Ted Grant

Europe’s Communist Parties: Russia Loses Control

Source: Militant, No. 329 (November 5, 1976)
Transcription: Francesco 2013
Proofread: Francesco 2013
Markup: Francesco 2013

The dispute between the French Communist Party and the Russian bureaucracy over the imprisonment of certain dissidents in Russia and the actions of the Italian Communist Party in supporting drastic cuts in the living standards of the Italian people are an indication of the drift of the Western European communist parties at the present time.

The mass communist parties in Western Europe and Japan, have abandoned completely the “Marxist-Leninist theories” on which they ostensibly based their activity in the past.

It is demonstrated clearly by the policies of these parties. The CPs have completely degenerated to a narrow nationalism and reformism just at a time when the props of chauvinism and reformism have collapsed.

The whole of the capitalist world has been affected by the long term crisis of capitalism on a world scale. There will be convulsive booms and slumps and social crises for the next ten to twenty years.

The process of nationalist and reformist putrefaction had its inception in 1923. The official seal was stamped on it the conference of European communist parties held in East Berlin on June 29-30, 1976.

At this conference the last threads that bound most of the communist parties to the defence of the interests, not of the Soviet Union, but of the Kremlin bureaucracy were snapped.

Up to that time and throughout the post-war period the policies of the leaders of these parties, at least formally in words, accepted the Soviet Communist Party, as the “leading” Communist Party. All other parties were subordinate to it. This was in the name of a so-called “proletarian internationalism”.

For two years the Russian “Communist” Party had felt its control of the industrialised countries’ “communist parties” slipping out of its grasp. So against the opposition of many [of] the stronger parties the Russians pushed for a conference to be held.

The Russian bureaucracy did not object to the opportunist policies of these parties in compromising with capitalism and capitalist parties. On the contrary they imposed such policies before the last World War, during the war and in the post-war period.

The British Communist Party leaders are belatedly warning the British workers against the danger of a so-called “national” government – a Tory coalition by another name. Yet at a time when it was rejected by even right wing Labour leaders in the 1945 general election, the Communist Party leaders came out for a government led by Churchill and the Tories, including the Liberals and Labour, with the Communists in the cabinet!

The Russians dictated the entry into the post-war “popular front” coalitions with the capitalist governments in France, Italy and other Western European countries.

What they are objecting to is the refusal of the leaders of these parties to dance to the tune of the Kremlin bureaucrats, changing policies according to the needs of the latter. The biggest nightmare for the Kremlin would be if these parties returned to the class struggle policies of Marx and Lenin. That is impossible. But if it did happen it would have repercussions in Russia which would undermine the domination of the bureaucracy over the Russian people. The prospect of workers’ democracy in any important country in Europe would give renewed hope to the Russian masses.

The results of the conference must have been a shock to Brezhnev, the Russian delegate and his bureaucracy. In order to avert an open split and a protest walkout of possibly the majority of the parties represented there, Brezhnev had to abandon in the text of the resolution which was unanimously adopted all references to “proletarian internationalism” and the “leading role” of the Russian Communist Party. These had been in the original draft of the document to be discussed at conference.

Border guards

Yet a few months earlier at the congress of the Italian Communist Party a declaration had been adopted precisely supporting the doctrine of “proletarian internationalism” and the “acceptance” of the leading role of the Russians.

For many decades the policies of these parties had been largely determined by the foreign policy of the Russian bureaucracy. They had become border guards of the Soviet Union. Using the dialectical method of Marxism Leon Trotsky, in a brilliant prediction, had warned that the adoption of the anti-Marxist, anti-Leninist “theory” of “socialism in one country” would inevitably result in the nationalist and reformist degeneration of the communist parties.

The “theory” of “socialism in one country” represented the interests of the millions of officials, the hierarchy of the state and Communist Party, the officer caste, the top state officials who had usurped power and destroyed the nascent control of the working class. It was the power of these millions of officials that the Bonapartist regime of Stalin represented.

Khrushchev removed the worst abuses in order to consolidate the power of the bureaucracy. Reforms from the top were meant to prevent political revolution from the bottom. The totalitarian one party regime has no genuine trade unions and no workers’ democracy – in effect no sort of democracy whatsoever.

It is the odium which clings to the communist parties because of their former role, in defending frenziedly the Stalinists in the Soviet Union, which they are trying to rid themselves of in order to present themselves as “democrats”, and in order to distance themselves from Moscow, in order all the more to bow before the “radical” and “Christian democratic” representatives of capitalism in France and Italy and before capitalist public opinion. The leaders of these parties such as Marchais in France and Berlinguer in Italy have slavishly embraced capitalist democracy and have become mildly critical of the excesses of the regime in Russia.

Marchais in shrill nationalist terms declared at the conference, “Socialism in France will be a socialism in the colours of France...”

Berlinguer, the leader of the Italian Communist Party went further. He announced support for NATO as against the Warsaw Pact alliance. This was a deliberate affront for the Russian bureaucrats. He said, metaphorically slapping his Russian “comrades” in the face, “...for example, we are fighting so that the Italian people within the framework of the international alliances to which our country belongs (i.e. NATO – EG), can autonomously decide its own political leadership without any foreign interference...”

The small British Communist Party squeakily proclaimed through the lips of Gordon McClennan, “We resolutely base our relations on this principle, which includes non-interference in the internal affairs of the others.” (CPs – EG)

The CPs of Western Europe and the world supported the massacre of the Hungarian workers by specially brought peasant troops from Siberia. The Russian troops who were in the barracks in Hungary, fraternised with the Hungarian workers and supported the revolution. They had to be withdrawn as they were not reliable. The most politically backward troops had to be brought in and told they were fighting the Nazis in Berlin, before they could be used in their hangman’s work against the revolution.

All this the leaders of the CP supported. They only changed their attitude at the time of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the troops of the other Warsaw Pact countries.

For the first time the majority of the CPs in Western Europe offered faint opposition. But at no time did they explain the social roots of the policy of the Kremlin. To this day they explain the crimes of Stalin by his whims, the “cult of personality”.

Now that the Brezhnev “cult of personality” is being developed in Russia it rates a paragraph in the Morning Star (and probably the same in the sister organisations in Europe and the world), without explanation.

Its issue of [October] 27 remarks “Breaking with tradition established over the past decade or so, the Soviet press published in full, General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev’s speech to the Plenum made yesterday.”

The CP leaderships have broken – at least partially – with Moscow, not to adopt the ideas of Marx and Engels, Lenin and Trotsky on democracy and freedom but to find an echo from capitalist “public opinion” and the “kept capitalist press”.

The Hungarian workers drew the conclusion from their experience of “socialist” totalitarianism. Before there could be a beginning not of socialism but of a transitional regime – a workers’ state – preparing the road towards socialism there must be full democracy on the basis of state ownership.

The conclusion drawn by the leaders of the Western European communist parties is that the “socialism” in Russia, China and other Bonapartist (i.e. military-police dictatorial, workers’ states) is all right for the people of those countries. Unstated is the crude jingoist idea that it’s all right for these backward “barbarians” but of course for “our” nation, “our” “civilised” people it’s another matter!

God forbid that the CP leaders should make it into a principle or explain the social processes that led to this position! Throwing the baby out with the bath water they find in the totalitarian system in these countries not a reason for returning to the most modern ideas, those of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky who warned about these developments. They return to the stale and outworn ideas of capitalist democracy.

Instead of showing the limitations of free speech when the radio and TV, the press and media are controlled by a handful of millionaires, they bow down before the myth of “alternating governments”. This is the phrase used by Berlinguer and Marchais in the discussion.

This idea ignores reality.

The economy is manipulated by a handful of monopoly companies who control the bulk of industry in these countries and who will turn to reaction if the masses do not take action within and without parliament to prevent this.

As the modern examples of the relatively industrialised countries of Chile and Argentina demonstrate, the moment the ruling classes think their power threatened, in all these countries, they will turn to brute force to hold down the masses in defence of their property.

Mussolini in Italy, Pétain and Laval in France, Franco in Spain and Pinochet in Chile serve as a terrible warning of the lengths to which the ruling class will go in defence of capitalism.

All these lessons have not been understood by these “leaders”. From the terrible defeat in Chile the communist leaders in Italy deduce the need to conciliate the major party of Italian capitalism, the Christian Democrats.


For or against capitalist alliances, for or against “national” governments, it’s all the same to them. The British CP leaders are prepared to write sophist fairy-tales about “socialism” in Russia and Eastern Europe. They will act as advertising agents for the Moscow bureaucracy so long as they are not “interfered with” in British matters. There is not a single paragraph, indeed not a single line in the entire works of Marx, Engels and Lenin which would justify the policies of any of these “communist” parties, from the Russian to that of San Marino.

Up to 1956, before the semi-open revelations of the crimes of Stalin by Khrushchev the leaders of all these parties had concealed the vile atrocities of his totalitarian regime.

They supported, the murder of hundreds of thousands of old Bolsheviks as counter-revolutionaries. The flower of the revolution with their support, was exterminated by Stalin and his bureaucratic gangsters.

They defended the ghastly frame-up trials of the leaders of the Russian revolution, with their “confessions” induced by terror and torture. They covered up the assassination of Trotsky by Stalin’s KGB agent. They denied and covered up the exile of whole nations, the Crimean Tartars, Volga Germans and others to Siberia.

They covered up the existence of labour or concentration camps in Siberia in which millions of workers and peasants were incarcerated.

The economic basis of the regime was the elimination of landlordism and capitalism and the state ownership of the banks, land and industry. The superstructure of the regime is the bureaucratic control. The CPs made no distinction, they frantically defended not nationalisation and a plan of production, but the totalitarian control of the Kremlin gang of bureaucrats.

They accepted completely, after the revelations of Khrushchev, the “criticisms” of Stalin’s “cult of personality”. As if one man could control 200 million people! They continued slavishly to follow Russian foreign policy and all these parties supported the Russian intervention and butchery of the Hungarian workers to crush the Hungarian revolution.

In this political revolution the workers and peasants tried to carry out Lenin’s programme of state power.

1) Soviets or workers’ and peasants’ committees.
2) No official to receive a wage higher than that of a skilled worker.
3) No standing army but an armed people.
4) No permanent bureaucracy. As Lenin put it “every cook should be able to be prime minister”.

Not a single one of the conditions laid down by Lenin to begin the revolution, nearly 60 years afterwards are in existence. Russia under Stalin and his successors has moved further and further away from them.

The Hungarian workers, most of whom had never read Trotsky, drew the conclusions from their experience of Stalinist totalitarianism. They saw the need for workers’ democracy instead of a Bonapartist dictatorship. They allowed all parties which accepted the basis of the regime freely to put forward their views. The Hungarian workers were determined never again to allow a one-party dictatorship, which they saw inevitably degenerating into a one-man tyranny.

Now the CP in France has supported protests against the victimisation and jailing of certain scientists in Russia.

In its issue of October 28, 1976 the Morning Star without comment publishes material dealing with a row between the French Communist Party, who for reasons of conciliation of French capitalist public opinion (but correctly nevertheless) have condemned the imprisonment of Vladimir Bukovsky and others by the Russian government.

“French Communist Party leader George Marchais said at the week-end that his Party will not budge an inch from the policies we have laid down on human rights under socialism.

“He was replying to criticism by the Soviet News Agency TASS of the French Party’s participation in a meeting sponsored by Amnesty International in Paris last Thursday. The meeting called for the release of six prominent prisoners – three in socialist countries and three in Latin America.

“TASS said on Friday night that many eyebrows will be raised among the Soviet public by the fact that representatives of the French Communist Party were involved in this dirty action.

“The agency accused the organisers of the meeting of trying to pose as ‘champions of freedom’, of starting another noisy campaign around Vladimir Bukovsky and Sermaian Glazman, sentenced by a Soviet court for activity hostile to the Soviet state. ‘To lend plausibility to their anti-Soviet action, they simultaneously pretended to be supporting the victims of fascist terror in Uruguay and other countries’, TASS charges.

“The French Communist Party was represented at the meeting by central committee member Pierre Juquin, who said that the French Party did not put the Soviet Union and Uruguay on the same plane and declared: ‘Anti-fascist we are and always shall be, but anti-Soviet never’.”

Of course it is correct to distinguish between the Soviet Union where capitalism and landlordism have been abolished and a fascist dictatorship run in the interests of capitalism. But it is also necessary to distinguish between the Soviet Union and the rapacious caste of privileged bureaucrats who control the state.

Otherwise how can you explain the dreadful aberrations from the time of Stalin? Whims or personal peccadilloes? What is the cause of the one-party totalitarian system and its abuses? It is the defence of unjustified privileges and corruption. It indicates a whole system of bureaucratic domination and terror against the workers and peasants.

There is a fundamental difference between the Soviet Union established by a victorious revolution of the workers and peasants and the Stalinist caste, which parasitically grows on the revolution like a giant tumour.

The report in the Morning Star continues:

“Mr Juquin also said that there could be no discrimination between countries in the fight for human rights. ‘On this we are adamant, for how can we allow the communist ideal, which aims to liberate humanity, to be sullied by unjust and unjustifiable acts?’ ‘We cannot accept,’ he said, ‘that there should be citizens in the Soviet Union or Czechoslovakia who are prosecuted, imprisoned, interned for having expressed their opinions.’ Mr Marchais told a dockers’ meeting in Dunkirk on Saturday that ‘We want the October 21 (human rights) meeting to follow the line adopted by the French Communist Party at its 22nd Congress’. He said ‘The TASS protest was “in vain”.’

L'Humanité, the French party’s daily paper announced that six million papers of the Juquin speech are to be distributed to make known what has been hidden from public opinion.”

“The paper said that ‘To criticise particular aspects of Soviet reality does not mean that we indulge in anti-Sovietism’.”

But that is the heart of the problem. The communist parties of France, Britain and Western Europe have consistently failed to analyse “Soviet reality”.

It is correct to distinguish between a fascist country and a capitalist democracy. It is also even more correct to distinguish between a workers’ state, however bureaucratically deformed and a capitalist state. But this is not what the communist parties are doing. They are distinguishing between democracy in the abstract and the Soviet Union.

It is absolutely vital for the working class especially its advanced layers to “distinguish” between the conquests of the revolution in the abolition of capitalism and the monstrous bureaucracy which is responsible for the destruction of the rights of the working class and “the liberties of the citizen.”

Because real democracy would mean an end of the bureaucrat’s stolen privileges and domination of the Soviet Union. This distinction the communist parties cannot make because it would involve a condemnation also of the present policies of the communist parties (especially the Italian CP).

In the name of an “abstract democracy” they capitulate to reformism and the representatives of capital. The imprisonment of tens of thousands of workers and intellectuals in Russia, the revolting abuse of psychiatry and imprisonment of dissidents are not at all “accidental”, to use a Marxist phrase. They arise out of the necessity to defend the hierarchical and undemocratic structure of “Soviet society”.

Without this repression the rule of the bureaucracy could not be maintained. That is why it is an organic part of the rule of the Russian bureaucracy.

It is an interesting indication of the deliberate clouding of the issue when the French Communist Party leaders persist in speaking of the “Soviet Union” instead of “Russia”. The Soviets were long ago abolished by Stalin and a Bonapartist plebiscitary regime introduced with only one candidate standing in each constituency for the so-called Parliament. This system continues to the present day.

Members of the Communist Party in France and Britain and Western Europe would do well to ask their leaders how is this undemocratic and dictatorial rule to be changed? How can the French Communist Party leaders protest against the results and the abuses without explaining their roots and causes?

Even more to the point how can such evils be eliminated in the Soviet Union? The Hungarian workers demonstrated in action that only the overthrow of the bureaucracy through political revolution can bring workers’ democracy to these countries.


In reality the French Communist Party leaders, as with the Italian and the other parties are only interested in ingratiating themselves with middle class “public opinion”. They are trying to answer the criticisms of the capitalists and their mass media, TV and press and the criticisms of the leaders of the Socialist Party that they are in favour of the totalitarian regime in the Soviet Union.

They are not making a serious and thorough study of “Soviet reality” but putting themselves further and further from the method and policy of Marxism and the socialist revolution. They are more and more adopting the standpoint of capitalist democracy just when capitalist democracy is undermined by the developing crisis of capitalism.

The Morning Star (October 22) published without comment Moscow’s reply to the criticism of the French Communist Party:

“First Deputy Justice Minister Alexander Sukharev said in an interview with Literary Gazette that ‘Under Soviet laws, citizens bear neither criminal nor administrative responsibility for their beliefs.’ TASS News Agency... said Mr Sukharev gave it (the interview) because bourgeois newspapers and radio stations broadcasting to the Soviet Union persistently affirm that democratic freedoms are lacking in socialist society.”

“Mr Bukovsky was sentenced in 1972 to seven years in jails and labour camps... on a charge of anti-Soviet agitation. Mr Sukharev dismissed accusations that dissidents are confined in mental hospitals. He described the charges as ‘the purest fabrication from beginning to end.’

“According to the Minister in his interview, Mr Bukovsky who was also sentenced in 1967 after organising a demonstration was jailed for ‘systematic duplication and distribution of anti-Soviet literature calling for the organisation of activity against our existing order’. ‘I underline not for “dissidence” but for “real actions” ’, Mr Sukharev added.”

This is intended in reality by the Russian government as an answer to the criticism of the French CP. Even in the rebuttal the totalitarian methods of the neo-Stalinist regime in Moscow are apparent. Under Stalin as under the pre-war Japanese military dictatorship you could be jailed for “dangerous thoughts”. Now the Moscow bureaucracy is “willing” to tolerate that – at least among the intellectuals.

But the moment an attempt is made to organise and “duplicate” with a duplicator or “distribute” literature of an alleged “anti-Soviet” character or organise a “demonstration” with probably a handful of people for whatever reason, that is a criminal offence.

Thus the mighty “Soviet” state with complete control of the radio and TV and tens of millions of copies daily of newspapers at its disposal is afraid of the dissemination of a few duplicated sheets! What are they afraid of? What have they to hide? What an unconscious satire against the Stalinist bureaucratic dictatorship are these remarks.


In Lenin and Trotsky’s time, even during the civil war, some opposition papers were allowed. Martov, leader of the Mensheviks, published a daily paper up to 1921. Within the Communist Party opposition views were allowed to be published in pamphlets and in the newspapers, even under Stalin up to 1927.

The Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky were forced to take repressive action against the capitalist class enemy because of the intervention of 21 armies of imperialism, the subsidising, munitioning and supplying of White Guard armies in a civil war. It was also because of the backwardness of Russia and the isolation of the revolution that with extreme reluctance they took these measures.

But democracy to the maximum extent possible was allowed in the independent trade unions, the Soviets and especially within the ranks of the Communist Party.

In common with the Russian rulers the fiction is disseminated by all the communist parties that “socialism” exists in Russia. Yet even the rights possessed (with limitations and gained through struggles by the workers) in capitalist “democracies” – the right to strike, free speech, press, rights to organise and demonstrate – are not present.

“Socialism” presupposes a higher level of culture, living standards and rights than exist under capitalism. Yet nearly 60 years after the revolution the masses possess less rights than in the early days of the revolution.

The Soviet Union today is an immensely powerful state with a literate people, and the second biggest industry in the world. Of whom and what are the regime afraid?

Landlordism and imperialism are enfeebled. Capitalism has been destroyed in a great part of the world. The USSR has an enormous proletariat which is today the big majority of the population.

After two generations of “socialism” in which they have had complete control of the schools and universities, of what are they afraid? The old generation, affected by capitalist ideas to a limited extent, is long since dead.

The revolt of the workers in Poland in the recent period demonstrated that not for a single moment would the workers support anywhere in Eastern Europe a return to capitalism. This despite the hatred of Russian domination and oppression. Even more so would the Russian workers and peasants oppose any movement in this direction. Consequently a genuine Marxist-Leninist regime would have nothing to fear from the propaganda of capitalist apologists. They would be laughed at by the masses. In reality all the repressive measures are directed against the intellectuals, and even more against ordinary workers and peasants who dare to organise even discussions critical of the dictatorial regime.

Even if there were real counter revolutionaries like Solzhenitsyn what support would they get for a restoration of landlordism and capitalism? Marxists are in favour now for freedom for all parties and individuals in Russia to put forward their ideas – even of such people – who have been driven mad by the repressive regime in Russia.

Why then, with all their power is the bureaucratic regime in Russia scared out of their wits by some duplicated leaflets? It is because of the illegitimate and stolen privileges and inequalities the ruling caste possesses. The tradition of the three Russian revolutions and the Hungarian revolution and the movements of revolt of the Polish workers hangs like a nightmare warning of downfall to the Russian rulers.

But none of this is explained in simple Marxist terms by the bureaucratic leaders of the communist parties. They still maintain in their own parties the tradition of totalitarian control inherited from their open Stalinist phase.

There is no freedom to organise a written or verbal discussion between branches. There is no freedom to organise groupings like that of Tribune in the Labour Party in the communist parties.

That is one of the real respects in which they differ from the social-democratic parties. But to explain in Marxist terms the social basis of the totalitarianism in the deformed workers’ states would at the same time mean a condemnation of their policy.

The fact that the Morning Star can publish the explanation of the bureaucratic minister, without comment, speaks volumes for the superficiality of the “criticism” of the Soviet Union by the Communist Party leaders in Britain. The same no doubt applies in all the countries of Western Europe.

Also significant is the number of articles extolling the virtues of “socialism” in the Soviet Union, from one or another aspect that has been appearing recently in the Morning Star. They have been trying to make their peace with the Russian bureaucracy.

A thorough going Marxist analysis of the undemocratic nature of the regime in Russia would result in a crisis in the British and other communist parties.

They have drifted because of the pressures of the capitalist boom from support of Stalinist totalitarianism to support of capitalist democracy. They now idealise capitalist democracy with all its imperfections, instead of fighting for workers’ democracy just as previously they idealised the Russian Stalinist regime.