Letters to the Editors from the May 1937 issue of the Socialist Standard
In the article “What is Wrong with Russia?” published in the March The Socialist Standard, the point was made that Communists, having themselves advocated lying and double-dealing as a form of activity, have no reason for being indignant because they are suspected of having used these methods against prisoners in the series of trials. A Glasgow reader asks us for our authority for the statement that such methods were advocated. It will be found in Lenin's Should Communists Participate in Reactionary Trade Unions? written in 1920. The following extract is taken from the edition published by the American Communists (“Workers' Party of America”): —
COMMUNISTS MUST BE TACTFUL.There is no doubt but that the opportunist leaders of the unions will resort to all the dirty tricks of bourgeois diplomacy, invoking the help of the capitalist governments, priests, police, judges, etc., in order to prevent the Communists from penetrating into the trade unions, to force them out of the unions, to make their work within the unions as dangerous as possible, aiding the police to persecute and run them down. But we must be able to withstand all that, to be ready for any and every sacrifice, and even if necessary, to practice trickery, to employ cunning, and to resort to illegal methods, to sometimes even overlook or conceal the truth—all for the sake of penetrating into the trade unions, to stay there and by every and all means carry on the work of Communism.
The publication of this in America led to the Communists being strongly criticised, and they found it very inconvenient to have to defend their declared intention of using trickery, cunning, and overlooking and concealing the. truth, and it was perhaps for this reason that the words were toned down somewhat in the English version to be found in “Left-Wing Communism,” published by the Communist Party of Great Britain. Here the last few lines read : —
It is necessary to be able to withstand all this, to go the whole length of any sacrifice if need be, to resort to strategy and adroitness, illegal proceedings, reticence and subterfuge, to anything in order to penetrate into the trade unions, remain in them, and carry on Communist work inside them, at any cost.
The case against this sort of thing is a strong one. Ultimately the workers have got to be won over for Socialism by being convinced that the Socialist argument is unanswerable. Trying to win them prematurely by means of trickery and subterfuge is worse than useless. The ruling class and the reformist leaders are bound to win at the game, and the workers will be not more but less ready to listen to what Socialists have to say when they discover that Communists have been willing to trick them.
The second letter, from Mr. T. Roberts, Wealdstone, is largely based on misunderstanding of our position. Mr. Roberts jumps to the conclusion that we have some moral objection to the workers concealing information from the capitalist class. The S.P.G.B. has never held so absurd a view. What we are concerned with is misleading the workers.
Mr. Roberts goes on to argue at some length that the Communists are entitled to lie. He writes: —
No, they are not willing to submit to the authority of capitalism, whether that authority is expressed directly by the capitalist class themselves or indirectly through traitorous lenders. So what? They double-deal and lie!!? What sanctimonious humbug finds expression in the Sunday School dithering of the writer of the article in question.
The next step, of course, is clean collars and manicured hands, with the new workers' slogan, “ Play the game, you cads!”
The first thing we notice is that Mr. Roberts does not deny that Communists practise lying and trickery. Indeed, he holds that it is their duty to do so. So we ask again the original question which has roused Mr. Roberts to fury. Why should the Communists be so indignant at the suggestion that they, who preach and practice lying, have perhaps used it to get rid of their Trotskyist and other opponents in Russia?
Come, Mr. Roberts, let us know why the indignation ?
The series of Russian trials are quite a good illustration of the dangers of this policy. If lying is to be effective it is essential that it shall not be found out. But when used on a large scale, sooner or later some of it is bound to be found out. In the case of the Russians, to take only one instance, there is the “confession" of the prisoner who said he was plotting with Abramovitch in Russia, while actually the latter was in Brussels, seen by large numbers of delegates at a conference there. (Mr. Roberts, we notice, does not refer to this.) The result is that among wide circles of workers there is now a suspicion that the trials are not what they seem, and time and energy are now being devoted to that controversy which might have been devoted to more important things.
In passing, it may be remarked that Mr. Roberts jibe about clean collars, and so on, is singularly ill-conceived. One of the recent trends sponsored by Stalin in Russia has been just that— the slogan for clean collars for men and cosmetics and fashionable clothes for women. Though why 'Mr. Roberts should object to workers having these things is a mystery to us. Does Mr. Roberts insist on wearing a dirty collar and is he, in his view, a better revolutionary for doing so?
Mr. Roberts goes on to justify double-dealing as used by the Communists against MacDonald, Snowden and Thomas. Which only shows how little Mr. Roberts knows of the Communists or their methods. The worst lies and double-dealing used by the Communists were not against these men but for them. At election after election, Communists, knowing they were lying, roused the workers to vote for these men, representing them as fit and proper persons for workers* votes. It did not deceive the capitalists, but it did deceive the workers.
May we now ask Mr. Roberts to tell us what useful purpose this lying has served, useful, that is, to the working class and the Socialist movement ?
Mr. Roberts raises many other points, mainly concerned with the reason why the S.P.G.B. doesn’t produce evidence of discontent in Russia, evidence of faked confessions, etc.
What Mr. Roberts forgets is that the Communists, who, as he admits, believe in lying and trickery, also control the Russian Press, the Russian postal, telegraph and telephone services, and almost every source of information.
And doesn't Mr. Roberts perceive that the repeated mass trials themselves are evidence that some discontent exists in Russia?