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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  • Response to d. bester: I don't think time could be the only or even a main way to test a hypothesis of this nature.

    On Stalin, mistakes to say the very least, right?

    Posted by chuck m., 03/02/2011 6:03pm (7 years ago)

  • John, the idea that incremental reforms to bourgeois democracy will eventually make socialism, has had a long time to be proved right, and yet, hasn't been. Bourgeois democracy is a tool of class rule, and will never extend democracy into the workplace or threaten the interests of the rich. Just look at the Citizens United decision.

    The reformist idea also ignores the fact that capitalism is an unstable system with long-term trends towards the decline of the rate of profit and the concentration of capital. You can't ignore this material basis, especially since we are now at the beginning of an era of instability and crisis.

    Our predecessors in the Stalin period, and in every period, made mistakes. All humans do. The article points this out, although to figure out all the flip-flopping of the Comintern would surely take more than one article.

    However, I don't think they make any mistake in denouncing the capitalist money-managed fake democracy. That is the core of what they got right! And it is reflected in their best achievements, building unions and the CIO, fighting for racial equality, building class consciousness among the masses -- all of which were actions taken outside the bourgeois democracy and, generally, opposed by the bourgeois democracy.

    Posted by D. Bester, 03/02/2011 5:38pm (7 years ago)

  • Phil's article is a good introduction to a very large subject. Sorting through polemics within the communist, socialist and social democratic movements of the 20th century surrounding the Bolshevik Revolution can be a dense thicket indeed to navigate!

    The unfolding of that revolution following Lenin's death seems like a separate story at times. An industrial and social revolution ensued in the USSR, but also a series fo nightmares. It inherited an utterly failed state (the Tsarist autocracy and its social base in feudalism) with few public institutions of any value. Mechanisms of production, consumption and distribution, finance and common law, across a vast country were in complete disarray and confusion if they existed at all; food shortages were not infrequent because agriculture was in a shambles. The Stalin faction began murdering its opponents -- and got away with it; Hitler invades.

    As it turned out -- while failed state conditions permitted the Bosheviks -- the only coherent political force in Russia capable of saving the country -- to win, politically, it was the worst possible conditions for building socialism economically.

    In economic terms, the turn Lenin made toward the NEP in 1920, and subsequently rejected by Stalin, was the correct one. A Socialist or Communist minded political leadership cannot leap over historically necessary stages of economic development. Deng Chou Peng took the correct lesson.

    I think one of the most NEGATIVE things about all the attention paid to the Bolshevik example is that is focuses excessively on tactics in a failed state scenario. Up until the 1905 revolution was defeated, the RSDLP platform was to complete a democratic, bourgeois revolution in Russia abolishing feudal slavery a la Abraham Lincoln and the Dixie slave-owners.

    The failure of the democratic revolution in 1905 Russia had profound consequences. In the midst of the disaster of WWI, famine, pestilence and corruption no coalition with the weak liberal and bourgeois forces could be put back together.

    The democratic revolution has NOT failed here in the US, however. It has gone through several sharp contests emerging from each one with an economy a little more socialized, and a little more democratic -- meaning more participation and entitlement in political life than before.

    The errors of the Foster Soviet America tendency derive, IMHO, from simple enthusiasm widespread in the left in labor at the stunning reported progress Soviet workers were said to be making, but in political and economic conditions that were worlds apart. In my view both Foster and Gus Hall devoted their lives to the working class movement but also had serious sectarian tendencies -- but then, I too have had serious sectarian tendencies!!

    In some ways the sharp battles of industrial unionism, especially in the early days, from which both those folks came, and by whom I was trained as well, can promote a certain shortsightedness, or myopia about politics, alongside the virtues of steadfastness, unity, solidarity, and cooperation. The intensity of an immediate conflict can easily warp historical perspective.

    A longer view of US history shows many contradictions. MLK once said the arc of history bends toward justice. Perhaps "staggering toward justice" might be more accurate. But forward:

    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.

    The civil war ended slavery and greatly expanded the public domain in economic life.

    The Progressive era brought women into politics, and curtailed child labor

    The Roosevelt era greatly expanded working class entitlements.

    The civil rights era expanded popular democracy qualitatively.

    Now, we have before us what to do about "too big to fail", and what to do about "globalization", and what to do about the serious corruption of democracy by rising inequality and by the pay-to-play role that corporations and money are playing in elections.

    The democratic struggle is not complete. We still have not fulfilled, in economic terms, have not exhausted, the promises of bourgeois RIGHT and bourgeois EQUALITY, expressed from the working class point of view in the slogan:"from each according to his ability, to each according to their work," or in classical Enlightenment terms in the Declaration of Independence.

    Fulfill these promises, and the advance of socialism, in economic terms, will, I predict, take care of itself in due course.
    the road to democracy IS the road to socialism.

    Posted by John Case, 03/02/2011 11:51am (7 years ago)

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