Hal Draper


The Triangle of Forces

Notes on the Czech Coup

(April 1948)

From The New International, Vol. XIV No. 4, April 1948, pp. 111–115.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Stalinist coup de force in Czechoslovakia has had a double impact. On the one hand, it has greatly sharpened the tension between Washington and Moscow and raised a new wave of war fears. On the other, it has posed new questions about the nature of Stalinism and its potentialities outside of Russia itself.

It is the second of these that we wish to discuss here. In doing so, we necessarily face the difficulties of analyzing a phenomenon which is still in the process of developing; one thing which is certain is that Stalinism, both inside and outside of Russia, is not a finished social formation. It is not yet ready to sit for a leisurely portrait, as capitalism did for Marx in his time, but must be examined through snapshots taken in motion.

So also the full significance of fascism did not appear on the day after Mussolini’s “march on Rome.” That event did, however, destroy a great many illusions – as even a snapshot can – and it brought about a fair amount of the unlearning which is a precursor of knowledge.

In this sense, one aspect of the Czech events is perfectly clear. The view hitherto seriously held by some Marxists that the Stalinist parties are merely a variety of working-class social-reformism-parties whose mode of betrayal is capitulation to their own bourgeoisie at critical junctures – this view is given its quietus. It does not matter that the Socialist Workers Party (the official-orthodox-canonical Trotskyists), in its Militant, still writes that the Czech CP was “capitulating” to Benes and Masaryk. Such paranoiac politicians can now be left to their own hasheesh pipes without disturbing them with polemics.

Our own analysis of the Stalinist parties as both anti-working-class and anti-capitalist, as political representatives of the new bureaucratic-collectivist exploitive system of Russia, more than ever is confirmed as the starting point. This does not mean that it exhausts the problems raised by Stalinism in the modern world. The advantage of a Marxist analysis is that it is not thrown into a theoretical crisis of confusion by new events but rather given new material for its further development and clarification.


The mistake of the bewildered theoreticians of the Fourth International is curiously reflected in the strategy of the Benes-Masaryk Realpolitiker who touched off the coup. The National-Socialist and People’s Party representatives who precipitated the events by resigning from the government obviously expected that the parliamentary crisis so evoked would naturally be resolved according to the consecrated rules of the parliamentary game. They too (like our unfortunate SWP) thought they were playing with just another gang of bourgeoisified reformist politicians of unconventional origin.

What was revealed, instead was the pitiful impotence of the bourgeois democracy to stand up against Stalinism’s march to full power.

Democratic capitalism is simply not viable in Europe today. Masaryk mirrored its fate: its only elbow room even for a courageous gesture is in choosing the manner of its passing-away. Only armed force remains available for European capitalism to stem the advance of Stalinism – armed force organized internally in a militaristic Bonapartism merging into outright fascism (such as De Gaulle is preparing for France), or the direct employment of armed force such as may unleash the First Atomic War.

A western capitalism, so armed to the teeth and so maintained in artificial existence while Washington pumps Marshall plans through its veins (keeping it alive like the famous Carrel-Lindbergh chicken heart) – such a capitalism can gain even a historical reprieve only if eventually the capitalist colossus of the West defeats the bureaucratic colossus of the East at Armagedon. The legions of the degenerating Roman Empire also regularly defeated the. encroaching barbarians, but only because the victorious legions were legions of ... barbarians.

The theory of the lesser evil itself degenerates with capitalism. Is capitalist democracy Europe’s “lesser evil” as against totalitarian Stalinism? For the theory of the lesser evil to make even its usual sense, there must be two practical alternatives: for the lesser-evildoers are nothing if not “practical.” But capitalist democracy is not now a practical alternative even in the sense in which that notorious phrase is used by shortsighted opportunists.

Capitalism can remain democratic in form only as long as there is some remnant of social dynamism left in the old system. In Europe it is spent, and is now overdrawing its account. There is only one social force in old Europe whose interests are both anti-capitalist and anti-Stalinist and which therefore has the social power to cut itself loose from the symmetrical totalitarianisms on east and west. That is the working class.


Everything hinges on the fighting capacity of the European working class. That is why one examines the Czech events for the play of forces within the working class during the crucial period of Stalinism’s reaching-out for power, though we will see why the picture so gained cannot yet be a definitive one.

What is perfectly dear, again, is negative. Those sections of the Trotskyist movement which, in the, past couple of years especially, have put forward the slogan “Communist Party to power!” as a correct strategy for Europe; which have maintained that this slogan is not different from nor less correct than the British version “Labor Party to power!” – these face the complete bankruptcy of their politics.

The theory behind this slogan was that it was a mere repetition of Lenin’s “Oust the capitalist ministers!” in 1917. The theory was that the Communist Parties of Europe, being basically social-reformist, would certainly “expose themselves” either by refusing to take power (like the Mensheviks and S-Rs of 1917) or, if they were compelled to take power (like the German Social-Democrats of 1918–19), by merely administering the capitalist machinery in a compromise with the bourgeoisie.

The Czech CP took power and “ousted the capitalist ministers.” If the SWP therefore deduces that the Stalinists “must be” capitulating to Benes and Masaryk, it is because the events of life cannot contradict deductions from “first principles” – in theology.

What is more important is a second corollary of the “CP to power!” slogan. This was the claim that the taking of power by the CP would produce such a wave of responsive enthusiasm and revolutionary elan (due to the workers’ illusions about the Stalinists’ revolutionary character) that the resulting mass upsurge from below would build up an insurrectionary wave from the grass roots which would roll over the heads of the Stalinists themselves, which the Stalinists would be powerless to stem. Indeed, for this reason the CP would be unwilling to take power in the first place, for fear of awakening the sleeping giant. So the theory went.

The slogan was wrong and the theory was false: the Stalinists are not simply social-reformists but anti-capitalist and totalitarian as well as anti-socialist. The tactics that applied to Kerensky and Ramsay MacDonald could not be mechanically applied to Gottwald and Thorez. The Czech experience now demonstrates in life that the second corollary was false also. There was no such revolutionary wave from below unleashed by the Stalinist coup.


But did not the press reports indicate that what took place in Czechoslovakia was indeed a revolutionary rising resembling the great October Revolution in Russia in 19l7? So went the intimations of the bourgeois press. Wasn’t there a general strike, weren’t there “soviets,” didn’t the working class support the Stalinist coup? In short, wasn’t the CP road to power in Czechoslovakia essentially the same as that of Lenin and Trotsky in Russia?

It is easy to see why the bourgeois commentators should be unable to understand, or be uninterested in, the differences between the Czech coup and the proletarian revolution: both are anti-capitalist, and the bourgeoisie is less concerned with the motivation of its despoiler than with the fact of its spoliation, like other victims. But among radicals the question has led to two quite opposite interpretations of the events. These are:

  1. The Czech CP was losing influence among the workers; the masses were turning against Stalinism to such an extent. that the coup de force was necessary in order to forestall its ouster from power. (See Rudzienski’s article in this issue.)
  2. The overwhelming majority of the working class actively and enthusiastically supported the CP; and this must make us question the role of the working class in the struggle for socialism. [1]

The evidence available does not justify either of these views. But whether one surmises that the CP was losing proletarian support or had it tucked away in a vestpocket, it is not this question which leads to the greatest insight into the play of class forces in Czechoslovakia. It is quite probable, to say the least, that the majority of the working class was still overwhelmingly pro-CP in sentiment, in the sense and for the reasons discussed in the next section. But from the viewpoint of examining the nature of Stalinism, what deserves attention is the fact that the actual role of the working-class mass in the events was essentially a passive one.

Was It a Proletarian Revolution?

The Marxist views of proletarian revolution have been so overlaid by Stalinism that this comment requires explanation today.

In the first place, there is no evidence of the entrance en masse of the Czech working class onto the stage of action in the fashion that has characterized every real proletarian revolutionary upsurge – whether one that was more or less spontaneous or one that was organized and planned (like the Russian October). The first two installments of Victor Serge’s book, now running in The New International, are enough to show the vital difference.

What has characterized them all is the fact that – all the way down to layers of the working class that may not have previously known even elementary organization, all the way down to raw, backward, even unpoliticalized strata – the working class in its mass became not merely spectators of the doers and movers on top (applauding or disapproving, i.e., “supporting” or “not supporting”) but themselves became the doers and actors, the movers and shakers, a class in motion. That is the meaning of Trotsky’s remark, in his biography of Stalin, that during the October days that shook the world, the Bolshevik Central Committee lagged behind the masses’ action; that is why Lenin felt it was so desperately urgent that the insurrection not be delayed lest the floodtide of the masses’ upsurge be missed. For Lenin it was not he who was “setting the date” for the revolution.

The proletarian revolution never has been ridden like a bridled horse but only like a whirlwind. It has unleashed wild energies, which the revolutionists have tried to “lead.” It is a bureaucratic view of the relation between proletarian revolution and the revolutionary party which finds it merely in the fact that the masses “support” the latter. Before October the Russian masses supported Kerensky and therefore, insofar as they did, did not exercise their class strength from below, did not seize arms, did not seize the land, did not demonstrate. The Bolshevik victory was not sealed merely because the masses switched their “support” but because the masses did throw off these shackles from on top and acted in their own name. When this happened they became Bolsheviks.

In the Czech coup of the Stalinists there was not a whiff of this heart-and-soul of the proletarian socialist revolution, the characteristic moreover which gives the revolution its overwhelmingly democratic impulsion.

Gottwald’s Action Committees had no more resemblance to soviets than the elections in Stalinist Russia have to soviet democracy. The soviets were revolutionary rank-and-file councils, representative institutions whose function was precisely to involve the broadest strata of the masses in the tide of action. The Czech Action Committees were apparatus shock troops of carefully picked Stalinist supporters, whose function was to seize levers of control behind the backs of the masses; organized without the democratic participation of the masses, and turned on and off like a faucet.

Of this mold are the cadres of a putsch or the stormtroops of a counter-revolution. If the Action Committees had had the slightest resemblance to soviets, they could not have been packed up the day after the coup like a fire brigade that is no longer needed.

So also with the rest of the CP’s “mass action from below” – the union resolutions, delegations and herded demonstrations; and the hour-long general strike (whether it was complete as some reports say, or ragged as do others) after which the workers went back to their benches, to read about the “revolution” in the evening papers.

Business As Usual

The Czech Stalinists did not topple the bourgeois power from below but snatched it at the tops, against the backdrop of staged demonstrations. Indeed, they had had the main levers of power in their hands since the “liberation,” though a minority in the cabinet. In this sense it was even less of an overturn than the Nazi seizure of power in Germany; and the CP’s methods were fitted to the task.

Side by side with the extra-legal force of the Action Committees and the terrorism of the Security Police went the maintenance of parliamentary forms. While a coup de force in actuality, it was carefully and systematically kept by the Stalinists within the forms of a constitutional change of government.

It would be quite wrong to believe that this was done only to deceive or placate Czech morons, foreign liberals, Wallaces or Archbishops of Canterbury. The preservation of parliamentary forms, and even of bourgeois captives and turncoats in the cabinet, served the far more important purpose of limiting the elbow room for the initiative of the masses, maintaining the air of “business as usual” rather than of revolution in the handing-over of the state machine to the new caretakers, keeping the masses from taking the center of the stage – avoiding precisely the outburst of that revolutionary élan which neither the new nor the old masters desired.


What accounted for this ability of the Stalinists to keep the working masses on the sidelines, to shepherd them to and from demonstrations in the midst of a power struggle, in the first place to gain the pro-CP sympathies of their majority? The reasons are neither new nor obscure.

  1. The starting point is the fact that the Czech workers, like the workers of most of Europe, have had their bellyful of capitalism and in their vast majority look with hope only to socialism. This is the rockbottom basis of the attraction of the working class toward the CP, as the only party of meaningful size which claims to be for socialism, as the party which still sports the mantle of the greatest revolution in the history of man. That illusion has not ceased to dazzle.
  2. But still, after all that has happened, cannot the workers see through the CP? Cannot they see the horribly brutal totalitarianism of the Russian slave system and take warning? Can they really have any illusions about the “socialist” character of the earth’s most monstrous prison house of the proletariat? Can they be that “stupid”?

    It is only liberal snobs who can try to understand the complex situation in terms of the workers’ “stupidity.” Especially in Eastern Europe, where capitalism is not only bankrupt (it is that in America too in another sense) but visibly in shambles and putrefying at a terrific rate, where it has not only no attractive power but where no half class-conscious worker can dream of anything but burying it, where all this is not merely a matter of theory or opinion but of what is to be done today and tomorrow morning – what alternative is there for a worker who is attracted by the socialist protestations of Stalinism but repelled by its Russian reality?

    Cling to the bourgeois politicians – Benes &: Co., forever protesting their love and friendship for the Slav brother in the Kremlin? The whole impetus of the workers’ struggles in the past decades had been directed against these bourgeois politicians and against their known and old evils, and not against the new, still mooted, less tried evils of Stalinism. Throw up hands in futility and relapse into a non-political coma? It is easier to do this in America. A real socialist alternative? There can be no doubt of the great numbers who looked for one and the greater numbers who would; but there was no revolutionary socialist party in Czechoslovakia and none in sight before the bend in the road.

    In such an impasse arises, if not enthusiastic support for the Stalinists, then at least bewildered toleration of it or the sheer immobilization of uncertainty and confusion. Until a revolutionary socialist party of democratic Bolshevism takes root there is no way of squeezing out of the cul-de-sac.

In the Shadow of the Kremlin

  1. All that is common to much of Europe. In Czechoslovakia the Stalinists’ strength rested on more than their appeal to an alternative to capitalism. The country since the end of the war had been fully in the Russian orbit, a dependency of Russia. Every section of Czechoslovakia was aware of that; even the pro-Western bourgeois-democratic politicians gritted their teeth and vowed that “we have to get along with Russia,” “we cannot fight Russia,” etc. Up to now Russia has kept the country on a long leash; in one way, all that happened now is that the Kremlin has shortened the leash into a noose.

    But in Czechoslovakian reality, “we cannot fight Russia” became “we cannot fight the CP.” Or rather, that was a task which involved more than merely one’s opinion of the CP’s “brand of socialism,” but also the whole precarious and internationally complicated foundation of the country’s very existence.
  2. “We have to get along with the CP – can’t we perhaps use it?” This question arises quite apart from the opportunism of mere bandwagon jumpers, numerous as such are. If one cannot even try to fight it to a standstill, in a country where Russian power looms over all, then the best thing to do is to attempt to ride it and salvage what one can. In their own way and for bourgeois interests this is what Benes and Masaryk tried to do; this forlorn hope has its impress on working-class attitudes too. Besides – who knows? – maybe the Russians are slave-dealers and butchers and maybe that is the way communism had to develop in that backward country, but – cannot we hope that our Stalinists (who, after all, are Czechs and not Muscovites) may be different and “not so bad”?
  3. There are other ways of rationalizing support of Stalinism in spite of at least a partial appreciation of its nature. Especially where the only alternative seems to be the impossible one of a revived capitalism (and not a democratic one, to boot) the atmosphere is also created for the growth of the vicious concept of the “totalitarian stage of socialism”: Stalinism is bad, but maybe it is the necessary road through which we must pass to real socialism, through the progressive democratization of a Stalinist regime no longer threatened by capitalist encirclemen ...
  4. On the one hand, then, there is the tendency of sections of workers to support the CP because they believe the CP is for some kind of socialism. On the other hand, the socialist ideas held by such workers are themselves insensibly penetrated by the poison of Stalinism itself.

First among these poisonous concepts is the notion that the nationalization of industry is ipso facto socialistic, and that, given this much, complete socialism can follow if the regime is allowed to develop in peace. If the official theoreticians of the Fourth International can put forward their own variant of this syphilitic notion – nationalization equals workers’ state – rank-and-file workers may understandably fall victim to its cruder forms.

The other concept of Stalinism which is at hand to overlay the socialist thinking of the masses is the abandonment of the fundamental Marxist principle that socialism can be achieved only through the self-activity of the masses themselves and never handed to them from above by “leaders.” The ideology of Stalinism encourages the passivity of the mass in preparation for their coups.

What we have touched upon in these six points are not finished phenomena; the relative weight of each is still indeterminate. They are, however, forces at work in the absence of an organized revolutionary Marxist vanguard which indubitably played a role in a situation, such as that in Czechoslovakia, where the events took place under the shadow of Russian power, whether the Russian army was in the country or nor. To generalize the potentialities of Stalinism from this specific situation is quite a leap in the dark, more useful for rationalizing a preconceived conclusion than for scientifically exploring new ones. The Czech coup – to use a military figure – was essentially the straightening out of a salient in the Russian front in Eastern Europe, not a new advance into Europe.

There is no reason for Marxists to follow the panic-stricken impressionists who have just about decided that the working class is doomed to accept the Stalinist counterfeit as the good coin of socialism. We cannot close the door to fresh understanding of the phenomenon of Stalinism as it develops; but it is necessary to understand how workers, aspiring to socialist democracy, fall into bewilderment, uncertainty and uneasy passivity when they see before them no way to turn in order to effectuate their socialist ideals; while meanwhile the Stalinists assail their ears with a barrage of propaganda about their “new democracy.” Those who seize the opportunity to reject a working class in such an impasse for its “stupidity” are ten times more bewildered by events than the workers they scorn and a hundred times more impotent.


On the basis of such a state of passive acceptance, the Stalinists are in a position to do that in which they are past masters – to manipulate the masses. Their success is not due in the first place to mere skill and apparatus-juggling; it works only on the basis of a class which is not yet in motion, not in upsurge.

That is why the Stalinists themselves, for all the necessity they are under to gingerly use the club of working-class action against the bourgeoisie, do not themselves want to arouse the class in the manner of the Russian October. Like the bourgeoisie itself, they may be compelled to call on working-class action to take the stage to a greater or lesser extent, while seeking to keep it within limits. They can usually do so all the more freely in proportion as there is no organized working-class opposition to crystallize the anti-Stalinist democratic revolutionary forces, Insofar as this is true, and in circumstances vital for them, the Stalinists may be readier to take the long chance on being able to control the masses in movement than they showed themselves to be in Czechoslovakia. Where no alternative threatens, even the most reactionary bourgeois will most freely do likewise. The Czech events show that the CP’s perspective is to avoid unleashing the revolutionary initiative of the masses.

The Lesser Evil for the Bourgeoisie

Rather their aim is to manipulate the workers’ movement as a kind of Greek chorus in the wings. Their aim is no clean sweep of the old bourgeois state machine: on the contrary they have a real need to try to integrate into their own regime as many of the old political figures and bureaucrats as possible, to put them into new jobs as bureaucrats of the Stalinist power.

For the old bureaucrats (even for amenable bourgeois who are willing to accept careers as factory managers and technical intelligentsia) there is a personal “way out” in the Stalinist revolution which does not exist for the bourgeoisie as such – a personal way out which a proletarian socialist revolution does not offer, in its need to smash the old state machine and build a new one on a basis of proletarian democracy.

Thus the Stalinist bureaucracy in the new satellites is recruited from and absorbs the adaptable elements of the old regime. To this limited degree (again, we are speaking of a situation where it is impossible for capitalism to go on in the old way) the Stalinist revolution is the “lesser evil” for the bourgeoisie as compared with the socialist revolution.

The bourgeoisie has little interest in trying to mobilize the masses against the Stalinist usurpers – they still have reason to fear the masses even more. At no time, therefore, during the Czechoslovakian crisis did the “democratic” politicians dream of appealing to the people over the heads of Gottwald and Nosek; at no time did they stop counseling order, quiet, and reliance on the top parliamentary maneuvers.


This, to be sure, is exactly what should have been expected from these “defenders of democracy”; but the Czech situation itself raises the question, speculative but not farfetched in given circumstances, of what the working-class problem would be if the bourgeoisie had decided to take a stand.

What if Benes had resisted the Stalinist coup – or if not Benes, then De Gasperi in Italy or Schuman in France, perhaps pressed to resist by American imperialism? What if civil war were to break out – bourgeois democracy formally ranged on the one side, totalitarian Stalinism on the other?

The speculative problem deserves discussion not mainly in order to anticipate the future but for the light it throws on the class relationships engendered by the Stalinist advance. Just as the situation itself obviously recalls the line-up of the Spanish civil war, so also the main lines of the answer are provided by that experience.

In the Spanish civil war, behind each camp – the Loyalist bourgeois democracy (Azana) and totalitarian fascism (Franco) – loomed a rival foreign imperialism in the background. Trotsky and our movement took the stand of material support (not political support) to the Loyalist camp, while recognizing that such a policy could last only as long as the international imperialist rivalry remained a subordinate element and did not actually convert the Spanish war into a world war in which the former would be absorbed (like the case of Serbia in World War I).

But meanwhile, we said, the task of socialists is twofold: to defend democracy against fascism, but to seek to defend it by our own (i.e., revolutionary) methods – by building a proletarian power in the democratic camp and fighting behind the banner of that proletarian power, not under the political banner of the bourgeois democrats. The programmatic aim of the revolutionists in Spain was to turn the civil war into a revolutionary war, through the defense of democracy against fascism – in order to defend democracy against fascism, since in the last analysis only the proletarian socialist revolution could actually defeat the totalitarian threat. This last point was even truer in Czechoslovakia than in Spain, given the thin hair by which bourgeois democracy was already suspended.

The very comparison with Spain, however, raises the vital difference. In the Spanish civil war, the whole of the working class was actively, enthusiastically and consciously on the side of the Loyalist government. On the other side was capitalist reaction in its starkest form – fascism.

Not so in Czechoslovakia. At best the decisive sections of the working class were actively in neither camp, at worst at least passively supporting or tolerating the Stalinist coup – disoriented precisely by that characteristic of totalitarian Stalinism which blinds so many socialists who are far better educated politically than the Czech worker-in-the-street: namely, the fact that Stalinism is not only anti-socialist and anti-working-class but also anti-capitalist.

Not only is this no small difference, it is precisely this difference which makes the present situation in Europe so crucial a test of the necessity for Marxist reorientation, which characterizes the three-cornered social struggle of our day, and which we discuss in the next section.

In Czechoslovakia, the “Spanish policy” would mean a conscious effort to swing at least a vanguard of the proletariat toward an active anti-Stalinist position and into the anti-Stalinist camp, to organize a vanguard in that camp under its own class banner, its own class slogans and aims and methods – to break through working-class passivity not by acting as the “left wing” of Stalinist totalitarianism (the SWP form of suicide) but by organizing the proletarian resistance and taking over the leadership and hegemony of the anti-Stalinist struggle.


The CP victory in Czechoslovakia was not completely different from the totality of Russian expansion since the end of the war, but so many of its features and effects show differences in degree that it may (looking back upon it in a future year) stand out as a divide.

For there was a difference worth noting between the rape of Czechoslovakia and the way in which Russia grabbed its other East European satellites, the Baltics, Poland, etc. The latter countries were openly taken at the point of the Russian army’s bayonets (or in Yugoslavia, by Tito’s Stalinist army) whereas there was no Russian army on Czech soil in February. The Czech CP was not handed the government by a Russian general; it took over complete control under its own steam, so to speak. All the Stalinists needed in Poland et al. was a military conquest, not a state coup. In Czechoslovakia the open Stalinist dictatorship was won from within, not imposed from without.

But isn’t this a difference in superficial form only, in view of the factors already mentioned? The. Stalinists had intrenched themselves at the levers of the real state power while the Russian occupation army was still in the country, and the relationship of forces was already fixed when the last Russian soldier departed. The rest of the game was the working out of this gambit. And even after the Russians were gone, the shadow of the Kremlin determined the political climate of Prague; we have stressed that even the bourgeois politicians understood that Czechoslovakia was a dependency of Russia. Under these circumstances, does it make much difference whether or not a Russian regiment was around in the life?

The answer is clearly no, from the point of view of the Czech CP’s ability to take over once it had decided to (or once the Kremlin had decided). It was no gamble for them. But was it a dress rehearsal? Was it an experiment, under conditions where fumbling would be inconvenient but not fatal, in the mechanism of the Stalinist coup, from which other Stalinist parties could learn? The field trial of a road to power which would be more necessary, and might be more dangerous, farther to the west?

The Character of Our Epoch

It is enough to raise the question, since we are not crystal-gazing at the moment. Raising the question, not answering it, means politically that we recognize the emergence of the bureaucratic-collectivist empire as a bidder for the historic role of successor to a doomed capitalism. This much we have said before: if it is worth noting again, it is merely that Czechoslovakia has made the development a bit plainer.

The end of the Second World war has indeed ushered in a new stage in our epoch of wars and revolutions. In most of the world, and above all in Europe, it is no longer enough for working-class revolutionists to chart the lines of class struggle against capitalism in the assurance that every blow struck against capitalism is a blow for the socialist future. They face two enemies: a capitalism which is anti-Stalinist and a Stalinism which is anti-capitalist.

What has emerged into the light is a three-cornered struggle for power; it was implicit in Czechoslovakia; it is this utterly new constellation of social forces which disorients and confuses the working-class movement.

It is the recognition of this new stage which is the basis of the politics of the third camp, The alternative to it is support of capitalism (vide the reformists) or left-handed support of Stalinism (vide the Fourth International majority). From that dichotomy there is no escape to freedom.

That is why one of the frontiers of Marxism is today in the analysis of what is happening in Eastern Europe, where the old rulers and the new barbarism stand face to face, while the only force for a regenerated humanity, the working class, pauses in bewilderment.

Without the working-class struggle, no socialism: this is truer than ever before. What is not true is that anti-capitalist struggle automatically equals socialist struggle. The conscious planned intervention and leadership of a revolutionary Marxist party, anti-capitalist and anti-Stalinist, which has not been poisoned at its source by a false conception of the relation between socialism and workers’ democracy, is more than ever the key to the possibility of victory.



1. The article by Irving Howe in Labor Action of March 8, Observations on the Events in Czechoslovaki is a crass enough example of this reaction. Howe does not draw any theoretical conclusion about the role of the working class – he substitutes an exhortation to nourish the “flickering but still beautiful socialist dream” but his view of the relation between the working class and the Stalinist coup is there. It is that “the pattern of recent events makes quite clear that the Stalinists had the active support of the bulk of the workers and unions. OTHERWISE THEY COULD NOT HAVE SE1ZED POWER.” (My emphasis) If on the one hand the Stalinists cannot seize POWER against the working class, and on the other hand DID seize power with the active support of the workers, what we have here is not a “Stalinist coup” but a proletarian revolution unfortunately led by the CP – to be sure, a proletarian bureaucratic-collectivist revolution. Howe’s analysis is false, both factually and politically. In closing the door (“Otherwise they could not have taken power”) to that which is precisely the Stalinists aim: to take power from above. Whether we, in turn, can close the door the opposite – the possibility of the Stalinists taking power on the swell of a real revolutionary upsurge – will be considered below.

Last updated on 6 July 2017