From the discussion in the CPI on the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU

A Self-Created Marsh

Abdul Momin

The enquiry into the origins of modern revisionism has of necessity to undertake an examination of the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU of 1956. This task has been made complicated by the fact that those who incepted the critique of Soviet revisionism - the Party of Labour of Albania and Enver Hoxha in 1960 and the Communist party of China and Mao Zedong in 1963 - themselves hailed the Twentieth Congress in 1956. The polemics of the international communist movement in the 1960s failed to fully illumine the real nature of the counter-revolution which had taken place in the USSR after the death of Stalin. As a result the understanding of the origins of modern revisionism and the restoration of capitalism in the USSR remains obscure and incomplete. It is perhaps for this reason that the publication of two contemporary critiques of the Twentieth Congress by Neil Goold and Moni Guha and the historical assessment of the Congress by 'Inter' in this journal (Vol. II, No. 1, April 1996) has evoked considerable interest. This is evident from the fact that these articles have been reprinted around the world and are being translated into various languages.

If the parties which participated in the Great Debate were compromised by their earlier support for the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU then it may also be noted that those who were early critics of the Twentieth Congress were not necessarily able to carry out a consistent and uncompromising struggle against modern revisionism. Thus Bhupen Palit who authored excellent but flawed criticisms of Soviet and Chinese revisionism passed over to accepting the political positions of the arch-revisionist CPI(M).1 Similarly Moni Guha whose critiques of Soviet and Chinese revisionism broke new ground in the period 1978-82 lapsed into anti-Stalinism in the 1980s.2 The pressure of the anti-Marxist ideological trends on the developing Marxist-Leninist movement has been powerful and persistent. The Communist Party of Germany (KPD) which supported the principled positions of the Party of Labour of Albania for many years came under the influence of Trotskyism and had to be reconstructed afresh. The Communist Party of New Zealand which was descended from the period of the Communist International and which upheld Marxist evaluations of Soviet and Chinese revisionism succumbed to neo-Trotskyism before being reconstituted as the Communist Party of New Zealand Reconstruction Collective.

Abdul Momin, the author of the critique given below, was a leading Communist trade unionist in Bengal whose name has been written in letters of gold in the working class movement for having led and won the historic carters' strike in Calcutta in 1930. The polemic was directed against an article by Saroj Acharya who supported the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU in 1956. This reply appeared in the Calcutta-based Bengali literary journal Parichaya, in September-October 1956. What immediately strikes the eye about the discussion is its continued relevance for the Communist movement. The views of Saroj Acharya are still the standard stock-in-trade of contemporary revisionism: that the capitalism of the 20th Century is different from that of the 19th century, that the exploitation present in capitalist society continued in socialist society, that 'blind faith' and 'manufactured truth', governed the attitude of communists to the USSR, that 'class truth' and 'party truth' negated the over-riding need of 'human truth' etc. Such notions have been repeated ad nauseam over the last four decades. Abdul Momin skilfully and effectively counters the ideological critique of the Stalin period. His reply speaks for itself. It only needs to be said that his arguments retain their force today and that they shall assist the Communists two generations on who are engaged in the contemporary struggles for democracy and socialism.


  1. Rank and File Marxist, Khrushchov's Role Before and After Stalin's Death, Calcutta, n.d., 27 pp.
    _________ A Critique on the Question of Stalin, Calcutta, 1966, 89 pp.

  2. Moni Guha, Yugoslav Revisionism and the Role of the CPSU and CPC, Calcutta,1978, 62 pp.
    _________ Revisionism Against Revisionism, Calcutta, 1979, 63 pp.

According to Mr. Sarojbabu, although there has been a setback to the Marxist movement self-doubt and regret alone will not lead us anywhere. He has no doubt about the historical necessity and inspiration for the emancipation of mankind. Despite all the mistakes and excesses, indubitably, the mainstream of social progress lies on the path of socialism. So one needs to look for the solutions to current problems within Marxism itself and this is possible only if Marxist intellectuals rectify the errors which they had hitherto committed.

And what are the mistakes? Sarojbabu adds-

1. Despite knowing all the demerits of the Soviet system due to necessity, fear or devotion these were covered tip and the Soviet leadership was taken to be faultless and beyond question or debate. The crime was not to have supported the Soviet Union in its moment of danger but in having 'manufactured truths' for that purpose.

2. 'The Soviet Union is the first testing ground of building the Socialist state'. Treating this testing ground as the 'promised land' is the source of all mistakes.

3. 'The difference between the capitalism of the 19th century and that of today is not negligible'. The Marxist intellectuals failed to see this and they followed the 'holy texts' to the letter.

4. 'Our everyday praise is based on certain formulas which are taken to be the ultimate truth.' These are the class-truths, party-truths and the truths discovered by the Soviet leadership. The worship of these truths 'imposed severe constraints on the independent thought' of the Marxist intellectuals. Consenting to the hegemony of the Soviet leadership in the name of internationalism was a great mistake.

5. 'The exploitation and lack of dignity of humanity that we have seen in capitalism can be repeated on a much larger scale in the centralized collective rule' as happened in Soviet Russia. One needs to overcome it.

By showing all these mistakes and shortcomings Sarojbabu says: 'The primary allegiance of any Marxist is to the fundamental human truth and that truth is the life-force of Marxist theory and practice. Deviation from this and surrender to any earthly or supernatural power is bound to mislead and distort the Marxist endeavour. True consciousness is the fearless evaluation of the theory and practice, which is founded upon the experiences of countless numbers'. Marxist intellectuals get into trouble because they do not follow this and put their faith in the texts and their leaders. They will have to rectify their mistakes.

It is difficult to make sense of Sarojbabu's ideas. It seems that he is not only concerned with the plight of the Marxist intellectuals but wants to reform Marxism itself. If this is not done, that is, if the process of applying Marxism is not changed then 'true consciousness' would not emerge.

According to Sarojbabu whatever happens in history, if it creates 'anti-humanist attitudes and practices' it cannot be regarded as true. He did not feel it necessary to enquire into the historical causes of the events of post-revolutionary Russia. But he still believes that it is 'anti-human' (following the Khrushchev Report?). Since it is against humanism it is also wrong and avoidable. If truth is derived from the word of one man alone there is no need for further enquiry. It seems that the Report of the Twentieth Congress, especially the Secret Report, is the source of the inspiration of Sarojbabu. But is he not showing his own blind faith by accepting it without any questions? But is there anything in the Report in which Sarojbabu finds a 'space for examination and discussion' for 'the problems of communism and scope of human development' through which we can do away with class truth or party-truth and engage only in 'the evaluation of theory and practice'? It does not seem that Khrushchev has given that opportunity anywhere.

Sarojbabu alleges that truth was manufactured to suit objectives: despite knowing the fault and defects of the Soviet system these were suppressed because of fear, devotion or simple necessity. As the Soviet Union was regarded as the holy site of socialism instead of being a place of experimentation the Soviet leadership was also regarded as being beyond question and doubt.

If any Marxist intellectual who has no contact with reality were to spin such a tale then it would be a different matter. But Sarojbabu should remember that the true Marxists who are trying to gradually realize Marxism with their blood do not live in an utopia. No one can manufacture truth: any such vain effort itself is false. Truth is above such efforts and is created through historical dialectics. In the ever-changing world whatever is regarded as true at any particular moment may be proved to be false at the next. The true Marxists acknowledge this and attempt to find the complexity in all the events and try to cognise it.

Every Marxist who had not lost touch with reality knew that the Soviet Union was no Garden of Eden. Freed from the centuries-old yoke of feudalism and undergoing a very short period of capitalist rule, Soviet society was not very highly developed. When the socialist revolution succeeded there due to historical reasons the primary task of every Marxist was to firmly establish socialism and to defeat its enemies. The question of covering up the defects does not arise here.

At the same time the Soviet Union is not just a testing ground for socialism, as were the ideal colonies which were established by Fourier or Owen. It was born through the dialectics of history and the revolution: it is not the place where one tries out the whims and wishes of anybody.

So is it a holy site? Whether it is a holy site or not, other than the Paris Commune the Soviet Union is the first place where the proletarian revolution was successful and the socialist state was built. True Marxists judge the Soviet Union from this point of view. They watch each and every step which is taken there, they try out the experiences of the Soviet leadership while adapting it to suit their own milieu. There is nothing wrong with this. If the experience of the Soviet Union had been imitated blindly then that would have been an error. But that did not happen in China, Korea, Indo-China or Eastern Europe. Efforts are being made there to adapt the basic tenets of Marxism to suit local conditions.

Sarojbabu knows all this. Yet he adopts an unrealistic, un-Marxist and unscientific point of view. He demeans every Marxist by calling them blind supporters of the Soviet Union. Not only that. He makes a dig at their 'blind faith and devotion' and says that unless one frees oneself from class truth, party truth, Soviet-discovered truth and sovereignty, international integrity or 'centralised, totalitarian, collective rule' one cannot achieve true consciousness. By the Marxist analysis one can understand that there exist classes in society and that class conflict also exists which arrives at a revolutionary conclusion. The thought and ideals of different classes are also different. One cannot disregard this by raising the question as to whether or not these notions are rational or anti-humanist. If different classes exist then particular ideas, ideals and truths are also bound to be different.

Working class rule and socialism cannot be established unless capitalism is completely destroyed. For this purpose the Party comes into being as the true representative of the dreams, inspirations and actions as well as to provide skilled leadership. The Party is not created from outside. It is created from the daily experience of the working class in order to carry out the present and future tasks. As it is based on an ideal its voluntary and self-regulated rules and discipline are inviolable. The Party is not based on lifeless regulations. It is realised through the practice, courage, sacrifice, endurance and correctness of each member. Not judgement alone but the realization of theory and practice is its primary aim. It is not ruled by a dictatorial leadership but every task is performed through the judgement of its members. The Party is the symbol of collective leadership.

As classes exist in society the Party is needed to unite (the working class ed.) and guide it on the path of revolution. For the same reason there is also the need of international fraternity and cooperation to establish and build socialism after the destruction of capitalism. Similarly, there is also the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat. All of this is intrinsically linked with working class revolution and socialism. True consciousness can only arise through the realization of all this. One can neither look down upon all of this by dubbing it as 'blind faith' nor can one negate their importance.

Yet Sarojbabu is worried about losing his independence of thought. But it is a fact that the ideas of a single person cannot be the parameter of judging everything. There are limits to independent thought. In our limited world with its limited set of rules and regulations although there is scope of independent thinking it is ultimately limited. Despite knowing the importance of Marxism Sarojbabu advocates the abolition of classes and parties. He is not helping the cause of Marxist intellectuals. Marxism is both scientific and revolutionary. To equate it with liberal rationalism is its death. Sarojbabu has done exactly that in his essay.

Despite the material prosperity of the Soviet Union the spiritual improvement of the people might not have been achieved. New attempts on that front are now on. But just because of this there is no reason to think that socialism has failed or that the Soviet state has gone against the teachings of Marxism. What has to be noted is whether capitalist rule has been abolished there and whether social ownership has been attained in place of the private ownership of wealth. This happened and it happened through the dictatorship of the proletariat and not through 'centralized, totalitarian, oligarchic rule'. To build a new society constant struggle must be waged against the ghost of the previous one. Mistakes may occur in the process. It is possible that these might have occurred. Attempts at rectification are also on. But these are not happening outside the Marxist scheme.

Sarojbabu is not ready to agree to this. Since mistakes have occurred then according to him despite the fact that the notion of the dictatorship of the proletariat is present in Marxism, in the Soviet Union it has resulted in centralized totalitarian rule.

Here Sarojbabu shows his own ignorance and blind faith. Class rule is not oligarchic rule. He cannot prove that an oligarchy has been established in the Soviet Union in any way. He expresses regret that once a mistake is committed, despite its rectification, one cannot have the same faith as before. By this logic one will never find out why mistakes occur or whether there is any need for correction.

Dialectics is the primary truth of Marxism. Marxists base their analysis on the dialectical method and come to their conclusions. Mistakes still occur because one cannot always take into account the dynamics of all the events and factors. As a result sometimes wrong conclusions are drawn. Once the mistakes are located these conclusions are rejected. In this process no one loses faith in Marxism.

On the contrary new knowledge and experience enrich Marxist consciousness. Sarojbabu fails to see all this. It seems that is why he has failed to understand certain fundamental Marxist teaching in the name of 'consciousness' or 'truth'. He does not damage Marxism by all this but only himself.

Translated from the Bengali by Saran Ghatak

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