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E.R. McKinney

Opening a Discussion on Czech Events

(10 May 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 19, 10 May 1948, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

We have received several contributions which disagree in varying degree with articles that have appeared in Labor Action on the Czechoslovak events. Because these events are of tremendous importance to the labor movement, and have stimulated a wide discussion on the problem of Stalinism, we have decided to open the columns of Labor Action to discussion. The article that begins below, and two others, will be printed in their entirety, inasmuch as they arrived before we set any limit on size. Further contributions will have to limit themselves to 1,000 words! Shorter articles are preferred. The New International is also throwing its columns open for discussion of this issue. Space requirements will not be as exacting in the NI. Insofar as it is practical to do so, we will try to devote a half page per issue to this and the Palestine discussion which also continues for the time being. Additional discussion articles will appear from time to time in the Workers Party bulletin, which can be ordered direct from the Workers Party. The letter column of LA is, of course, always open for discussion of any issue. In the letter column, however, the editors reserve the right to condense material to fit the space requirements of the paper. Articles contributed to the discussion column will not be altered in any way. If they exceed 1,000 words, they will simply be rejected.The Editors


(The following article was written three weeks before the Italianelections. It is being printed without changes or additions.)

I am writing this piece to discuss points of view expressed in Labor Action recently by Comrades Judd and Howe. The Judd article was his World Politics column for March 1, 1948. Comrade Howe’s article appeared in Labor Action for March 8 under the title, Observations on the Events in Czechoslovakia. It is my opinion that whereas there is a difference in the approach and point of view of Comrades Judd and Howe, both of them at bottom hold fundamentally similar positions. Furthermore, I believe that their analyses of the Czechoslovakian events are woefully inadequate, invalid in part, and more the product of a feeling of alarm than of sober and painstaking reflection. I believe the central theme of the Howe article to be totally inadmissible and must be rejected unceremoniously by the Workers Party. My purpose in writing this article is to validate these contentions and this position.

I will begin with the Judd article in Labor Action for March 1. Comrade Judd writes:

“The Stalinist road to state power is marked by the use of blackmail, threats, violence and coercion in every shape and form possible. Kidnapping and jailing of opposition leaders, bribery of Social-Democratic leaders ... police violence against opponents meetings ... Behind all this hovers the menacing shape of the Russian armed forces, able to invade and overwhelm the nation at will.

“But all these are techniques ... and as such are subordinate to factors far more important for socialists to grasp. These weapons alone could never put Stalinism in power in Czechoslovakia or, for that matter, anywhere else. Together with their use, Stalinism must (a) mobilize the working class of the country and (b) offer a political and social program that will actually mobilize the workers.”

What is Judd saying here? He is saying that Stalinism must depend on the working class if it is to have organizational and administrative success in a country. Not only must Stalinism get the support of the working class but it must have a “political and social program” which workers can support, or which workers think they ought to support. Judd says further:

“The greatest threat in the nature of Stalinism lies in its capacity (based upon organic need) to mobilize the working masses, in the name of a social program (nationalization) which appears to be revolutionary and progressive.”

That is, according to Judd, the political and social program utilized by the Stalinists to win the support of the masses is nationalization, the taking of the capitalists’ property and making it state property. Further on Judd writes:

“Capitalism, the bourgeoisie, capitalist parties cannot fight Stalinism successfully. Stalinism will defeat its opponents except where American imperialism is the counterfactor, in every case because the capitalist parties are politically and socially bankrupt and cannot halt the Stalinist mobilization of the people.”

The implication here is that the Stalinist parties are not bankrupt; they have a political and social program(nationalization) which gives them an appeal to the working class which the capitalist parties do not and cannot have.

The Decisive Point

Comrade Judd’s article bristles with difficulties. What does he mean by the “organic need” of Stalinism to mobilize the masses? And if Stalinism has this organic need and if Stalinism must present a political and social program to attract the masses and if Stalinist “techniques” are not sufficient, and if that political and social program is presented to workers in a way which wins their acceptance and support, then we are forced to accept one of several alternative conclusions: (1) We can accept Comrade Howe’s conclusions that the workers “... also support them (the Stalinists) because their conception of what socialism is has been debased and corrupted as a result of the cataclysmic declines and the barbaric experiences of recent history”; (2) that the Stalinists, to some degree bring real benefits to the workers of a country and improve their conditions;(3) the workers, say, of Czechoslovakia, are merely stupid and don’t recognize totalitarianism when they see it. Or they are not only stupid but so backward that they can be taken in by the Stalinist fraud about the “new democracies,” and “workers action committees” taking power in the name of the Czechoslovakian people. This isn’t all. If the Stalinists are successful in making their social program appear “revolutionary and progressive” we have to ask, how is this possible? If the Stalinists are able to make their reactionary program appear revolutionary and progressive to such relatively advanced workers as the Czech proletariat, how will genuine anti-Stalinist revolutionaries distinguish themselves from the Stalinists? If the Workers Party should be in such a situation how would we convince the workers that we were genuine, and the Stalinists totalitarian frauds who would cut their throats on the morrow? Isn’t it more likely that these workers would cut our throats today?

This is a decisive point. If the Stalinists are able to give real benefits to the workers before and after their “nationalization” then how can Stalinism be exposed to the mass of workers as an evil to be shunned? Are workers, as a group, expected to have made the Trotskyist analysis of Stalinism and be prepared to reject the Stalinist benefits because of their understanding of “socialism in one country,” the Moscow trials frameup, and all the various political zig-zags of Stalinism over the past 20 years?

I want to repeat, that in order to support the thesis that the workers of Czechoslovakia supported the Stalinist coup voluntarily, the proponents of this view must hold that previous to the coup the Stalinists had gained the support of the workers by answering their needs, or that these workers had become so thoroughly degraded that they could no longer distinguish between what is evil for them and what is good. This is not all; we have to know just at what point the Stalinists cease to do good by the workers and at what point the workers begin to understand this. This is a legitimate question because it is Judd’s contention that although the Stalinists use terrorist tactics in the seizure of power, this is not really the way they take power. They can only take power if they mobilize the masses around a political and social program which “appears” progressive. Let’s get the whole picture before us. Before the seizure of complete power the Stalinist already had virtual control of Czechoslovakia. Industry was already 75 per cent nationalized. The Stalinists had already been using “blackmail,” “threats,” “violence,” “coercion,” “kidnapping,” “bribery,” and “jailing.” This was one advantage they had. But added to this they had another advantage: in the midst of the use of the above-mentioned “techniques” the Stalinists were successful in presenting a social and political program to the workers which “appeared” not only “progressive” but “revolutionary.” Consequently the proletariat took to the streets voluntarily, under the Stalinist banner, in their own action committees and workers militia. They took over the factories and cast a menacing, and what they thought was a “progressive” glance in the direction of Benes. The remaining 25 percent of capitalist enterprise was nationalized, or at least the proletariat thought it was being nationalized. Simultaneous with all of this, according to the screaming and hysterical lead article in Labor Action for March 8, the Stalinists were also moving “rapidly to build their totalitarian state. Once they had decomposed and disintegrated the feeble resistance of the capitalist parties and the Social Democrats ... there was nothing to halt the Stalinist machine. All factories, newspapers, radios, means of communications, etc., are now firmly in the hands of the totalitarians. Elections have been postponed and will take place only when the results are entirely guaranteed.”

Again I have to ask some questions. Are we to understand that where the article above quoted says “totalitarians” the reference is to the action committees? Is the writer of the article saying that the workers continued to support the Stalinists after the coup and as the Stalinists “moved rapidly to build their totalitarian state?” My last question is; if the workers were voluntarily supporting the Stalinists, why is it necessary for the Stalinists to postpone the elections until the “results are entirely guaranteed?” There is another sentence in this article which reads:

“At the same time, he (Gottwald) is taking any possible control of the factories out of the workers’ hands by sending his government administrators (all members of the Communist Party) to assume control over each of the seized factories.”

What happened from one day to the next? Why does Gottwald find it necessary to send “his administrators” to take control of the factories, when the workers are voluntarily supporting Gottwald? And who are these people sent by Gottwald to take factories away from workers’ committees? Why is the writer of the article so considerate and gentle as to give them the innocuous title of “administrator?”

Implicit Conclusions

In his Labor Action column for March 1, Comrade Judd says:

“Capitalism, the bourgeoisie, capitalist parties cannot fight Stalinism successfully ... because the capitalist parties are politically and socially bankrupt and cannot halt the Stalinist mobilization of the people.”

Judd obscures the real issue by the way he formulates this sentence. He talks about “capitalism,” “bourgeoisie,” “capitalist parties,” without making clear what the real nature of the conflict is. The conflict is between bourgeois democracy and bureaucratic-collectivist totalitarianism. This is the correct formulation unless Judd is saying that the U.S. is no longer a bourgeois-democratic country, or that bureaucratic collectivism and bourgeois democracy are “equally reactionary.” Judd’s argument is that if Stalinism is defeated it will be defeated by American imperialism and not by any political superiority which bourgeois democracy may have over bureaucratic collectivism. I take it that he means by “American imperialism,” American armed force of the Marshall Plan. It is Judd’s position therefore that workers will reject bourgeois democracy because it is capitalism but will accept bureaucratic collectivism because it is anti-capitalist. Or to put it another way, the Czech proletariat was advanced enough to be against Czech capitalism but not advanced enough to know that Stalinist anti-capitalism is totalitarianism. They are advanced enough to reject bourgeois democracy but not advanced enough to reject Stalinism.

Implicit in Judd’s article is the belief that the whole world politically, today, outside the Marxist movement, is one solid “reactionary mass.” Therefore no appreciable distinction can be made between fascism, Stalinism and bourgeois democracy. According to this one must say that Europe is entering the century of de Gaullism or the century of Stalinism.

(Concluded Next Week)

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