Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 20, No. 7. 30th May, 1957
The Party Follows in the Church's Footsteps
The Party Follows in the Church's Footsteps
"By schisms rent assunder, By heresies distressed ..
"The reformers of the sixteenth century compared the reality Papal Church with the teachings of the Bible; in the same way, our students compared the reality of the Stalinist version of socialism with the teachings of Marxism and Leninism. They drew their conclusions."
When a Polish Cabinet Minister made these remarks this year, he was expressing the essence of the argument with the Communist monolith of the rebel movement among Communists (especially intellectuals) which has been welling up since Khruschov's de-ikonization of Stalin speech last year.
The argument has been world-wide, and has gone on inside as well as outside the Iron Curtain. That is obvious from events late last year in Warsaw and Budapest, and the less dramatic turmoil in the British and New Zealand Communist Parties which has received some notice in the press.
"Salient" has already made some passing comment on it in editorials (20 March and 18 April), but the matter certainly merits a fuller treatment—both for its own profound significance, and because it has particularly affected the Party's university adherents.
The speeches of Professor Hyman Levy (Mathematcis, London) and Christopher Hill (an Oxford tutor in History) at the British C.P. conference were widely publicised. So was old hatchet-man Andrew Rothstein's sneer about "spineless intellectuals." But whereas the daily newspapers have recorded such sensational highlights, they have not (who would have expected it?) given very much helpful material on the controversy which underlay them.
The first thing to recognise is that Marxism, while we may not agree with it, is (as James K. Baxter once put it) "an adult conception of reality," and has attracted many fine and able minds.
To many of these, the full impact of the disparity between Marxist theory and Stalinist practice came as, a horribe shock with the Khrushchev speech. This was more obviously so in the West, where Marxists had no opportunity of studying Stalinism at first hand, and the bulk of anti-Stalinist propaganda came from the hysterical right. But even in the Soviet and its satellites, it seems that honest intellectuals had plugged along in blind faith, regarding the horrible things of which they had knowledge as "mistakes" and "aberrations."
It is planned to discuss this Iron Curtain aspect of the business in future review articles. Here I shall restrict myself to the Marxist intellectual in the West.
Hyman Levy is an outstanding example. A first-rate scholar and a Communist publicist for many years, with strong bonds in the international Jewish community, he has been respected inside and outside the Communist movement.
"During the past year a solid block of members has left the Party. Do not let us delude ourselves that this is a mere drop in numbers. . . . They were not simple lapses, but people who, rightly or wrongly, genuinely saw themselves faced with a clear issue—the Cause they had stood for, or the Party they belonged to. . .
These, he says, and the others who would probably leave, "no longer regard the Communist Party as a proper Marxist, instrument for the achievement of Socialism in this country."
Prof. Levy explains his particular concern at the complete inadequacy of the C.P. leadership in Britain to face up to "the moral issues aroused by the 20th Congress (Khrushchov) revelations." He mentions his attempt to get publicity through the Party for "statements appearing in the Polish press regarding the liquidation of prominent Jewish cultural workers in the Soviet Union," and the dishonest stonewalling which he met with.
He declaims against the "iron discipline" which the Party's full-time hierarchy clamped down to silence discussion on such embarrassing questions—on the theory that "the form of unity must be preserved even at the expense of content." But, as he comments, "Any fool knows that it is not discipline that wipes out 'factionalism' (i.e., organised opposition within the Party to the policy of the leaders), but unity of understanding." Factious sprang up, he asserts, because of "an intense dissatisfaction with the moral and political leadership at a critical moment."
He sums up: "What is at stake are the qualities of genuineness and honesty essential to a scientific Marxist in the pursuit of the cause of Socialism. How can I see the Party as the vehicle for that cause if in its bundling of its members it does not reflect those qualities?"
To the right-winger and the cynic, this will all sound old stuff, the bitter apostrophe of the unquestioning zealot who has been suddenly [unclear: disiliusioned].
But look again. This is different from the familiar breast-beating of "The God That Failed" stamp. Prof. Levy—and the whole of the fresh crop of ex- and near ex-Communists he typifies—have not "tossed out the Marxist baby with the Stalinist bathwater" (the figure i Isaac Deutscher's). They awaken echoes of Wyclif, Luther, and Huss.
As the disillusionment of their spiritual forebears was purely with the Church, not with Christianity, so their disillusion has been entirely with Stalinism—with the expedient Realpolitik of Soviet state-power, and with its official apology-machines abroad. Their stand against "the Party" is on behalf of "the Cause," for rescuing Marxist Communism from the nasty accretions of latterday Soviet policy.
With this positive basis, the new Protestant-Communists have firmer ground from which to resist the Muscovite monolith's charge that they have "sold out." and the appearance of pathetic fatuity which the usual run of ex-Communists assume in the eyes of orthodox upholders of Nato, Capitalism, and the National Party.
For the movement is by no means small. In many places (Poland, the United States) it seems to have taken over the local C.P. completely.
The movement has even spread to New Zealand, where the C.P. is maybe the smallest and least significant in the world. The newspapers have not seen past Connie Birchfield and Sid Scott—but some recent issues of "Hero and Now", indicate how deep the rift has gone.
The old "University Branch" of the C.P. in this city, which for years kept alive the impression that V.U.C. was a "hotbed of Communism"—where is it now? Of the half dozen members it could still boast last year, its three best known have taken the Hyman Levy line into one outer darkness.
And one of V.U.C.'s best known Reds of former days, Ronald L. Meek (now of Glasgow University's Economics faculty) is so far in the same position that he may have something to do with the "Marxist Leninist's Song," printed on this page.