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R. Fahan

Stalinism: The Murder Machine Adds Two Victims

(March 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 12, 22 March 1943, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Stalin has added two additional victims to the long list of working class leaders whom he has murdered – this time, Ehrlich and Alter, the Polish-Jewish socialist leaders. It has become a sort of gruesome roll of working class honor, this list of martyrs who fell before Stalin’s firing squads. And anyone with a spark of socialist idealism still burning inside of him, or anyone with just a bit of plain human decency, must have been filled with a sense of indignation when the news of this latest of Stalin’s murders was broadcast. The death of Ehrlich and Alter has, of course, a significance far beyond the fact that they, the two individuals, the two leaders of Polish socialism, are no more. (That, too, let it be said, is important: human life, we socialists must reassert, DOES have value, is not merely the pawn of omnipotent states and rulers.)

The special significance of this latest frame-up and murder is in the fact that it comes at the very time that the popularity of Stalin’s regime with the liberals and intellectuals of this country is at its peak, at the very time when there are whole brigades of apologetic whitewashers painting the Stalinist regime as the model of socialism and democracy and depicting Stalin as a mellow, wise and silent genius.

The murder of Ehrlich and Alter interrupts the completion of the movie, Mission to Moscow, which is scheduled to be the apology par excellence for the Moscow Trials specifically and the Stalinist dictatorship generally.

Bigger and More Fantastic the Lie

The details of the Alter-Ehrlich case have been reported previously in this paper. All that needs concern us is this: Alter and Ehrlich were two internationally known socialist leaders, men of unquestioned integrity. When the Polish government fled they organized workers’ resistance to the Nazis. Captured by Stalin’s armies, they were thrown into one of the concentration camps which the “workers’ state” has established. From THERE – how ironic in retrospect! – they urged the Polish workers to support Stalin’s war effort. Part of their manifesto was even printed in Pravda. Yet, last winter they were murdered by the Stalinist state. The partial political capitulation which their support of Stalin’s war represented availed them little; it was double or nothing with Uncle Joe.

Ambassador Litvinov and his American parrot, the Daily Worker, now say that they were agents of the GPU and “pro-Nazis.” (When Stalin was still in league with Hitler, Alter and Ehrlich were accused of being agents of the Sikorski Polish government!)

Why were Alter and Ehrlich killed? It is difficult to give a categorical answer. Undoubtedly they knew too much; they had seen too much of the erstwhile collaboration of Stalin and Hitler. Of course, no one, including the Stalinists themselves, takes seriously the nonsense about Ehrlich and Alter being Nazi agents. That kind of propaganda is based on Hitler’s principle: the bigger and more fantastic the lie, the more people will believe it.

A more fundamental reason, for the murder of these two Polish socialists is, we believe, this: They were ideological opponents of Stalinism within the working class movement, the existence of which opponents Stalinism refuses to admit. The Stalinists refuse to admit the possibility of honest, sincere disagreements within the working class. Either knuckle under to Stalinist domination, that is to say, give up the right to think for yourself or else face slander, calumny, assassination and, if you happen to reside in the “workers’ state,” imprisonment and death. Those who dare to dissent (there is no such word in the Stalinist dictionary!) will be called pro-Nazis or some such drivel. What does the truth mean to such people? ... There is always the firing squad to fall back on.

Despite the appeals of the American labor movement, of Wendell Willkie and many others, Stalin found it necessary to slaughter these two socialists. He has shown here once more for all to see – and let us not be the last to learn this! – that his regime has nothing in common with decency, justice or democratic methods, not to mention socialism. There wasn’t even a pretense at holding a trial or presenting evidence in this case: the “Holy Father” has spoken – and that should be enough for the faithful.

Stalinism – A Product of Corruption

Stalin has shown here that his regime, in its political methodology, differs in no essential respect from fascism and Hitlerism. They are both the products of decay and corruption. Only, fascism is utilized by capitalist society as a means of survival while the working class must destroy Stalinism if it is to survive as a free movement. Both have developed similar methodology, ethics and totalitarian approach; even though they differ with regard to the structure of their economic organization and their social origin.

Alter and Ehrlich apparently stood up as men, choosing death rather than the prostitution of their ideas. For that, despite the gravity of the differences which we have with those ideas, we cannot pay them too high honor. Let their tragic death be a lesson to those who allow themselves be swept away by the military victories of Stalin’s armies: Stalinism is the corruption, the totalitarian poison which has grown up in a working class disheartened by an epoch of defeats. Stalinism is not socialism; it is its very opposite. Stalinism is not a “workers’ state”; it is a workers’ prison, a prison of both the workers’ bodies and minds.

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