How Stalin distorted Marxism

On May Day 1932, the Communist Party USA released "Toward Soviet America," penned by William Z. Foster who was at that time the Communist candidate for President of the U.S.

This book presented the program and policies of the CPUSA and was in line with the political perspective of the world Communist Movement under the leadership of Stalin, who had unseated Bukharin from the leadership of the Communist International not long before this period. This book contained the policy and perspective that I heard Gus Hall refer to as "the greatest mistake we ever made."

On page 177 of "Toward Soviet America," Foster begins, "The policy of the Social Democracy is basically that of Fascism…. The principal difference is that Social Democracy hides its Fascism…. Thus, in the period of the decline of capitalism, Social Reformism becomes Social Fascism." Foster goes on to write on page 178, "Developing Fascism in the United States has a main foundation in the leadership of the American Federation of Labor." On page 191, Foster quotes Stalin, "Fascism is a militant organization of the bourgeoisie resting upon the active support of Social Democracy."

This equation of social democracy with fascism helped bring about the horrible defeat of the working class in Germany and only after this defeat was Bukharin's policy of the Peoples Front Against Fascism adopted and presented by Dimitrov in the form we recognize today as the Center Left Alliance against the ultra right.(This I Cannot Forget, Larina pp. 11-37)

Stalin's version of Marxism had deviated from Lenin's Marxism in two clear ways that Bukharin had defended.  One way was the "Market Socialist" approach of Lenin's "New Economic Policy" and the other way was the path of broad Peoples Unity against Imperialism, Fascism and Finance Capitol that can be found in Lenin's "Left Wing Communism an Infantile Disorder." Stalin's approach was one of extreme economic centralization and political sectarianism as he and Trotsky carried out a "race" to prove who was the "most revolutionary." So much attention has been paid to the Trotsky Stalin conflict that Bukharin and his contemporary Gramsci have often been ignored when they, from the historical record, are the real "inheritors" of Lenin's Marxism. (ANTONIO GRAMSCI LIFE OF A REVOLUTIONARY, Fiori, Giuseppe pp.144-145.)

As Foster's sectarianism shows on page 239 of "Toward Soviet America" he and Stalin (who approved of the book at that time) completely misjudged the upcoming New Deal Era, "the policies of the Progressives, although dressed up in radical phraseology, are in practice indistinguishable from those of the ultra reactionaries: sufficient proof of this being the enthusiastic support given to the candidacy of … Roosevelt, Progressive Mogul, in the most Bourbon sections of the South. Progressivism is a grave danger to the working class." The only "justification" for this viewpoint is "competition with the Trotskyists" to show who was the "most" revolutionary. (The Trotskyists were saying almost identical things at the same time.) Bukharin, who had fallen from favor at that moment, was saying things remarkably close to what really happened. When Bukharin was falsely tried and executed by Stalin and his government a few years from this date it has become clear that he was probably killed because he was a serious and popular rival to Stalin for leadership especially because he was so obviously right about so many of the issues that Stalin had been so clearly wrong about. There stands a clear alternative voice to Stalin and Trotsky and that is the man Lenin called, "the favorite of the Party" – Bukharin. He was the real author of the winning political perspective of World War 2, "the peoples front against fascism," was falsely accused of treason and killed. ("THIS I CANNOT FORGET" Larina, Anna pp.11-33.)

Stalin, Trotsky, and Bukharin all had one error in common. They each, after Lenin's death, contributed to what Lenin had expressly asked they not do and that was build a cult of personality around Lenin. Lenin, who called himself a "consistent marxist," was entombed against his last wishes and was made the "co-founder" with the new term "marxist-leninist." This became the beginning of the process of "sanctifying" communist leadership and robbing communist's of the brilliant example of Lenin who used the foundation and tools discovered by Marx to deeply and painstakingly examine actual current reality by gathering "truth from facts" rather than truth by the leaders' pronouncements. "We do not regard Marx's theory as something completed  and inviolable; on the contrary, we are convinced that it has only laid the foundation stone of the science socialists must develop in all directions if they wish to keep pace with life. We think that an independent elaboration of Marx's theory is especially essential…; for this theory provides only general guiding principles, which, in particular, … are applied differently." (Lenin CW VOL. 4, PP.210-214.)

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  • It is true that Bukharin, and many old Bosheviks were much less disasterous than stalin was. during the fight against the Nazis takeover of Germany, Stalin and the Communist Paaty of Germany (which like Communist in other countries) were under Stalin's command. In this fight, The communist Party, in an initiative actually sided and fought along side the with the Nazis to get the Social democrats removed from power in their stronghold (Prussia). But that is only The one Stalin and Trotsky. Trotsky did not have the savagery or nerve to build a regime on the murders of millions of people. That started war against the Kulaks in 1929. It is true the Kulaks were the class enemey but Trotsky was shocked the war on the Kulaks. That is not the way a decent runs a country, and Trotsky did have big enough senbse of decency. Trotsky acually did take Stalin on as a modern Tyrant and a Totalitarian. Phil Amadon goes against what a better informed student would ever do. He wrongly is equates Stalin with Trotsky. I suggest he get informed more about Trotsky. He was a brave man who took on Stalin very directly, and salvaged some honor for Communists everywhere. He never called the Social Democrats 'Social Fascists, and fought consitently for an allliance with the Social Democrats against the Nazis. His grounds were that the Socail Democrats were a party made up of working class people, however their leader fell short or violated the rihts of working people. He was against making a deal with Stalin, and if he had succeeded, all tose millions of people who disappeared under Stalin would not have. Unfortunately he was not a powerful organization man who could have out Stalined Stalin, but neither were the other Communist leaders. Trotsky had a real humane side and was not at all like Stalin. You should read Isaac Deutscher's three volume biography of Trotsky to begin to educate yourself about other early Russian Revolutionary Communists

    Posted by Walter Rice, 03/06/2011 3:45am (7 years ago)

  • The author has a few good points here. Personally, I believe Stalin was right to end the New Economic Policy, which had been intended by Lenin to be temporary. However, I agree that calling social democrats "social fascists" wasn't exactly the Communist movement's finest hour. Stalin himself admitted he was wrong on that point. I have a copy of "Toward Soviet America" and what I like best about it is it describes the practical workings of a Communist state. What I admire Stalin most for is that he made Communism work on a practical level. His system brought order out of the chaos that was the Civil War and War Communism. I'm not saying that Trotsky or Bukharin wouldn't or couldn't have found a way to make it work, just that they didn't. Stalin's errors were corrected/compensated for by Khrushchev and Brezhnev. I consider myself more of a "Brezhnevist" than a Stalinist, as I believe the practical administration of a Communist state once the revolutionary dust settles down is what matters most from the POV of theory. The early stages of a revolution are by nature unpredictable and can't realistically be theorised about in advance. I know I'm persona non grata to the CP but I hope they see fit to set aside their prejudice against me for just this one post.

    Posted by John Charles Wilson, 03/04/2011 3:10pm (7 years ago)

  • Agree with C.J. and some others, including Dan - such a nice name! - on these issues.

    Really, the cult of Stalin needs to die. But even more insidious is the backhand compliments that people continue to dish out for Stalin, or the references to his "mistakes." That term should not be used for actions that killed hundreds of thousands of people.

    Also, more exploration into exactly how Stalin's policies (I'm talking about him as if he were a god shaping history by his own hands; by "Stalin" I mean that awful dictator as well as the bureaucracy around him and the defeat of real Marxism, the kind that Lenin promulgated, for years in the USSR) led to the real problems of the USSR.

    Posted by Dan M, 03/04/2011 1:06pm (7 years ago)

  • And I've read "Toward Soviet America". I'd have to agree with Gus Hall's assessment of the book. I would hope that the policies outlined in that volume are not the type that some would want the CPUSA to return to.

    Posted by C.J., 03/04/2011 12:02am (7 years ago)

  • So glad to read this in PA. Good to read a bit about the contributions of Bukharin and Gramsci. Hopefully there will be more articles about these topics in the near future.

    Posted by C.J., 03/04/2011 12:00am (7 years ago)

  • "The revolution brought citizenship to all men of property. Andrew Jackson's era -- marred by slavery and racism, and also by genocide against Native Americans --- nonetheless widened the circle enfranchisement to include all white men."

    What's with this "nonetheless"? Does the enfranchisement of all white men mean that despite slavery, racism and genocide the Jackson era was somehow, NONETHELESS, a progressive step forward for American democracy?

    The "democratic revolution" in the USA has hardly begun-- the bourgeois revolution was completed-- they are in control and have democracy for themselves as the ruling class and they got it by slavery, racism and genocide. But real democracy for the masses of American people? That's as far away from reality as is a soviet America. Thinking that this ultra-right imperialist state that lives off of war and the economic plunder of the mass of humanity is somehow "democratic" (in a Marxist sense) is, I think, an error.

    Posted by Thomas Riggins, 03/03/2011 4:21pm (7 years ago)

  • "Ten Days that Shook the World",John Reed

    Posted by E.E.W.Clay, 03/03/2011 1:33pm (7 years ago)

  • Obviously,the loss of Lenin was terribly injurious to the whole working class and oppressed of the planet.
    It was the badly needed unity of these elements that was necessary to advance humankind. There was nothing paternalistic or condescending in demanding this unity be forged.
    As it was demanded in the prolific writings of Lenin,it was militantly asserted on the other side of the Atlantic by W.E.B. Du Bois.
    Du Bois commented on Soviets in 1927 and its controversial 1905 failure:
    "The rottenness of the Czar's Government was repeatedly exposed to the liberal world. Not a finger was raised to help. On the contrary,when in desperation Russia rose in 1905 to shake off medieval despotism and establish modern democracy,Western Europe poured its treasure into the hands of the Czar to beat the wretched Revolutionists back. Now finally,when of their own strength and determination,and their own vast will to sacrifice,the Russian people have buried Czarism and tried to establish a new government that frankly faces the economic problem which the world fears to face,there is scarcely a newspaper in America that will give this experiment even decent hearing. Yet the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics is celebrating today its Tenth Anniversary,and here's hoping that this is but the first decade toward its hundred years."
    The massive blow for progress,the end of slavery,illiteracy,and the advance of the working class-Marxism-Leninism the"Ten Days Which Shook the World"brought is undervalued,even today.
    Considering very carefully the monstrous anti-human atrocities of a dastard like Stalin, the victory of the Bolsheviks,led by Lenin,changed human history,positively,forever.
    The USSR is gone,forever,also.
    However,Yankee imperialism and the IMF cannot displace the incredible sacrifice and knowledge of the Russian people,including its Jews,Tartars,Caucasians, Chinese and others.
    Also,imperialism cannot kill Russia's Communist Party,or Russia's working class.
    Our charge,is to advance in progress with the Russian working class,along the lines of peace,disarmament and
    market exchange which mutually helps the international working class.
    This means challenging imperialist oligarchy from transnational finance capital,discouraging oligarchy or Boris Yeltsin "privatizers" and criminal bosses,with action,as this harms the exchange capacities of the international working class.
    Economic cooperation,but in the first place fighting for public control and ownership,for the U.S. working people of transportation,communication,environmental protection and ownership of capital,is security,while Europe,Asia,Africa and the Americas fight for these also,in respective countries on continents,and internationally.
    In this also,the point is not so much to analyze,but to change,correct,past mistakes,with these the horrible ones made by Stalin,his distortions of Marxism.

    Posted by E.E.W.Clay, 03/03/2011 1:27pm (7 years ago)

  • I was glad to read this article by Mr Amadon. It's important to state plainly that Stalin represented a terrible deviation from Lenin, that Stalinism - not a bad term, in that it best expresses the nature of the horrors brought upon the Soviet people - has nothing to do with socialism.

    I've always been deeply surprised by people who have studied a much and say, despite all of Stalin's "flaws" - a rather euphemistic way of describing a tendency towards destroying opponents as well as hundreds of thousands of people who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time - that he "at least defeated the Nazis."

    What piffle!

    As Mr Amadon lays out above, in this blog post that could hopefully be expanded to a full article, the Soviet Union beat the Nazis in spite of - not because of - Stalin's leadership. He clawed his way to the top of the state machine, executed or exiled all the Bolshevik Central Committee that had been in place at the time of the October Revolution, dictated bad policies that irreparably harmed Soviet socialism, and, because he did all that, happened to be the top leader when the Nazis invaded. And, his leadership made the country less likely to defeat the Nazis: breaking up the workers and peasants alliance and losing the goodwill of the peasant population towards the state surely did help the fight against the Nazi menace.

    Thank goodness that people like Bukharin and Dimitroff were brave enough to work out the correct line necessary to defeat fascism. Too bad the Stalin cult and the bureaucracy aligned with it stood in the way. Really, imagine if a collective leadership in the Comintern had looked at the situation of Germany, taken into account the opinions of Trotsky (I don't agree with many of his theories, but, really, was it necessary to exile him, only to send assassins to finish the job?), Bukharin and others, and come up with a popular front policy, thus eliminating the wasted years in which the German Communists could have been winning over members of the Socialist Party, and perhaps the Socialist Party's leadership, into a united front, maybe even winning sections of capital in a people's front, and taking out the Nazi menace - before millions of people were gassed?

    I hope that we can lay the "at least he defeated Hitler" drivel to rest. He didn't, and that's demonstrable.

    As for the New Economic Policy, I'm not sure why people suggest that it wouldn't have worked. China's economy now, which operates on five year plans as well, is the most dynamic in the world, and the theory behind it is basically an extension of the NEP, based on Lenin. Sadly, Bukharin was never able to argue the case in Soviet Russia.

    I have to respectfully disagree, or take especial exception, with a statement by Mr Markowitz: "As for Bukharin, we should remember that many of the points Phil makes in his defense(and his writings are of real value) was made by Gorbachev, who sought to use him to advance Gorbachev's policies. Gorbachev isn't someone who we are any other advocate of socialism can learn from in any [positive] way".

    That simply doesn't matter. The fact that Gorbachev or anyone else made a point doesn't invalidate the point in question. It's something not even worth considering. Is the point Mr. Amadon made, that was made by Gorbachev as well, true? If so, then the point stands. If it's incorrect, then the point should be disputed, but only based on its wrongness.

    Our predecessors made terrible mistakes. It's not an insult to say that. They were just as heroic as we thought before, even though they were human and therefore fallible. They were brave, reversed course on their errors - though some of these theoretical errors never actually took full shape on the ground - and won tremendous victories.

    Democracy: I agree with Mr. Case. He doesn't seem to be advocating a slow gradual reform process forever, but a spirited fight for democratic rights - including those that cannot be won under capitalism. The democratic struggle is the class struggle. Every victory won by the people for democracy is a chink in the armor - or more than that - of monopoly. Eventually there'll be some sort of quantitative into qualitative change.

    Posted by Dan, 03/02/2011 10:17pm (7 years ago)

  • there is a lot here in terms of both language and ideology with which I have disagreements
    First, the use of the term "Stalinism" as against looking at Stalin as a major political leader in modern history. "Stalinism" is a major ideological prop of both anti-Communists of the right and also of competitors with the majority communist parties of the world, including the CPUSA, who followed the banner of the Comintern in the interwar period.
    We can't rewrite history. I and everyone that I know would have liked to see a collective leadership developing out of the 1920s, the leadership that in a sense Lenin really represented, without purges and the formation of a political machine, but that is not what, in the first socialist country in history, treated as an outlaw by the entire capitalist world is what happened.
    Stalin's concept of "socialism in one country" won out because it appealed to the great majority of Soviet communists, as against Trotsky's doctrine of "permanent revolution." Bukharin's association with the NEP and the rightist forces in the Communist movement also lost out because of what both the "NEPman(middle man traders) and especially the Kulaks, those who had gained great power over credit and land in the countryside after the revolution, were doing in profiteering, corruption, holding up the Soviet state. Joseph Stalin used his position as General Secretary to build a political machine and,since he was a very skilled bureaucratic politician, use his various rivals against each other. In the 1930s, agains the background of the collectivization, the industrialization, the fascist victory in Europe, the Stalin leadership launched mass purges which are not defensible, although Communists generally either supported the Stalin leadership or kept quiet, because of the anti-fascist and labor struggles going on.
    The history is very very tangled and complicated. As someone who has been called a "Stalinist" for more than half of my adult life(all Communists pretty much are) I usually say that I am not a "Stalinist" and in terms of making any major contribution to the theory of Marx and Lenin neither was Stalin
    I disagree with Phil and John Case also about the longterm viability of the NEP. It would not have led to the development necessary to sustain the Soviet Union in my opinion. At the same time, I believe that Stalin's use of massive force to repress the Kulak rebellion had disastrous consequences. Lenin or a much more sophisticated collective leadership would have retreated at that point, without abandonning the core principles of the five year plan.
    But rather than go on and on about the history, let me say to Phil and others that would we should be doing is to make Marx, Lenin's and Lenin the foundation of our understanding of revolutionary socialism or communism and then bring in others, Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh, Mao Tse-tung, Chou En-lai, for that matter Fabian Socialists like Nehru of India and others, look at their achievements and failures, and try to apply that creatively to our struggles in the U.S.
    As for Bukharin, we should remember that many of the points Phil makes in his defense(and his writings are of real value) was made by Gorbachev, who sought to use him to advance Gorbachev's policies. Gorbachev isn't someone who we are any other advocate of socialism can learn from in any postive way

    Posted by norman markowitz, 03/02/2011 6:48pm (7 years ago)

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