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Albert Gates

Internal Cracks in a Totalitarian Structure

Critical Opposition Rises in the Stalinist Party

(13 January 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 3, 20 January 1947, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

FOR a considerable period after the expulsion of the groups of people mentioned in my articles on the situation in the Communist Party in the United States, the Stalinist press made little or no mention of them. It had hoped to avoid any public discussion of this situation by keeping silent. The party bureaucracy was not a little embarrassed by the expulsions. This was the first time in many years that the thoroughly bureaucratized and monolithic Stalinist organization had members and groups which were actively opposed to the party line. But the public activity of the expelled made it necessary for the party to take notice of them and to reply to their printed material in public.

The December issue of Political Affairs, the theoretical organ of the CP, carried a long article entitled The Struggle against Deviations and Factionalism in San Francisco, by one Oleta O’Connor Yates. The Daily Workers for January 8, 9 and 10, published three articles by its “literary critic” Samuel Sillen, which was devoted entirely to the statement of Ruth McKenney and Bruce Minton (analyzed in Labor Action, December 23 and 30). The attention given to the activities of the expelled groups indicates that the problem of the dissidents has not ended, but that inside the party other groups and individuals are continuing to fight along the same or similar lines as the expelled.

The whole situation is indeed significant. The fight that broke out over Browder was the first internal struggle the American Stalinist Party had since the expulsion of the Trotskyist Opposition and the Lovestone Group. Since then, the party became truly monolithic. No groups, factions, or theoretical and political views which differed from official positions were tolerated. But there was no need to exert any great effort to effect this condition. All individuals and groups which had any degree of independence, or theoretical and political competence were ousted from the party during the long process of its Stalinization.

Stalinist Monolithism

The monolithic character of the party was achieved almost “naturally” with the ousting of these opponents, or anyone else with independent views, and the Russifying of the organization, i.e., its transformation into an appendage of the Kremlin. In its unquestioning acceptance of Stalinist ideology, the American CP could not help modeling its party after Stalin’s party. Thus, the bureaucratic and opportunist leadership of Browder, who was bureaucratically placed at the head of the party by Stalin, adorned itself with all the trappings of the Russian master: policies were adopted and changed without the intervention of the membership, much less a discussion in its ranks. All discussions were post-facto events: they were Stalinist innovations which permitted the membership to discuss an already new line and to be educated in it. Within a few years the party became a monolithic machine which operated in push-button fashion and with deadly uniformity.

Whenever a change in Russian foreign policy took place, the CP in the United States, as elsewhere, reacted according to a proscribed formula: Whatever the Russian Party decides is automatically the policy for the American CP. It wasn’t necessary for the party to receive Instructions for every change of its line. That is one of the things which so-called “Communist experts” fail to understand. It is the system itself which is pernicious. The party reacts like a hypnotized victim. And this corresponds to its true character as a once-revolutionary socialist party which became transformed into an appendage of a new nationalist, counter-revolutionary center in Russia under the leadership of Stalin. The main task of the party was now to act as an outpost for Russia’s new ruling class.

When Stalin liquidated the Communist International (a purely formal act, which had no real practical significance), Browder liquidated the CP and transformed it into a political association. Lacking state power and the resources of its European sister parties, the CP suffered some serious reverses. And as often happens in this country, by movements, ideologists or individuals who borrow from European sources, the American product appears in exaggerated and distorted form.

Browder went a little too far in his effort to placate American imperialism and to strengthen the alliance between Russian and Anglo-American imperialism. He made some impermissible observations about the nature of monopoly capitalism and socialism (different only in degree from what the Russian and the European Stalinists were saying) which did not set well with the more militant elements in the party. What these elements did not and do not yet understand is, that Browder was not pursuing an independently thought-out policy, but rather the general line of Stalinism. Otherwise, he would have been called to a halt long before Duclos intervened in the American situation in 1945.

It was only after the war, when the necessity for a close Anglo-American-Russian alliance had diminished, that Stalinism the world over began to act more independently, more militantly, not in the interests of the masses, but against its rival imperialists. And the purpose of this was to provide for Stalinist forces in the Capitalist nations who were to act as allies in Russia’s struggle for Europe and Asia, and specifically to defend Russian interests against American imperialism. When it was necessary to change the line of the Communist Party in the U.S.A., Browder was superfluous.

He could not carry out the new line, so badly had he compromised himself by a foolish and unwarranted (in Stalin’s eyes) application of the general line. Those in the party who had hoped that the ousting of Browder would mean a return to a militant, class struggle policy (reminiscent of the Stalinist “Third Period” days) were doomed to disappointment when they observed that the Foster-Dennis leadership produced not a new line, but a toned-down version of Browder’s “revisionism.” The above, then, is the real explanation for the existence of the National Committee for Publications Group, the San Francisco opposition, the dissident groups in New York, and the Minton-McKenney defection.

A Stalinist Polemic

Sillen’s articles in the Daily Worker on the Minton-McKenney statement referred to above is a silly and stupid piece of hack writing. Knowing how the CP functions, we have no doubt that Mr. Sillen was asked to lend his great “authority” as a “literary man” to attack two oppositionists who are literary people. His reply to their statement is typically Stalinist in that it evades what they really said in their statement in order to attack them without discussing their main arguments. He substitutes slander for argument, which is a basic Stalinist method of discussion with opponents. The slander is supplemented with misquotations from Lenin and other socialist authorities, spiced up with political vulgarity. An example of this is his reply to Minton’s and McKenney’s attack on the CP attitude toward the United Nations which they characterize as another League of Nations. They quoted Lenin to the effect that the League was a “den of thieves” of imperialists who divided the world amongst themselves. Sillen replies to this by defending the UN as a body totally different from the League. Why? Because Stalin’s Russia participated in its establishment and is the leader of one of its imperialist blocs. So this vulgar literary man proceeds to misrepresent Lenin when he quotes him to say:

“Only those who have no self-reliance can fear to enter into temporary alliances, even with unreliable people; not a single political party could exist without entering such alliances.”

Lenin did not have the League of Nations in mind, which is the implication Sillen sought to convey. He was talking about the revolutionary party of the working class entering, into alliances with other parties in a struggle for certain, specific demands or on certain specific issues. And Lenin recognized that a workers’ state, so long as it was isolated and no other revolution came to its assistance, might, because of its weaknesses, have to play one imperialist power against another, and even enter into a temporary alliance with one powerful nation or another as a means of defending itself. But Lenin never forgot to add that no revolutionary party should surrender its internationalism or its revolutionary struggle at home, when and if a workers’ state entered into such an alliance.

If Lenin were alive today he would characterize the UN in exactly the same way as he did the League of Nations – as an imperialist body wrangling over who shall have the lion’s share in carving up the world. And he would call upon the masses to oppose it.

Elsewhere, Sillen denounces Minton and McKenney for having “smuggled” their line “into a branch discussion.” How else McKenney and Minton could have presented their views to the party, this Stalinist hack does not say. But it is evident that what he is trying to say is: if the party bureaucracy had known what your views were they would never have permitted you to present them to the party. And we agree with Sillen. If the Party leadership had known what the above were going to say to the party, they never would have had the opportunity of acquainting even their branch with those views. They would have been expelled for merely holding such views.

Finally, Sillen calls attention to the fact that Minton did support Browder’s revisionism, but protested only that some people were “carrying it too far.” Sillen intends thereby to convey two impressions: (1) that Minton is really a Browderite today; (2) that the whole party and its leadership (especially Sillen) were really opposed to Browder, but that by some magic power, Browder carried out his line over the protests of the whole leadership (read: bureaucracy), first line and secondary. This is a lie on the face of it. The fact is that the whole main leadership endorsed Browder’s anti-Marxist, anti-socialist views and policies, and none more so than Mr. Sillen himself. Be that as it may, Minton and McKenney are certainly not Browder followers today. What is most important, the CP line has not changed fundamentally. From the point of view of socialism, of Marxism, the CP line remains what it was under Browder: an adaptation to the needs of Russian foreign policy, or the state interests of Stalin’s ruling class, under new conditions of the end of the alliance between Russian and American imperialism.

The Frisco Situation

The article by Yates in Political Affairs is a more rounded attack on another group of dissidents, of the CP, the group of workers expelled in San Francisco for opposing the strike-breaking policies of the Stalinists there in alliance with their outstanding ally in the CIO, Harry Bridges. One of the difficulties on the Coast, she says, was that a “left” opposition to party policy developed on the ground “that there is no difference between the character of the coalition envisaged by the party today (coalition with liberals, intelligent capitalists, and progressives), and the concept of the coalition developed by Browder.” Miss Yates then proceeds to defend the party’s efforts to break the machinists strike in San Francisco, the issue which led to the expulsion of some union militants and the break-up of their party cell branch. “Their opposition to party policies,” she writes, “led them to factional attacks upon the party leadership, as well as to violation of party discipline and the principles of democratic centralism.”

She then proceeds to outline what is the prevailing Stalinist concept of a monolithic party and says: “The party’s greatest strength comes from its monolithic unify – unity of ideology, policy and strategy. Those who disagree with the fundamental ideology, policy and strategy of the party must either renounce their views or take themselves elsewhere.” Behind this description stands the monolithic party in which centralism prevails but no real democracy. This is followed by the impermissibility of opposing views in the party, or for those who hold such views, to maintain them and fight for them. The result of this bureaucratized, monolithic character of the party is that there is no independence of thought, no education and learning, no growth of the membership. They have neither the right nor the ability to intervene in the affairs of the party. The party has developed a sickening unanimity of thought and action creating a completely automatistic organization.

Make a Clean Break

The difficulty in trying to analyze the expelled groups and individuals is due to the disparity of their views and the common confusion which they have on the nature of the Communist Party and the perspectives of their struggle. In calling for the creation of a real, revolutionary Stalinist Party, as some of them do, they seem not to understand, that there is a real Stalinist Party in the United States and that is the CP. That it is not a revolutionary party flows from the fact that Stalinism is a counter-revolutionary manifestation inside the working class.

The opposition is really groping blindly toward understanding. It is only in the vaguest sense that they know what they want. They still live in the militant days of the “Third Period” and regard that abortive stage of Stalinist development as the reflection of a revolutionary stage of party development. They are influenced by old party, worn-out and degenerated figures like William F. Dunne and Sam Darcy, who have some understanding of what the party was in the days before its Stalinization, but who have themselves been corrupted through years of silence and repeated adjustments to the “party line.”

There is only one hope for the new CP opposition: get rid of all the ideological rubbish you have absorbed in the past ten years, at least, of Stalinist opportunism. Go back to the classics of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. Learn what revolutionary theory and practice is. Find out what a real Workers’ State is. Learn the meaning of socialism and then compare it with Stalin’s prison of the masses. Try to understand what a revolutionary socialist party is and learn how far the CP is and has been from being such a party.

Once you have done that, you will learn that there is really only one way out: a complete break, not only with the American CP, but with Stalinism. If you really want to be revolutionary socialists, if you feel that your socialist integrity ds at stake, if you feel that your internationalism has been violated, then move forward toward the only representatives of revolutionary theory and practice in the world today, the Trotskyists. Otherwise you will find yourself in the inextricably difficult position of trying to be revolutionary socialists on the basis of contradictory, mutually exclusive theories.

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