Duncan Hallas

Communism and Stalinism
On John Gollan’s Socialist Democracy Some Problems

(March 1976)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.87, March-April 1976, pp.25-9.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Just over 20 years ago this month (to be precise, on the 24th and 25th February 1956), Nikita S. Khrushchev, then First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, delivered his “secret speech” to the twentieth Congress of the CPSU.

In this specch, as John Gollan, ex-General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain, states in the January issue of Marxism Today, Khrushchev “exposed the crimes and mass repressions of the Stalin era”. [1]

Why, after this interval of time in which so much has happened, should revolutionary socialists be concerned with what Khruschev said or what Stalin did? For most of those active in the revolutionary movement today Khrushchev is a vague memory and Stalin belongs to the dim past. What relevance have either of them to today’s problems?

Stalin is dead but Stalinism is very much alive. The problem of Stalinism is not, unfortunately, merely historical. It is involved with basic issues facing socialists today.

John Gollan conjures up again the ghosts of Stalin and Khrushchev in the hope of finally exorcising these troublesome spectres. But in the process he inevitably brings into question his party’s attitude to Brezhnev’s Russia.

The broadest unity

We seek the transition to socialism by democratic political struggle. Indispensable for this is the unity of all socialists and communists in the Labour movement, and the defeat of right wing influence in the movement.
(John Gollan, Marxism Today, January 1976)

It is clear enough why John Gollan and his colleagues feel the need to distance themselves from the Stälinist heritage. They seek, as the party programme – The British Road to Socialism – puts it, to strengthen “the left trends in the Labour Party. We believe that the struggle of the socialist forces to make it a party of action and socialism will grow and that the growth of the Communist Party will help this development. When the Labour Party rejects reformism, moves into the attack on capitalism, ends the bans and proscriptions against the left, it will ensure itself a vital role in the building of socialism.” [2]

If pigs could fly! But to the extent that this perspective is taken seriously – and it is taken very seriously indeed by the CP leaders – the need is for the CP to draw ever closer to the Tribunites, to overcome the heritage of the past, the suspicions that the CP is out to swallow its Left Labour allies and to destroy “democracy”.

That being so, there is a very real difficulty. The British Road proclaims: “Today socialism is a reality for all to see. Countries with populations of hundreds of millions are socialist states.” [3] But, as Eric Heffer, a representative Labour “Left”, points out in a recent article, “Soviet dissidents are being thrown into prison, incarcerated in mental institutions with. authors being expelled from their country, and Jews living under a cloud, and where there is no freedom of movement or any of the freedoms which are vital to a democratic socialist society.” [4] The “reality for all to see” is not an attractive one.

There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of Gollan’s distaste for such things. “Our party,” he writes, “has argued repeatedly that such views (i.e. those of the dissidents – DH) should be dealt with politically and not by legal actions, expulsions from the country or confinement in psychiatric institutions.” [5] So “our party”, or at any rate its leadership, is well aware of how political (and religious) dissidents are in fact dealt. with in the USSR today.

But why are they so treated? What sort of society is it in which the rulers feel it necessary, habitually and as a matter of routine, to lock-up or expel their critics? What tremendous social tensions do they fear? Why, nearly 60 years after the revolution, is the USSR a more repressive state than the USA?

Khrushchev; 20 years ago, had an answer of a kind to these obvious questions. Gollan considers it inadequate, as it most certainly is, but at least Khrushchev started from some facts. Let us remind ourselves of them.

The cult of the personality

The genius and will of Stalin, the architect of the rising world of free humanity, live; on for ever in the imperishable monument of his creation – the soaring triumphs of socialist and communist construction; the invincible army of states and peoples who have thrown off the bonds of the exploiters and are marching forward in the light of the teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin.
(R Palme Dutt in Labour Monthly, April 1953)

It is clear that here Stalin showed in a whole series of cases his intolerance, his brutality and his abuse of power. Instead of proving his political correctness and mobilising the masses, he often chose the path of repression and physical annihilation, not only against actual enemies, but also against individuals who had not committed any crimes against the party and the Soviet Government.
(N.S. Khrushchev, Report to 20th Congress of the CPSU, February 1956)

Khrushchev’s 1956 speech was a bombshell. In it, he denounced Stalin as responsible for gigantic crimes and blunders never before admitted. Significantly, the speech has not, to this day, been published in the USSR. One of the “benefits” of the “continuing process of development of Soviet democracy” (as Gollan puts it) has been the keeping from the working class “with power in its hands” (again, as Gollan has it) of the unpleasant facts revealed by Khrushchev! Ordinary members of the British CP are now permitted to know something of such matters. Ordinary members of the CPSU, let alone ordinary citizens of the USSR, are not.

“He (Stalin – DH) discarded the Leninist method of convincing and educating,” said Khrushchev, “he abandoned the method of ideological struggle for that of administrative violence, mass repression and terror ... Mass arrests and deportations of many thousands of people, execution without trial and without normal investigation created conditions of insecurity, fear and even desperation.” [6]

And again: “Thus, Stalin had sanctioned in the name of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) the most brutal violation of socialist legality, torture and oppression, which led as we have seen to the slandering and self-accusation of innocent people.” [7]

Mass repression, terror, torture, execution without trial, mass arrests and deportations: this, on Khrushchev’s admission, was the reality in the “land of socialism and peace” in Stalin’s time.

The leader; of the British CP, like their counterparts all over the world, had vehemently denied it. They had defended Stalin, they had exalted Stalin. They had heaped abuse on Stalin’s victims and on the “Trotskyite wreckers” in Britain and elsewhere who ventured to point out the truth.

Stalin could do no wrong in their eyes. Of the extermination of the old Bolshevik leaders in the infamous Moscow show trials in 1936-38, Harry Pollit, then General Secretary of the CPGB, wrote: “the trials in Moscow represent a new triumph in the history of progress”. [8]

The confessions, in which the accused declared that they had planned all manner of crimes on the orders of the arch-demon Trotsky in order to “restore capitalism” in the USSR, were proclaimed to be the absolute truth and anyone who doubted it was most viciously slandered.

“And how is it possible that a person confesses to crimes which he has not committed?” asked Khrushchev; and he gave the answer. “Only in one way – because of application of physical methods of pressuring him, tortures, bringing him to a state of unconsciousness, deprivation of his judgement, taking away of his human dignity. In this manner were confessions acquired.[9] (my emphasis – DH).

But, it may be asked, why go over all this again? John Gollan now admit~the truth in the CP’s official theoretical journal. “We had accepted the position in the Soviet Union in the Thirties, taking the public trials at their face value, and not knowing the facts about the mass repressions. We were rarely critical of deficiencies ... It is easy to see in retrospect that we were wrong.” [10]

Deficiencies? Mass repression, torture, execution without trial, mass deportations and the rest: these are deficiencies? What a delicate way of expressing it! Nor were the British CP leaders “rarely” critical. Not one word of criticism ever escaped their lips while the “great leader and teacher” was alive.

However, at least Gollan admits that he and his colleagues were quite wrong about Russia then, although he cannot bring himself to say bluntly that the Trotskyist and other critics of Stalin were right about the facts at the time. But what about Brezhnev’s Russia now?

There is, I believe, a Jewish saying: “Deceive me once; shame on you. Deceive me twice; shame on me.” Those who, on their own showing, were so completely wrong in the past ought to be doubly vigilant today. Yet Gollan’s article, in spite of a number of cautious criticisms, is very, very far from being a candid examination of Russian reality.

But to return to Khrushchev. Stalin and the “cult of the personality” were responsible, in Khrushchev’s version of events, for the mass repressions, the “violation of Soviet legality”, the torture and the terror.

One man wrought all this havoc. One man-surely he must have had superhuman power? This is the “great man” theory of history carried to the nth degree! :Even Gollan is moved to uneasy protest: “Khrushchev’s so-called secret report to the Congress was a courageous act. But it was fragmentary and discursive with little analysis.” [11] Little analysis indeed. And yet there was an analysis of a sort in Khrushchev’s speech.

It amounts to this. Up to 1934 Stalin led a correct and necessary struggle against oppositions of left and right and established the foundations of socialism in the USSR. After 1934 he went bad, or went mad, murdered many of his closest colleagues and established a reign of terror which lasted until his death (1953) and the seizure of power by Khrushchev and his friends.

It is an explanation which may satisfy adherents of the “bad King John” school of history. The standpoint of historical materialism, however, requires something more: an explanation of the social basis of Stalin’s tower.

The origins of Stalin’s greatness

In the propaganda against these principles of socialist advance, the terms Stalinism and anti-Stalinism have been spread by the enemies of Communism, and found echoes among some Communists ... Stalin stood for and defended the basic principles of Socialism. That was his great positive achievement, while his errors, alien to Marxism, were his negative, secondary side. Those who use the term Stalinism in attacking the causes, in effect repudiate the whole of Stalin’s work and the achievements of the Soviet Union under his leadership.
John Gollan, Report to the 25th (Special) Congress of the CPGB, 1957)

“Some comrades may ask us,” said Khrushchev in 1956, “where were the members of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee? Why did they not assert themselves against the cult of the individual in time? And why is this being done only now?

“First of all we have to consider the fact that members of the Political Bureau viewed these matters in a different way at different times. Initially, many of them backed Stalin actively because Stalin was one of the strongest Marxists and his logic, his strength and his will greatly influenced the cadres and party work.

“It is known that Stalin, after Lenin’s death, especially during the first years, actively fought for Leninist theory and against those who deviated ...

“At that time Stalin gained great popularity, sympathy and support. The party had to fight those who attempted to lead the country away from the correct Leninist path; it had to fight Trotskyites, Zinovievites and rightists, and the bourgeois nationalists. This fight was indispensable.” [12]

This was also Gollan’s view in 1957 and it is his view today. “Stalin’s role and that of’ his supporters in routing the Trotskyist and right opposition was undoubtedly of great historical significance” [13] he tells us.

What did this struggle signify in fact? “A political struggle is, in its essence, a struggle of interests and forces, not of arguments” [14] noted Trotsky.

The debate about “socialism in one country” was no exception. What was at stake was not Stalin’s alleged defence of “Leninist theory” – an absurd view, as Lenin had repeatedly spoken of the impossibility of socialism in an isolated and backward Russia. [15] What was at stake was what class was to control the surplus social product, that is to say, what class was to rule Russia.

The working class that made the October revolution with the support of the peasant masses was, by the end of the civil war, in an advanced state of disintegration. Always a small fraction of the population – 5 million out of 160 million on the broadest definition, 3 million on a narrower one (industrial workers in modern, i.e., non-handicraft, production), it was down to around a million, less than one per cent of the population, by 1921.

The facts are well enough known and are set out in some detail in, for example, the second volume of Carr’s History. [16] For our purpose it is sufficient to note that the mass flight of industrial workers from the towns and reversion to the status and occupation of peasants [17], a consequence of the disruption of Russia’s slender industrial base by civil war and foreign intervention, destroyed the original basis of the soviet power. The declining working class inevitably lost direct political power; the soviets withered, the transition was made “from the Commune-State of 1917 to the party dictatorship of late 1918”. [18]

The party became the trustee for a working class that, temporarily it was hoped, had become incapable of managing its affairs. But the party itself was in no way immune from the immensely powerful social forces generated by industrial decline, low (and falling) productivity of labour, cultural backwardness and barbarism.

The new state machine, forged in civil war, resembled the Commune much less than it resembled the Czarist state machine, and indeed it consisted to a considerable extent of the same people. This machine soon developed a momentum of its own.

“If we take Moscow with its 4,700 Communists in responsible positions,” said Lenin in 1922, “and if we take that huge bureaucratic machine, that gigantic heap, we must ask: who is directing whom? I doubt very much whether it can truthfully be said that the Communists are directing that heap. To tell the truth, they are not directing, they are being directed.” [19]

Worse, the party itself was deteriorating. Its Eighth Congress (March 1919) noted: “Elements which are not sufficiently communist, or even directly parasitic, are flowing into the party in a broad stream. The Russian Communist Party is in power, and this inevitably attracts to it, together with the better elements, careerist elements as well.” [20]

And the conclusion? “A serious purge is indispensable in Soviet and party institutions” [21] (the emphasis in original). The term purge did not, of course, then have the sinister connotation it was to acquire under Stalin. It was a question of excluding from the party, which had grown from 115,000 in early 1918 to 313,000 by the 1919 Congress, a mass of careerists and former supporters of parties hostile to communism. In the event there was no effective purge, in spite of repeated calls – not least from Lenin until October 1921. By this time numbers had risen to 650,000 and were then reduced to 500,000.

In this swollen party, nine-tenths of whose members had not held party cards in October 1917, the role of the party machine, the apparatus, the General Secretary’s office and its agencies, grew even faster than the membership. Instead of the party democratising the state machine, the state machine increasingly bureaucratised the party. Indeed the two increasingly merged; first at the highest levels and, then, to some degree, at all levels. All this, remember, on the basis of economic decline and a shrinking working class.

This was the context of Lenin’s struggle, in the last year of his life, against bureaucratism and of his proposal that Stalin be removed from the General Secretaryship. [22] Significantly, Stalin and his associates celebrated Lenin’s death with the enrolment of a mass of new party members, taking the total up to 911,000, an action that inevitably strengthened the apparatus and its chief: Joseph Stalin.

Stalin rose to a position of great power, though not yet to supreme power, as the spokesman and guardian of the interests of the apparatus men – like the young Khrushchev – which is why Khrushchev praised his role “especially during the first years”, which is why the apparatus “backed Stalin actively”.

In an article written soon after his exile (1929), Trotsky summarised the social significance of the development: “after the conquest of power, an independent bureaucracy differentiated itself out from the working class milieu and this differentiation, (which) was at first only functional, then later became social. Naturally, the processes within the bureaucracy developed in relation to the way profound processes under way in the country. On the basis of the New Economic Policy a broad layer of petty-bourgeoisie in the towns re-appeared or newly came into being. The liberal professions revived. In the countryside the rich peasant, the kulak, raised his head. Broad sections of officialdom, precisely because they had risen up above the masses, drew close to the bourgeois strata and established family ties with them. Increasingly, initiative or criticism on the part of the masses was viewed as interference ... The majority, of this officialdom which has risen up Over the masses is profoundly conservative ... This conservative layer, which constitutes Stalin’s most powerful support in his struggle against the opposition, is inclined to go much further to the right, in the. direction of the new propertied elements, than Stalin himself or the main nucleus of his faction.” [23]

The NEP, from 1921 to 1928, produced a certain economic revival, slowly at first and then more quickly, until, by 1926-27 the economic levels of 1913 had been reached again and, in a few cases, exceeded.

Introduced as an avowed but unavoidable retreat from War Communism, its basis was the reintroduction of private trade, the substitution of a tax in grain for forced requisitioning from the peasantry, the toleration of a growth of small scale capitalist manufacture, the strict enforcement of the principle of profitability in most of the nationalised industries and strict financial orthodoxy, based on a gold standard, to impose the discipline of the market on public and private enterprises alike.

But the undoubted economic recovery, achieved by capitalist or quasi-capitalist measures, had social consequences of its own.

And now the cities we ruled over assumed a foreign aspect; we felt ourselves. sinking into the mire-paralysed, corrupted ... Money lubricated the entire machine just as under capitalism. A million and a half unemployed received relief- inadequate relief-in the big towns Classes were reborn under our very eyes; at the bottom of the scale, the unemployed receiving 24 roubles a month; at the top, the engineer (i.e., the technical specialist – DH) receiving 800; and between the two, the party functionary with 222, but obtaining a good many things free of charge. There was a growing chasm between the prosperity of the few and the misery of the many ... [24]

In these circumstances, though it experienced a numerical recovery, the working class did not revive politically – or did not do so on a scale sufficient to shake the power of the bureaucrat, the Nepman and the kulak. The whip of mass unemployment – produced by financial orthodoxy – must have been a major factor.

The Left Opposition from 1923, and later the United Opposition, pressed for the democratisation of the party, the curbing of the apparatus and a planned programme of industrialisation, financed by squeezing kulak and Nepman, to combat unemployment, revive the working class politically and so recreate the basis of soviet democracy.

“The material position of the proletariat within the country must be strengthened both absolutely and relatively (growth in the number of employed workers, reduction of the number of unemployed, improvement in the material level of the working class) ...” declared the Platform of the Opposition. “The chronic lagging of industry, and also of transport, electrification and buildiiig, behind the demands and needs of the population, of public economy and the social system as a whole, holds as in a vice the entire economic turnover of the country.” [25]

The programme of the Opposition challenged the material interests of all three of the classes which principally benefited from the NEP. And since “political struggle is, in its essence, a struggle of interests and forces, not of arguments”, the Opposition could not prevail without that revival of working class activity that was its sole possible basis of support. But that, in turn, was rendered extremely difficult in the social and economic conditions of the NEP, so long as the revolution remained isolated.

Stalin, chief and spokesman of the “conservative layer” of party and state officials, vigorously resisted both the demand for planned industrialisation and the demand for democratisation, as did his allies on the extreme right wing of the party, Bukharin and his friends. “Socialism in one country” was to be achieved at a snail’s pace. This was the social content of the Stalin faction’s struggle against “Trotskyites and Zinovievites” which Khrushchev praised and which Gollan still praises.

By 1928 the leading oppositionists and their followers had been thrown out of the party; many of them were in jail or in administrative exile. The last remnants of inner-party democracy had been destroyed. Gollan, though his subject is “Socialist Democracy”, has no protest to make. Never, after the expulsion of Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and the others at. the Fifteenth Congress of the CPSU in 1927, has any open dissent been expressed by any delegate at any Congress of the CPSU – not only in Stalin’s day but subsequently, up to and including the Congress now meeting in Moscow. But Gollan, apparently, still does not realise the significance of this fact. [26]

The significance of the Five Year Plan

No comrades ... the pace must not be slackened. On the contrary, we must quicken it as much as is within our powers and possibilities ... We are 50 or 100 years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this lag in ten years. Either we do it or they crush us.
(Joseph Stalin, Speech to Managers, February 1931)

By 1928 the NEP was entering its final crisis. Nepmen and kulaks had a vital interest in maintaining it and expanding yet further the concessions to petty capitalism, rural and urban. The members of the bureaucracy had no such vital interest. They had a vital interest only in resisting democratisation in party and state. They had allied themselves with the forces of petty-capitalism against the Opposition, against the danger of working class revival.

But when, with the Opposition crushed, the bureaucracy was faced with a kulak offensive, the “grain strike” of 1928, it demonstrated that its essential basis was state property and the state machine, neither of which had any organic connection with the NEP. It vigorously defended its own interests against its allies of yesterday.

The kulaks controlled practically all the marketable grain, the surplus over and above peasant consumption. Their attempt to force up prices by withholding it from sale forced the bureaucracy to resort to requisitioning. And once started on this course, which undermined the fundamental basis of the NEP, they were driven to take over the Opposition’s industrialisation programme in a most extravagantly exaggerated form, and to undertake the forced collectivisation of agriculture. The first Five Year Plan was launched.

Of it, John Gollan writes, “a great socialist industry was created and collectivisation carried through ... an historic achievement” though he adds “But it was accompanied by gross errors of compulsion and coercion, condemned by Stalin himself in his speech Dizzy with Success, bringing even more acute strains.” [27]

A great industry was certainly created, but a great socialist industry? If socialism, as Marx proclaimed, is the self-emancipation of the working class, then the Five Year planned marked the loss by the working class of whatever socialist elements remained in the USSR till then.

The last vestiges of trade union rights disappeared. This did not end working class resistance to speed up and wage cuts but it individualised it. “The Soviet trade unions firmly discouraged strikes, and behind the union stood the political police. Fluidity of labour was the substitute for strikes. The workers did not now coalesce to down tools. Indeed, the individual worker or millions of workers individually downed tools and left their places of work to hire themselves elsewhere.” [28]

The turnover of labour became by far the highest in the world. “At the beginning of the second Five Year Plan (1933) fluidity of labour was as widespread and severe as ever, even though sanctions introduced bar the meantime included the denial to ‘deserters’ of ration cards, living quarters and so on.” [29] (Food rationing had been introduced in 1929.) Soon “labour books” and restrictions on internal movement. reinforced these “sanctions”.

“Real wages fell sharply. Although money wages rose considerably, prices rose much faster. In general, meaningful statistics ceased to be issued after 1929 but one calculation, published in the USSR long after the event (1966), showed real wages as 88.6 in 1932 (1928 = 100). The correct real wage index, if only we knew it, would ... be well below 88.6” comments Alex Nove, the source of this information. [30]

Moreover it is in this period that the extreme inequality of wages within the workforce developed as a result of Stakhanovism and the government’s campaign against the sin of “egalitarianism”, a trend serving to further atomise the working class.

In agriculture the collectivisation by decree and the “liquidation of the kulaks as a class” resulted in a catastrophic fall in output. “The total harvest of grain, which had risen in 1930 to 835 million hundredweight, fell in the next two years below 700 million ... The number of horned cattle fell from 30.7 million to 19.5 million-that is, 40 per cent. The number of pigs, 55 per cent; sheep, 66 per cent. The destruction of people – by hunger, cold, epidemics and measures of repression – is unfortunately less accurately tabulated than the slaughter of stock, but it also mounts up to millions.” [31]

The collectivisation’s disastrous outcome sent a flood of starving ex-peasants into the towns, swelling the workforce but swamping the already inadequate housing, stock. And its sinister by-product was the creation of a vast network of forced labour camps, populated largely by ex-peasants but a most powerful deterrent for any dissent, camps that were to persist on a mass scale for more than 20 years.

Of course, the horrors of the first Five Year Plan period have to be seen in context. The English and Scottish peasantry too, were “liquidated as a class” in their time, and the casualties of the industrial revolution in Britain were certainly not lighter, proportionately to population, than in the USSR. But then, no-one has ever pretended that early Victorian Britain was a socialist society.

“In one generation the Soviet Union had achieved the social transformation to an industrial society which took three generations of UK and US history” says Gollan – and this is broadly true. “But with this profound difference: the industrial revolution was socialist” [32] which is not true at all.

On the contrary, this industrial revolution brought into being a society in which the working class and the collectivised peasantry were – and are – deprived of all effective political and trade union rights. Indeed events were soon to show that this was true even of the mass of the bureaucracy itself, economically privileged as it was and is.

It brought into being a despotism ruled by a despot who “became ever more capricious, irritable and brutal” (Khrushchev’s words; not mine) and left a heritage of repression which, even now, his successors cannot demolish (although they can and have modified it) for fear of the consequences. Their power, their privileges are indissolubly connected with the exclusion from power of the workers. What then, of Khrushchev’s reforms and those of his successors?

The collective leadership

It was determined that of the 139 members and candidates of the party’s Central Committee who were elected at the 17th Congress (1934), 98 persons, i.e., 70 per cent were arrested and shot (mostly in 1937-1938) ... The same fate met not only Central Committee members but also the majority of the delegates to the 17th Party Congress ... This was the result of the abuse of power by Stalin, who began to use mass terror against the party cadres.
(N.S. Khrushchev, Report to 20th Congress of the CPSU, February 1956)

How was it possible for Stalin to order the execution of the majority of the Central Committee, nominally the ruling party body between Congresses? Obviously because the totalitarianisation of the regime had, by the middle-Thirties, reached the point at which even the members of the highest party bodies were not only without power but even without personal. security.

“L’Etat; c’est moi,” Louis the Fourteenth is supposed to have said. Stalin could have said it with more truth. Nothing makes Khrushchev more indignant than Stalin’s murder of senior members of his own faction: Kossior, Rudzutak, Postychev, Kosarev, Chubar, Eikhe; all hardened Stalinists, all now “posthumously rehabilitated”.

“It is not excluded that had Stalin remained at the helm for another several months, Comrades Molotov and Mikoyan would probably have not delivered any speeches at this Congress.” [33] Evidently no-one was safe, and this was a profoundly unsatisfactory state of affairs for the senior satraps of the regime. Moreover, it was no longer “necessary”, once the extreme tension of the first stage of industrialisation was over.

They resolved to restore “socialist legality”, that is to say, to ensure that no new Stalin could get his boot on their necks and that their disputes be settled without shootings. This is the essence, of the doctrine of “collective leadership” as it is understood in the Kremlin.

Since 1953 Malenkov and Molotov were “peacefully” deposed by Khrushchev and he in his turn was “peacefully” deposed by Brezhnev and Kosygin.

However, this “collectivity” does not extend very far down. “Destalinisation”, though real, has been extremely limited. Essentially it is a matter of the personal security of the members of the ruling strata, of the substitution of an oligarchy for a despot. This has had, however, some. incidental benefits for the mass of the population.

“Till the revolution purified our institutions and our manners,” wrote a British Whig historian of the last century, “a state trial was merely a murder preceded by the uttering of certain gibberish and the performance of certain mummeries.” [34] Written of seventeenth century England, this is a singularly apt description of the show trials staged under Stalin. That, at least, has gone; and if it was done to safeguard the members of the ruling circle itself, its benefit to others is considerable.

So, still more, is the ending of forced labour on a mass scale. Camps still exist. Quite recently a wretched man was sent for a five year sentence to a “strict regime camp” for the “crime” of “printing and circulating Baptist literature, part of which was in defence of Baptist political prisoners”. [35] But the slave labour of millions is no longer a “normal” feature of the regime. The vast slave empire of the NKVD is no more.

Having said this, not much more can truthfully be credited to Stalin’s heirs. The regime is still, in essence, Stalinist. Brezhnev’s six hour address to the current Congress (by the way, Gollan regards the fact that “Congresses are now held every five years” as a step to democratisation’!) typifies it. No delegate – a misleading term since there are no genuine elections – will be so bold as to criticise any aspect of it.

As in Stalin’s day, all power is at the top. The difference is that it is held by a small group instead of one man. But the working class is still atomised, no labour movement is allowed to exist, let alone exercise power.

The editor of Marxism Today writes: “We feel confident that John Gollan’s article on Socialist Democracy – Some Problems will give rise to a far reaching discussion” and promises to print contributions. We too believe that such, a discussion is necessary. As a beginning, the columns of International Socialism are open to any member or sympathiser of the Communist Party who wishes to attempt to refute or correct what is written here or to develop alternative views.




1. John Gollan, Socialist Democracy - Some Problems, in Marxism Today, January 1976, p.4.

2. The British Road to Socialism (1968 edition), p.24.

3. The British Road to Socialism, p.17.

4. New Statesman 6.2.76, p.148.

5. Gollan, p.25.

6. N.S. Khrushchev, Special Report to the 20th Congress of the CPSU, quoted from Moscow Trials Anthology (New Park), p.18.

7. Khrushchev, p.27.

8. Quoted by Joseph Redman (Brian Pearce) in The British Stalinists and the Moscow Trials, in Moscow Trials Anthology, p.13.

9. Khrushchev, p.27.

10. Gollan, p.28.

11. Gollan, p.14.

12. Khrushchev, p.40.

13. Gollan, p.10.

14. Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, p.86.

15. E.g. “We are far from having completed even the transitional period from capitalism to socialism. We have never cherished the that we could finish it without the aid of the international proletariat.” Lenin, Collected Works, Vol.26, p.465. “The final victory of socialism in a single country is of course impossible.” ditto, p.470.

16. E.H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, Vol.3. See especially pp.194-400.

17. Carr, p.196.

18. P. Sedgwick, Introduction to Victor Serge’s Year One of the Russian Revolution, p.2.

19. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol.33, p.288.

20. Quoted by E.H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, Vol.1, p.212.

21. Ditto.

22. See Moshe Lewin, Lenin’s Last Struggle.

23. Trotsky, Writings 1929, pp.47-8.

24. Victor Serge, From Lenin to Stalin (Monad), p.39.

25. Platform of the Opposition (New Park), pp.35-6.

26. In fairness to Gollan, he does say “It was in this period 1923 to 1930 that the party partly through circumstances, but also because of Stalin s rigid thought on the party, became excessively centralised, and discussion of fresh developments, was curtailed.” p.11.

27. Gollan, p.10. Me prefaces his statement on “a socialist industtry” with the remark “the opposition line was defeated” conveying to the unwary the suggestion that the opposition had opposed industrialisation, a suggestion which he well knows is entirely untrue.

28. Deutscher, Soviet Trade Unions, p.88.

29. Ditto, p.90.

30. Alex Nove, An Economic History of the USSR, p.206.

31. Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, p.40.

32. Gollan, p.10.

33. Khrushchev, p.41.

34. Macaulay, Essays, p.333.

35. Intercontinental Press, 22.12.25, p.1822.


Last updated on 19.10.2006