March, 1957, pp. 29-47
AN EXCHANGE WITH HOWARD FAST
I: MY DECISION
Several weeks ago the world-renowned progressive novelist, Howard Fast, granted an interview to Harry Schwartz of the New York Times declaring his wish no longer to consider himself a Communist. Among the factors determining his decision, most prominent was his disillusion because of past events in the Soviet Union and his disbelief that any radical change had taken place since the death of Stalin and the Khrushchev report.
Mr. Fast's announcement must be a blow to thousands of members of the Communist Party in whose minds he had been identified with every good cause for which they had fought as well as he. But many others, too, were disturbed by his act and particularly questioned the release of his statement through the medium of a newspaper which is surely no friend of the American progressive movement, of which Mr. Fast considers himself a part, as evidenced by the conclusion of his article. We, also, felt that he was most ill-advised to take this step and we therefore urged him, a former member of our editorial board, to state his position in our pages. We told him that we would, of course, comment on his declaration. Mr. Fast accepted our invitation. His article follows. - The Editors.
RECENTLY, I took the step of publicly severing my connections with the Communist Party of the United States; and in an interview with the New York Times, I presented some of the reasons for this decision of mine. Now I am asked by the editors of Mainstream to state my position more fully, and I have decided to do so in terms of communism and morality.
What follows is not a justification of my action, but an explanation. I took this action for two reasons; firstly, as the only extreme protest against the course of events in the communist world that I saw as being meaningful and purposeful; and secondly, because I feel that the Communist Party of the United States - mostly through events beyond its control - is compromised to a point where it can no longer make any effective contribution to the continuing struggle for democracy and social justice. I feel that I must state this as a beginning to make my position very plain.
Looking back at my life, I find two major forces that brought me to communism. The first was a maturing belief in the goodness and inevitable brotherhood of man - a brotherhood in peace and common creativity. In this belief, I learned my equalitarianism out of the Prophetic teachings of Judaism, the love and brotherhood of man preached by Isaiah, and the morality, in terms of the poor and oppressed, of Jesus Christ. My democratic understanding was based on the writings of Jefferson and Lincoln.
The second force was an understanding of the role of the working class in modern history. The working class I was born into, and I studied it well through the first eighteen years of my life. I began to understand its historic role through the works of George Bernard Shaw, Jack London, Upton Sinclair and C. Osborne Ward. Later, in the process of self-education, I was able to read and understand the work of not only Marx and Engels, but of Mill and Veblen and Darwin and Morgan - and many other related Marxist and non-Marxist social thinkers.
I became a Marxist within my own personal structure, as I think many people do. I have been characterized as a religious person, and while I will not deny this within a broad frame of reference, my religion does homage to man, not to the supernatural. If a deep and unshakable faith in the goodness and splendid destiny of man is religious, then I must own to that.
I joined the communist movement for two reasons. I believed that in the Communist Party was the beginning of a true brotherhood of man working with devotion for socialism, peace and democracy. Secondly, I believed that the Communist Party offered the most effective resistance to fascism. As a part of this, I believed, as did millions of men of good will, that the only truth about the Soviet Union was the picture presented by friends of the Soviet Union.
In these beliefs I will not admit to being anyone's dupe. Hindsight is all very well, but let us also use it to recall that during the past generation, millions of the finest and clearest minds in the word shared these beliefs. If I was slow in recognizing certain facts, recall the savage persecution of Communists this past decade in America. Whatever the truth of Russian police rule, the Truman government seemed determined to create a police state that would outdo it. That was not a time when clear and objective thinking came easily.
Nevertheless, I and others within the Communist Party realized that something was tragically wrong in the world communist movement long before the Khrushchev "secret speech" appeared. We were asked to swallow such absurdities as the Soviet theory of "cosmopolitanism." We saw Jewish culture disappear in Russia, and all our pleas for an explanation brought only silence. We saw capital punishment reinstated with a vengeance.
We also witnessed many disturbing internal factors in the Communist Party of the United States, a destroying rigidity and unbendingness, a narrowing of approach and purpose that made it impossible for many good people to remain within it.
These things marked a process of development, both in myself and in many others. Yet it did not prepare us for the explosive and hellish revelations of the Khrushchev "secret report." The dimensions of this horror were not only beyond anything we could have dreamed of - but also beyond, far beyond, the worst accusations of the worst enemies of the Soviet Union.
My own reactions to this unspeakable document are a matter of public record, for I spelled them out in the New York Daily Worker. I was filled with loathing and disgust. I felt a sense of unmitigated mental nausea at the realization that I had supported and defended this murderous bloodbath, and I felt, as so many did then, a sense of being a victim of the most incredible swindle in modern times.
I also experienced for the first time the limitations of the man, Khrushchev, not only in his describing the hell he pictured as the work of one man, but in the cynicism of his definition and explanation of this as "the cult of the individual" - an explanation not only empty, but almost facetious in its unrelatedness to the events it describes.
A leading French communist intellectual, reading what I wrote in the Worker on this occasion, sent me a bitter letter (in English) charging me with playing into the hands of the enemy. "As you may have seen in the papers," he wrote, "following the publication by the bourgeois press of the report credited to Comrade Khrushchev, it (the French Communist Party) asked the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to give a more complete theoretical explanation of the serious wrongs attributed to Comrade Stalin. The Soviet Communist Party then issued a statement implying precisely this theoretical analysis, a statement which forms a document of major importance to every militant of the working cause and which has enabled the working class parties to make a sound appraisal of the ideas already involved."
Heaven help us!
I will not deny that I can never again be the person I was before I read that report. Then something broke inside of me and finished, but I waited nine months before I took the step I am explaining here. I waited because it was my whole life as well as the lives and hopes of so many dear friends that was involved; I also waited because friends whom I respected argued thus:
"Surely it is better to face the reality of this thing than to live in contented ignorance of it. Remember that the Soviet leaders themselves brought it into the open. Now things will change. Stalin is dead. New leaders are in power now. They must change."
It was at least a hope - a hope that the Soviet Union would pick up the banner of socialist democracy and perhaps begin to reclaim a world moral leadership, a leadership it had lost.
WHAT was the result of that nine months? I specify it, not as an indictment, but simply as a record of objective fact to which I reacted. First, there were the additions to the "secret report." We learned of the liquidation, in 1939, of the leading Communists of Poland - hundreds of the noblest and bravest men in Poland, murdered by Stalin and the men around Stalin. From a story in a Polish communist-Yiddish paper, Folkshtimme, we received our first "valid" proof of what had happened to Jewish culture in the U.S.S.R.: the extinction of every Yiddish newspaper, magazine, school, printing press - and the legal murder of a host of Jewish writers and cultural leaders. From an eye-witness report in the Manchester Guardian, we got the story of how some twenty elderly Jews were sentenced to from three to ten years imprisonment - for the possession of Zionist literature. From a host of sources, we learned of the fear, the pervading terror among Soviet Jews.
How do we account for such behavior after six million Jews were murdered by Nazism?
To continue: from the Soviet Union itself we learned of two more executions, and the blood hardly dry on the Khrushchev report! From Khrushchev himself we were treated to a new mode of diplomacy - diplomacy by insult and vulgarity. From the crisis in Egypt we learned of the new brink-of-war tactics of Soviet foreign affairs. For the first time, in relation to Israel, we witnessed the elevation of anti-Semitism to foreign policy. In November, 1956, Premier Bulganin sent notes to Great Britain, France and Israel. The notes to Britain and France were both reasonable and conciliatory in tone; the note to Israel was couched as an ultimatum in a tone both shrill and insulting. Since Israel was the least culpable of the three, and the only one of the three acting in terms of direct national security, the uncontrolled prejudice was both apparent and significant.
From Hungary and its tragedy we learned of a new kind of socialism - socialism by slaughter and terror.
From Poland, where a struggle within the Communist Party was being waged between the Gomulka forces and the Soviet-backed forces, we learned only recently of how the Russians had attempted to swing the election to their own adherents by the use of anti-Semitism.
I itemize only a little, for my space is limited, but there must be an itemization because this is a connected picture. In June, 1956, our expressed hope was that Russia would do away with capital punishment, not only because this was implicit in the "secret report," but because criminology and history have demonstrated the futility and senselessness of this barbaric process. It would have required only a decision of leadership, but instead, while the dead made dead unjustly were being reinstated, the heads of the living continued to roll, without any proof of their guilt presented publicly. And all this after Khrushchev's long and terrible revelation of the results of secret trial and execution.
So with habeas corpus, so with self-incrimination. We have had news recently that guilt by confession alone would no longer be part of the Soviet legal system; but this is a far cry from the meaning of our Fifth Amendment, which guarantees that no accused can be forced to give evidence against himself in any form. The contrast of a socialist state claiming to be the highest type of social organization on earth, yet lacking the rudimentary legal rights and protections which both the United States and England grant their citizens is thought-provoking, to say the least.
Friends point out that it is not to be expected that Russia should have the same legal procedures as the West. A communist lawyer said to me recently, "But these have never been part of their legal code in Russia or anywhere else in Europe." That is to the point, and neither has there been socialism in Europe before. The incredible thing is that this is a socialism which denies and derides the democratic process. Yet it is socialism. Economically, Russia cannot be regarded as anything else but a socialist state, and economically, this Russian socialism works. No one can evade the evidence of production statistics; the growth of the Soviet Union as a socialist industrial force is beyond argument, and speaking economically and in a sense, socially as well, a miracle has been performed in forty years.
But one cannot discuss socialism economically and leave it at that. In Russia, we have socialism without democracy. We have socialism without trial, jury, habeas corpus, or the right against self-incrimination, which is no more or less than protection against the abuse of confession by torture. We have socialism without civil liberty. We have socialism without the power of recall of government. We have socialism without public avenues of protest. We have socialism without equality for minorities. We have socialism without any right of free artistic creation. In so many words, we have socialism without morality.
Perhaps the cruelest and strangest development of history is the appearance of socialism under the domination of totalitarianism. And unless this is seen and faced and dealt with by the Left, both Communists and Socialists, then the present agony of mankind will continue far longer than it has to.
A ruling class can give only lip-service to morality; a dictatorship must eschew it as the sinner eschews his conscience. Yet what is morality - in its truest, deepest sense - but the ideology of the oppressed? From whence came the prophetic writings of Israel, the preaching of Jesus Christ, but from the tortured lips of the oppressed? I speak not of the dogma of the Church, but of the ethical content itself; and was it not this same ethical content that provided the first revolutionary ideology for the struggle against feudalism? The positive side of an ethic is in an understanding of the togetherness of mankind; this never changes; the ethic is the plea for equalitarianism, the human embrace of brotherhood, love and tolerance. The other side of the ethic is against oppression, for there is no brotherhood without freedom and human love cannot flower without liberty.
It is said of Rabbi Akiba that a heathen came to learn the Talmud. The rabbi told him, "It is not difficult. The substance is thus - love thy neighbor as thy brother. All the rest is commentary." Yet it was this same gentle Akiba who supported Bar Kochba in his glorious, pre-doomed revolt against Rome. Seemingly, these qualities are opposites; actually, they are one, for there is no freedom without brotherhood and no brotherhood without freedom. This is the basis of the ethic, the core and heart of it; and tyranny is immoral precisely because it interdicts the freedom which is not only the bread and wine of man's dignity but also gives him access to the bread of life. It was no accident that Jesus Christ, like the earlier prophets, preached more against temporal tyranny than against codified sin; it was precisely this that made him Christ.
IT IS equally no accident that the Russians contribute so little on the question of ethics. Ethics, fostered by the men in the Kremlin, could only amount to an invitation to resist them in their power. And there is less importance in the fact that the "secret report" was an immoral document than that it imposed a moral necessity. It was a confession, not of sin, but of the vilest oppression - apart from fascism and colonialism - that the twentieth century has known; and the necessity it imposed was that the tyranny - call it a dictatorship of the proletariat or what you will, it remains tyranny - that had created and practiced this oppression should open the door to morality by removing itself from government.
It is also neither an explanation nor an excuse to quote the history of Russia under the Czar. We talk here of socialism, and if socialism is a science, such explanations only degrade the men who claim to lead it. There is nothing either racial, geographic or mystical about democracy; it is a stage in the development of civilized man within his social structure; and the Russian leadership's contempt for democratic process is only a commentary upon their own socialist understanding - or lack of understanding. Savage and intolerant "Puritanism" has never been a substitute for knowledge.
I remember well the violent moral judgment that the Soviet writer, Ilya Ehrenburg, delivered upon the Nazis and the hardly less violent denunciation of the Americans. But when Ehrenburg became aware of the content of the "secret speech," we waited in vain for his wrath, his righteous anger or his moral indignation. Strangely, for a man who had seen and judged Nazism as he had during World War Two, he evidently found nothing in the murder of Jewish writers and poets and journalists to protest.
Though Jewish himself, Ehrenburg survived, for evidently a variation of the "honorary Aryan" exists in the Soviet Union.
I met Ehrenburg in Paris after that. I did not know that the Yiddish poet, Itzik Feffer, was dead; for me, he still existed as I had seen him in New York years before, handsome and tall and proud in his Red Army uniform. On this occasion, I was chewing gum, as I often do, and Ehrenburg characterized it boldly and bluntly, as a bestial practice. As a gum chewer, I was morally judged by him, and perhaps rightly so for in a large degree, this judgment characterized his understanding of morality. The ridiculous and the terrible often walk hand in hand. That Howard Fast could indulge in this barbarism of chewing gum injured Ehrenburg's sensibilities, even as the man who remained seated when a Victorian English lady entered the room offended her sense of the decent and fitting. But the moral response was no deeper than the Victorian manner. In a popular Soviet novel, a leading novelist pursued this line in describing how two sex-starved people, a soldier and a nurse, each of them celibate for years, spent a tortured night in the same room, each yearning toward the other, each upholding the honor of a Soviet citizen through abstinence. When this writer, here in America, was challenged as to the validity of such a picture, he replied, "Our people like it that way."
Without begging the question of a writer's responsibility toward reality, is it true that any people like it that way? These are not petty examples; they are definitions of a fake prudery, a childish parade of virtueless virtue that is substituted for real ethic and real morality.
IT WOULD be both wrong and malicious to make any comparison between this Soviet tyranny and the tyranny of fascism; but my rejection of such a comparison does not lessen the culpability a totalitarian socialist leadership. The Hitlerian state, which abandoned morality for racism and bestiality, embraced ignorance and the vilest medievalism, plunging headlong almost from the moment of its creation toward its final destruction in the holocaust of World War Two. The dynamic of the socialist state, even as it exists in Russia, is something else indeed. As much as the dictatorship at the top may reject and fear the truth in this area or that, the social and economic structure of the state itself propels toward an enlarging area of knowledge. A whole generation of engineers, atomic scientists, biologists, physicians, physicists, astronomers and a hundred other scientists and artists cannot be lulled or tranquilized forever with copybook maxims unrelated to the reality of life. The material concern for the health and welfare of the people, as demonstrated by the wonderful and amazing strides of the Soviet medical and health services must come into sharp conflict with the "Genghis Khan" attitude toward human life and humanism that was and still is exhibited by the leadership. And most sharply of all, the very teaching of a Marxist and materialist approach to history must inevitably challenge and unmask the crude corruption of Marxism that has taken place in the Soviet Party structure.
It is the brutalized and dehumanized practice of power that the theory of socialism has been most corrupted. But within the Soviet Union an increasing contradiction between Communist Party leadership and practice and evolving socialist society exists; and in good time this contradiction will become intolerable to the Soviet people.
Where then does the duty of the man of good will, the progressive, the socialist, the communist lie? I answer this question only for myself. I say that it lies with socialism, with the ancient and enduring dream of brotherhood, with the Soviet people, who twice created out of ruins the fabric and potential of a good society, with the Poles, who so gallantly went their own way toward democratic socialism.
I say that it does not lie with the pretentious dogmatism of Soviet leadership, indicted not only for their acquiescence in the crimes of Stalin, but for their continuing record of intolerance and dogmatic bossism since the exposure of those crimes.
I HAVE come to believe that within the very structure and historical development of the Communist Parties, as we know them in recent years, there is an almost incurable antithesis to the socialist democracy which they name as their ultimate goal. In a struggle against fascism and colonial oppression, history has shown these parties to be magnificently disciplined and courageous, but in other circumstances, they fall prey to a tragic contradiction. Programmatically for freedom, their very structure denies freedom within itself; against oppression, their very structure oppresses within itself; and conceived as a liberating force, the monolithic power structure chokes both the democratic process and the liberating thought. Their historical development has been toward an ever increasing and ever more rigid bureaucracy - and this very process nurtures an egotistic and dehumanized stratum of leadership, which is perpetuated to a point where the threat of recall must be seen by leadership as a threat to the existence of the organization. The rationale of those in power can then turn into paranoiac hatred and corroding suspicion.
It is this development that is being fought by a great many American communists who remain within the organization of the Communist Party, and I acknowledge their integrity and purpose. But can one for a moment believe that a similar struggle is possible in the Soviet Union? It is the very lack of any operative channel for either free elections or free recall in the Soviet Union that has so far prevented the change - not of system but simply of government - that the society is ready for. Since the appearance of the Khrushchev "secret report" nine months ago and since my initial written response to it, a number of things have happened to me personally. A flow of letters from the countries of Eastern Europe have pleaded heartbreakingly for succor - as if I had some power to intervene against the terrors and sufferings that beset them or some special persuasiveness to direct toward their leaders. I am afraid, however, that criticism of any validity is as abhorrent to the Kremlin leadership as social justice - in spite of their endless talk of criticism and self-criticism being a motive force in Soviet society. Where jail or death is the price of criticism directed at government, such claims are not only false, but even obscene.
I do not enjoy writing such things. I record them with distaste and soul-sickness. A life-long structure of belief lies shattered around me, and for nine long months I have paid the price for my own shortsightedness in mental anguish and turmoil. But I will not and cannot remain silent any longer. I judge no one else, but I know deeply that for me to hide my convictions would be despicable. If knowledge has unfolded for me a tragic and shoddy picture of the men who lead the Soviet Union, it has not lessened my faith and firm conviction in the ultimate brotherhood and basic goodness of man. Nor do I believe that mankind will be turned aside from socialist democracy and from the vision of the good world we will one day create. No power-clique of men of small soul and less humanity can long resist the tide of history.
As a postscript to the above, since it was written I received the inevitable summons from the House Committee on Un-American Activities to appear before them as a friendly witness. I made no bones about showing them, not only that I was an unfriendly witness, but that I utterly despised all they represented. Nothing I have said about injustice and petty tyranny here at home, or about the assorted madness of our foreign policy has been withdrawn in my mind. Let the issue not be confused. The fact that in the U.S.S.R. justice is so much of a stranger does not mean that justice walks uninhibited in our courts. I have written hundreds of thousands of words on the injustice that exists in my own country; I shall continue to write about it.
The fact that I have finally been able to spell out the facts above concerning injustice elsewhere does not close my eyes or my heart. It only opens both more.
I intend to continue my solidarity with all people of good will in America, communist and non-communist, who fight injustice and treasure the precious, the infinitely precious, traditions of Jefferson, Franklin, Lincoln and Douglass - to mention only four of the many great who built the foundations of that most splendid thing, American Democracy.
II: A COMMENT
BEFORE commenting on Howard Fast's article we should perhaps first say from what standpoint we view it. Obviously we are in no position to speak in the name, nor even in behalf of the Communist Party. But as editors of our country's only Left cultural periodical what Mr. Fast says concerns us deeply. He says it at a time when the socialist-oriented forces in the United States are beset with many baffling problems and their confusion - his document is an example - is very great; yet when the need to achieve some sort of working co-operation, if not unity, is apparent to almost all. It is within that larger context, communist and non-communist, that his opinion falls, and it is one we believe he will eventually relinquish.
Consider the manner of his reasoning. He says that he is protesting the course of happenings in the communist world, and that the Communist Party of the United States is compromised by events which are mostly beyond its control. How compromised? By matters of which its members could not know, by acts which they do not condone and in fact condemn? If a friend passes a bad check one may be "compromised," but only through guilt by association, to which Howard Fast does not subscribe. Yet so much of his article is devoted to Stalin and Khrushchev that one might think he was resigning from a party to which he never belonged: the Soviet Communist Party.
The party which he actually did leave, the American Communist Party, is in the midst of perhaps its greatest crisis. It has suffered and still suffers the continuous assault of the most powerful ruling class in all history. This alone is a source of disorientation for a small party. Internally, over and over it has been crippled by the rigidity and a dozen other evils of narrowness which Mr. Fast mentions. Yet if many left for those reasons, many stayed despite them, on grounds that seemed to them firmer and more justifiable; and we are not speaking of blind loyalty. Among them are veterans of great strike struggles and drives to organize the workers and farmers of our country, fighters for true Negro freedom and civil liberty, defenders of the abused and the victims of injustice, laborers in the supreme cause of peace. Can one really despair of such people at a moment when they are trying to overcome faults of which most are conscious in varying degrees? And suppose success is not unequivocal, and lots are still caught in the flypaper of phrases, or bear dogma like bags of cement on their backs? Should not one have as much patience for them as they must have to solve their immensely intricate problems? Howard Fast is an impetuous man, yet it took him a long time to arrive at his resignation. But organization is easily as painful as resignation and more wearisome, a multitude of minds is more complex than one. Therefore, we beg him not to settle back in his disenchantment if things do not turn out for the best so rapidly. Democracy brews surely but slowly in the ferment of rank-and-file persuasion.
LET US turn for a moment to Mr. Fast's reaction to the Khrushchev revelations and subsequent developments in the socialist world. As he knows from our editorial statements in past issues, we have no desire whatever to scrabble excuses for crimes committed by anyone. Nor are we impressed by semantic victories whereby crimes become "mistakes." A man who kills his wife cannot plead that he had neglected to study the woman question. Neither do we accept the argument that anti-Semitism in the form of anecdotes about Jews is different and less reprehensible than white chauvinism in the shape of jokes about Negroes, and that anyone who concerns himself unduly with the matter must be a Jewish nationalist. While it is true that Eastern Europe, Czarist Russia included, had a long history of anti-Semitism, one would think that the Soviet Communist Party leaders would have been particularly careful to wipe out every trace of prejudice in themselves and have understood better their historic role in effecting a qualitative change in that as well as other oppressive traditions. In any case, discrimination against national groups and cultures was not confined to the Jews. (Some people, not we, seem to get a curious consolation from that.)
Yet Howard Fast must be aware of a tragic contradiction of which he does not speak in his piece. When the Nazi army began its invasion of eastern Poland, hundreds of thousands of Jews were removed from there and White Russia to save them from the special dangers which threatened them. And this was done on the orders of the same leadership which was later culpable of the repression of Yiddish culture and responsible for the death of its major representatives.
(At this point we cannot resist the introduction of an ironic note. The January issue of the magazine Liberation, an independent monthly, contains an impassioned article by an Israeli citizen accusing his government of being a tool that seeks to be used by wicked hands. The author of the article, M. Stein, is identified as a Tel Aviv attorney who "purchased a printing plant in order to publish a Yiddish newspaper. When the Israeli government banned his paper, he went to court and invoked an old English law against the suppression of newspapers. The government did not test the law but confiscated the paper every day until Stein had to give up publication." Thought provoking to say the least).
We have commented previously, in individual articles as well as in editorial statements, on the inhibition of creative thinking in Soviet ideology, art and science during the so-called Stalin Era, and have also described a similar situation which prevailed on the Left in this country. We share Mr. Fast's opinion of its harmful effects on books, paintings, music, scientific research and Marxist thought, as well as on the characters of those engaged in these pursuits. However, recent stories such as those of Harrison Salisbury in the New York Times and certain novels we have received within the last few weeks, incline us to believe that the ice is breaking. What these books reveal is not pretty; but is not that what Mr. Fast is listening for: honest voices in place of self-serving and silence? If Ehrenburg cannot satisfy him, perhaps the younger men will. As for the American Communist Party's cultural milieu, there is much evidence that its artists and scholars are determined that things should not go on as they once did. This sentiment seems almost unanimous among them.
Mr. Fast reproaches the Soviet leaders for not yet having transformed their legal system so that certain aspects of Anglo-Saxon law or their equivalents would now be incorporated into it. We are not competent to discuss this. We can only say that, from the little material available to us in English, it appears that while a number of significant steps toward the democratization and humanization of legal processes have been taken since the death of Stalin, the specific features which are sine qua non for him have not been adopted. These features are immensely precious to us; it is difficult for us to understand why they should not be transposed bodily to any country whose aim is the achievement of full democracy; but perhaps the question requires more study than Mr. Fast has given it. Everyone sometimes runs into facts that give his indignation pause.
Mr. Fast's anger sometimes overwhelms his judgment. In his charge he expresses no awareness of the increased international tension which the American State Department has provoked by its ill-disguised intervention in the affairs of the New Democracies. He does not consider that one of the aims of such interference is to distract the governments of the socialist countries from the solution of their internal problems and from making the changes which they themselves assert they want to accomplish. (This does not mean that we deny that preposterous errors, inexcusable repression, and terrible crimes were of the greatest consequence in precipitating the recent Hungarian events. Nevertheless, as severe a critic of the action of the Soviet army as G. D. H. Cole, the British historian and socialist theoretician, recognizes that "the Russians had a difficult choice to make" for he is "not able to believe that, had they stood aside, the Hungarian people would have been in a position freely and democratically to decide their own destiny."*) Under such external pressures as the socialist countries have suffered since the XXth Congress it is not always possible, with the best of will, to erase long-ingrained injurious practices by a stroke of the pen, or to alter a legal system by "only a decision of the leadership." That in certain circumstances abstract morality gives way to extreme emergency is not just some perverse Leninist concoction; it is a fact in war and other situations in which individuals, as well as nations find themselves imperiled. But who is the foe of morality in the present case: the embattled parties of the socialist world or the lofty-minded Central Intelligence Agency which expends a billion dollars a year more or less for the avowed purpose of destroying socialism?
In his dissatisfaction with the nature and speed of Soviet reforms, Mr. Fast shows far less sympathy and understanding than not only Professor Cole but even Isaac Deutscher, author of a critically hostile political biography of Stalin, and surely no friend of the present Soviet leadership. Writing on the course of Soviet democratization in the anti-Communist cultural journal, Partisan Review, Deutscher estimates that the break with the past "is now felt in every aspect of Soviet activity and thought: in domestic and foreign policies, in education, in philosophical writing, in historical research, and, indeed, in the whole atmosphere of Soviet life. The scale and range of the changes taking place indicate that what we are witnessing is a many-sided, organic, and at times convulsive, upheaval in the existence of a huge segment of humanity."
Moreover, unlike Mr. Fast for whom all problems are dominantly and often exclusively moral, Deutscher presents the material evidence of democratic expansion (for example, the introduction of a new wage system, the condemnation of the "progressive piece rate," and the abolition of all fees for education, a step no nation of the "free" world has so far taken). He also names the social and economic factors impeding the process of democratization: the relative inadequacy of productive forces, the relative scarcity of consumer goods ("the decisive objective factor which sets limits to egalitarianism and democratic reform"). His patience is also instructive. Describing the present phase of reform as transitional, he remarks: "The present degree of liberalization is probably just sufficient to allow some scope for new processes of political thought and opinion-formation to develop in the intelligentsia and the working class. By their nature these are molecular processes, which require time to mature. But once they have matured they are certain to transform profoundly the whole moral and political climate of Communism, and to transform it in a spirit of socialist democracy." On this question, Howard Fast is less thoughtful than Isaac Deutscher.
Mr. Fast believes that socialist democracy can no longer flourish under the aegis of the Communist Parties who have led one-third of the world's people to socialism. He attributes this inability to their structure and historical development. He pictures a kind of dialectical process by which the people, say of the Soviet Union, having saved mankind from the horrors of fascism (at the cost of countless lives) and having reached an extraordinarily high stage of cultural and spiritual development, will find unbearable the contradiction between communist rule and society at large - even though this rule guided them to victory and put them on the road to happiness. As Mr. Fast depicts it, this contradiction verges on the catastrophic.
Now, that contradictions exist is no surprise to Marxists; only a classless society will abolish or reduce them to relative insignificance (for them to be replaced by other contradictions we cannot foresee; such is the dialectics of all life). But it is not at all inevitable that they reach a critical point, any more than that the strains of normal family life must always be resolved by divorce. What happened in the Soviet Union under Stalin and in Hungary under Rakosi has not occurred in China, and every sign there points to a successful and infinitely less painful resolution of the specific problems of socialist rule. (In passing, while through ignorance of the Russian language, we are unable to judge what present-day Soviet ethical thinking is like, we know from translations how much the Chinese Communists are absorbed by questions of human conduct, principle, motive, relations between people, the control of arbitrary leadership, bureaucratic habits, and the like.) Or are the Chinese not Communists? And what of the Poles whom Mr. Fast praises because they "so gallantly went on their way to democratic socialism"? Is theirs a Communist Party or not? He cannot have it both ways, so that those Parties which have disappointed his moral expectations are Communist and those which meet them have ceased to be.
What has escaped Mr. Fast is that the contradictions he sees as inherent and destructive in all relations between the Communist Parties and the people have appeared, not as inherent, but rather in a fresh and positive form, in the internal life of various Parties and in the course of their fraternal contacts as independent organizations. The enemies of socialism may be pleased and its friends dismayed by the sharpness of debate and the degree of personal feeling involved. But these are no more acute than the disputes within the Abolitionist Movement our own country, which constituted the method by which its essential program and tactics were forged.
In this respect we want to refer to an excerpt from Palmiro Togliatti's report to the Eighth Congress of the Communist Party of Italy.** (The full report bears the significant title, "The Italian Road to Socialism." )
Togliatti criticizes the Soviet Communists for not investigating deeply nor exposing the origin and conditions under which the errors and crimes they denounced had been committed. He views the "dramatic posthumous signalizing of the aberrations in the character of, and the wrong done by, a leader" as avoiding a clear obligation: to analyze the causes of the notorious distortions of Communist principle in order to decide how best to end them and prevent their recurrence. He notes that the failure to complete this task has done damage to the construction of socialist society and "even greater damage when the passage was being made from the construction and existence of socialism in one country alone to the existence of a socialist world made up of a system of states." Among other effects, it encouraged mirror imitation of Soviet solutions, and prevented a distinction being made between what is basic and "universal" (as the Chinese put it) in the Soviet experience and what is the job of each socialist country to solve for itself. Further, it often bred incredible mental calcification. One instance, cited by Togliatti, was the repression by the Rakosi government of the national holiday celebrating the 1848 revolution.
We believe this to be a fundamental and long-awaited criticism, and do not admit to hindsight in appreciating its urgency. In May, 1956, the editors called for such further explanation as Togliatti outlines. We said then: "The desire for an answer cannot be stifled, and therefore the accounting must come from those who are best able to give it. It must come for the sake of the prestige of the only movement in the world which has as its aim the liberation of all mankind.
"The cry for such an accounting," we said and repeat, "is not just a concoction of the enemies of socialism. It is the wish of those who yearn for the advent of socialism. It must be satisfied, for otherwise millions will be tugged at by doubts that will cast shadows even over the greatest achievements of socialism in the coming years." Recent events, and the disorientation of the intellectuals and many others of good will by them, have reinforced our conviction.
At the same time, we do not accept Howard Fast's picture of these happenings as a debacle. If they have destroyed any illusion of imperialism's reluctance to profit from defects and crises in the socialist world, they have also driven an intellectual opening-wedge into questions which most Communists once considered settled for good and for all. Togliatti's report, which we cannot begin to describe here; the Chinese experience; the developments in Poland; Kardelj's remarks on the relation of social to individual incentives, all these are marks of a new approach. On the one hand, we watch the colonial peoples take lessons in equality under the guns and bombs of the "free world." On the other, we hear the first speakers in a great debate to determine how international solidarity shall be tempered and strengthened by deference to national interests. As for the members of the Communist Party here, they tell us that they hope the old rubber stamp is worn out and they do not want it repaired. Discipline must be the product of the mutual respect of persons. One may disagree with such people; but they are not compromised. So we are not convinced by Mr. Fast's argument.
In the foregoing remarks we have outlined our disagreement with Howard Fast. We regret that much of our argument dealt with questions only secondarily related to the American scene, but here we had no choice, since those were the terms in which he defined the reason for his defection from the Communist Party.
So the reader may well ask why we consider his statement a disservice not simply to the Communist Party, not just to the cause of socialism, but to the American progressive movement as a whole? Briefly then, it is our opinion that the Communist Party has just begun its most difficult and painful task: the review of its past and present role in American life, its relations to the working class and to the people in general. If the reader will examine some of the published resolutions adopted by its recent National Convention, he will find a recognition of the Communists' need once and for all to place common interests above doctrinal differences in their contacts with every individual and organization - working class, farmer, Negro, foreign-born, and the like - seeking the betterment of life in this country and peace in the world at large. A need not merely to subordinate differences, but genuinely to immerse themselves in common tasks and to identify themselves with the outlook of others even when that view is not theirs. If Mr. Fast says: "I'll keep my fingers crossed," who can deny him the right? The Communist Party has made many, many mistakes. But it also has a noble past of devotion and struggle, as Mr. Fast himself admits, else why did he join it? He says he was no one's dupe.
We know that no political party can rest on the laurels it has gathered, but must justify itself by its future. Yet at this time, when the development of American capitalism presents the progressive movement with such enormous and devious challenges, can that movement afford to ignore any group which offers its manifold experiences and best insights to the good fight? It needs everyone and every gathering of men and women to wage it. And if the Communist Party is such a group, then the ranks should be opened for it.
Mr. Fast may say that he does not deny the American Communist Party the right to participate in anything it pleases. But he does question its worthiness of his adherence to it in such a manner as to cast doubt on its democratic ideals, and to encourage the factional belief that its existence is harmful to the progressive cause. With all respect to him, we think such a view unwarranted and its effect deterrent to a desperately needed unity. And in all friendliness, we urge him to reconsider it. If on the other hand we have read into his statement a conclusion which is not latent there, we shall be more than happy to withdraw it.
A LAST word to friends on both sides of our argument - Mr. Fast's and ours. Let them read his ending carefully and hear the note of solidarity it sounds. For our part we are not inclined suddenly to regard him as one sees a photographic negative where the bright spots are darkened and the round parts hollowed out. Nor do we think that the differences between him and his former comrades, sharp as they are, need be exacerbated so that a hostile chasm lies between them. In this difficult time, when a "hundred schools contend" and none can prevail, it is not so much what a man has come to doubt as what he fights for that should determine our feelings about him. Once the contenders can be convinced how much they do have in common and how precious it is, the bridge can be rebuilt sooner than they may imagine.
* The New Statesman and Nation, January 12, 1957.
** Political Affairs, February, 1957.