Hegel says somewhere that any party is real only when it becomes divided. The idea, far from being a paradox, is simple and profound in its dialectical realism. Any political movement (or any philosophical school of thought) as it grows and develops cannot help unfolding the contradictions inherent in itself and its environment; and the more it unfolds them the richer is its content and vitality. Stalin’s conception of the monolithic party was one of his terroristic utopias, the pipe-dream of an autocrat, frightened to death of any dissension or ‘deviation’ and raising himself in his imagination above the realities of society and history. He managed to ‘eliminate’ contradictions from the communist movement only by suppressing the movement itself, by crushing the life out of it, and reducing it to an ‘apparatus’. Even so, the contradictions continued to be reflected, as if in a distorting mirror, in his own policy, with its notorious ‘right’ and ‘left’ zigzags. Unreal though the monolith was in the deeper philosophical and historical sense, politically it dominated the Soviet Union and international communism for several decades; and the consequences of this fact are still with us.
The Soviet-Chinese conflict, coming after the struggle over de-Stalinization in the ussr and the Hungarian and Polish upheavals of 1956, marks a new phase in the disintegration of the monolith. The international communist movement has once again become openly divided and to this extent real. Once again it struggles in its own way for its own identity and consciousness, instead of being, as it was in the Stalin era, a pseudo-movement or a para-movement with a merely derivative identity. If this change goes far enough, if the movement is allowed to unfold all its genuine contradictions and finds itself anew, the advantages which may accrue to it from split and disunity are bound to outweigh the immediate disadvantages, on which communists and anticommunists alike have fixed their gaze, the former with apprehension, the latter with gleeful hope.
The logic of the situation tends to recreate within communism the traditional divisions between Right, Centre, and Left. This is still tendency rather than fact, potentiality rather than actuality. The lines of demarcation are still blurred, intersected by diverse cross-currents, overlaid by a fog of ambiguity. Only conditionally therefore can one speak of these three currents in contemporary communism: Maoism on the Left, Khrushchevism in the Centre, and a rather shapeless but influential Right represented by Tito, Togliatti, and their many quasianonymous co-thinkers within the Soviet bloc. Willy-nilly, one thinks of the three currents of the 1920s: the Bukharinist Right, the Stalinist Centre, and the Trotskyist Left. After the long interval, communism appears to come full circle and resume a great ideological debate broken off some 30 years ago. Not for nothing do the parties to the present controversy fling at each other the labels of Trotskyism, Bukharinism, and Stalinism. But how genuine is the continuity of the two debates? In so far as the issues and dilemmas which underlay the divisions of the 1920s have retained importance and topicality, the present divisions, if and when they crystallize, should broadly correspond to—and should also develop—the divisions of the 1920s. The old controversies had centred on basic problems of the transition from capitalism to socialism; and these have not yet been solved. The 1920s were a formative period of great anticipatory ideas, many of which, having been banned or confined to oblivion, are re-emerging, and are likely to remain relevant for a long time to come.
However, the continuity of the three trends manifests itself through discontinuity; and for the time being the aspect of discontinuity stands out. So much has changed: the general historic situation; the global balance of power; the social structure of post-capitalist society; the colonial and semi-colonial world; the context within which the Communist Parties are acting; and the framework of their own tradition. The threads of the historic development cannot be merely picked up where they had been left in the 1920s because they were not truly left there. The old divisions are reproducing themselves in a new or partly new socio-political substance, against the background of the Soviet Union’s new responsibilities as a nuclear power, of the victory and consolidation of the Chinese revolution, of the spread of revolution
In every one of its sectors, the Maoist, the Khrushchevite, and the ‘Titoist’, communism is at present reacting against Stalinism; but everywhere it is reacting in a Stalinist manner; and in every sector it does this in a different way. In the 1920s official Bolshevism reacted against Leninism, while preserving the forms of Leninist orthodoxy. Now, as in the 1920s, we see the movement breaking with its past and tradition. In both cases the nature of the past and of the tradition has been reflected, positively and negatively, in the new phase.
The Leninist tradition had been woven of two main strands: revolutionary internationalism and proletarian democracy. Against Leninist internationalism, Stalin and Bukharin asserted the national selfsufficiency of the Russian revolution, i.e. socialism in a single country. They had to justify their new doctrine in terms of the old one—hence the casuistic manner in which they had to expound it. They superimposed their own brand of national communism upon the tradition of Bolshevik internationalism. Similarly, the Stalinist conception of the monolithic party, intolerant of any internal dissent, was incompatible with the Leninist ‘democratic centralism’, under which communist ranks were perpetually astir with debate, and with the early plebeian democracy of the Soviet Republic. All Bolshevik habits of thought and action had to be distorted or destroyed before the party could conform to Stalin’s ideal. Until this happened, the inertia of the old democratic habits was still there: up to the late 1920s the party remained openly divided into Right, Centre, and Left; and the division was still accepted as natural and legitimate. Stalin himself did not yet dare to question the legitimacy of the great controversy. So large and vital was even the residuum of inner party freedom and proletarian democracy that it took Stalinism years to remove it.
The present state of affairs is largely a reversal of the situation of the 1920s. A new communist internationalism is making its appearance, but it has yet to break through the crusts of national egoism that had grown up under Stalinism. Similarly, a new ferment of ideas is under way, a new propensity to dissent and controversy, a new thirst for inner party freedom and socialist democracy. But all this is still contained within the Stalinist habits of totalitarian discipline. Nearly 40 years after the last great debate in communism, the renewal of debate has come as a terrifying shock to communists and appears to them to be quite illegitimate. So heavy is still the burden of Stalinism; and so difficult is it for the Communist Parties to free themselves from it!