin broke with Bukharin and lurched far to the ultraleft. He
destroyed Bukharin politically while preparing a war against the Kulaks.

The moves against Bukharin did not appear all at once and it was
Lovestone's misfortune to back him long after clues had come out of the
Kremlin that Bukharin was in disfavor. The sixth world congress of the
Comintern marked the beginning of the end for both Bukharin and any of his
international supporters.

It was difficult for Americans to figure out what was going on behind the
hearsay and gossip emanating from the Kremlin. People rose up the party
ladder on the basis of their ability to anticipate Stalin's moves. James P.
Cannon said, "They were required to 'guess' what it meant and to adapt
themselves in time. Selections of people and promotions were made by the
accuracy of their guesses at each stage of development in the factional
struggle. Those who guessed wrong or didn't guess at all were discarded.
The guessing game was played to perfection in the period of Stalin's
preparation to dump Bukharin. I don't think many people knew what was
really going on and what was already planned at the time of the Sixth

A faction opposed to Lovestone in the American party submitted a document
called "The Right Danger in the American Party". It basically accused
Lovestone of overestimating the power of US capitalism and underestimating
the militancy of American workers. This faction included William Z. Foster,
future CP leader, and James P. Cannon, future Trotskyist leader. This
document tied Lovestone politically to the fading Bukharin. Lovestone, not
sensitive to the power shifts already taking place in the Kremlin, told
this gathering of the Comintern that yes, indeed, he did solidarize himself
with Bukharin. At that point Stalin put a check-mark next to Lovestone's
name in his little black book.

At the December 1928 plenum of the American party, Lovestone, commenting on
the conjunctural situation of American capitalism, invoked Bukharin's
authority: "What did Comrade Bukharin say about this? I still quote Comrade
Bukharin. For me he does not represent the Right wing of the Communist
International; although for some he does. For me Comrade Bukharin
represents the Communist line, the line of the C.E.C. of the C.P.S.U.
Therefore Comrade Bukharin is an authority--of the C.I." Stalin became
enfuriated when he heard this.

Lovestone eventually began to get nervous over growing signs that Bukharin
was on the outs. He decided to send his friend and old classmate from City
College, Bertram Wolfe, over to the Kremlin to serve as American
representative to the Comintern. (Wolfe, as Lovestone, eventually became a
professional anti-Communist.)

Wolfe learned immediately that Stalin had plans to remove the Lovestone
leadership. When Wolfe attempted to see Stalin to clear the air, Stalin
refused to meet with him. When Wolfe tried to meet with Bukharin, Kremlin
authorities told him that Bukharin was too sick to meet with anybody.
Wolfe, who had become ill himself, did learn of a special presidium set for
discussion of these problems on a day's notice. He stayed up the whole
night, with a temperature of 104, drinking coffee and vodka, and preparing
his defense of the Lovestone majority.

The next day he spoke under great emotional and physical stress. After a
half hour, he collapsed at the podium. Only one person in the vast
assembly, Eliena D. Stassova, head of the International Red Aid, came
forward to assist him. She gave him two aspirins and pleaded with him to
stop his speech. Wolfe refused unless the meeting was postponed. The
presidium refused postponement and the feverish Wolfe continued with his

A few days later, Wolfe bumped into Bukharin in front of the Hotel Lux,
where Comintern officials lived. Wolfe confessed surprise at the hale and
hearty appearance of the reputedly ailing Bukharin. Bukharin answered
sardonically, "By a vote of five to four, I am too ill to function as
Chairman of the Communist International."

On the eve of the Sixth Convention of the American Communist Party,
Lovestone's strength seemed formidable. There were 104 delegates, and 95
supported Lovestone. There were two delegates whose votes were more
important than all the rest combined, and whom Lovestone could never
persuade. They were the Comintern's representatives to the convention:
Philipp Dengel, a German CP'er and Harry Pollitt from England. Wolfe, the
American representative to the Comintern, had not learned that the Kremlin
had sent the two to the convention.

Dengel and Pollitt proposed to the convention that William Z. Foster, a
member of the tiny minority faction, replace Lovestone. Stalin directed
Lovestone to report to Moscow where he would function in the Comintern.
Lovestone, to his credit, went ballistic and for the first--and last--time
in the history of American Communist, a convention decided to disobey the

Lovestone decided to have a showdown with Stalin in order to defend the
legitimacy of his leadership. He put together a "proletarian delegation,"
headed by Lovestone and two other leaders, Benjamin Gitlow and Max Bedacht.
The delegation also included William Miller, a Detroit machinist; Tom
Mysercough, a mine organizer; William J. White, a steel organizer; Alex
Noral, a farm expert; Ella Reeve Bloor, an organizer from California; Otto
Huiswould and Edward Welsh, African-Americans.

The American Commission heard from delegations from the majority and
minority factions in America. The commission included Stalin himself who
generally remained aloof from such matters. This signaled its importance.
Lovestone spoke for the majority and Foster for the pro-Stalin minority.

Stalin eventually delivered his judgment on the issues in a speech on May
6, 1929. He was conciliatory to the majority politically, especially in
light of Lovestone's perceptible shift to the right, but insisted on
handing control of the party over to the Foster minority. When it came time
for the American delegation to vote on Stalin's proposal, Lovestone
declared: "Whatever work is given to me I will do. But we have a deep
conviction that such as an organizational proposal as the one aiming to
take me away from our Party today is not a personal matter but a slap and
slam in the face of the entire leadership."

The Lovestone majority composed more than ninety percent of the party. This
did not impress Stalin. He explained in a speech to the delegation what the
true relationship between the American Communists and the Kremlin was. "You
declare you have a certain majority in the American Communist Party and
that you will retain that majority under all circumstances. That is untrue,
comrades of the American delegation, absolutely untrue. You had a majority
because the American Communist Party until now regarded you as the
determined supporters of the Communist International. And it was only
because the Party regarded you as the friends of the Comintern that you had
a majority in the ranks of the American Communist Party. But what will
happen if the American workers learn that you intend to break the unity of
the ranks of the Comintern and are thinking of conducting a fight against
its executive bodies-- that is the question, dear comrades? Do you think
that the American workers will follow your lead against the Comintern, that
they will prefer the interests of your factional group to the interests of
the Comintern? There have been numerous cases in the history of the
Comintern when its most popular leaders, who had greater authority than
you, found themselves isolated as soon as they raised the banner against
the Comintern. Do you think you will fare better than these leaders? A poor
hope, comrades! At present you still have a formal majority. But tomorrow
you will have no majority and you will find yourselves completely isolated
if you attempt to start a fight against the decisions of the Presidium of
the Executive Committee of the Comintern. You may be certain of that, dear

Later in the day, Stalin became more blunt. He told Wolfe, "Who do you
think you are? Trotsky defied me. Where is he? Bukharin defied me. Where is
he? And you? When you get back to America, nobody will stay with you except
your wives." He also warned the Americans that the Russians knew how to
handle strike-breakers: "There is plenty of room in our cemeteries."

After Stalin completed his fulminations, he strode toward the American
delegation and offered his hand to Edward Welsh, an African-American
delegate. Welsh turned to Lovestone and asked loudly, "What the hell does
this guy want?" and refused to shake Stalin's hand.

In the following year, nearly everybody in the party lined up with Foster,
because they saw that Lovestone was in disfavor. The American Communist
Party certainly did not heed the advice Lenin gave to Zinoviev in an
unpublished letter. "If you are going to expel all the not very obedient
but clever people, and retain only the obedient fools, you will most
assuredly ruin the party."

Louis Proyect

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