Written: 25 April 1940.
First Published: Fourth International, Vol.1 No.2, June 1940, pp.41-44.
Translated: By Fourth International.
Reprinted: Leon Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism, New York 1942.
Checked Against: Leon Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism, London 1966, pp.212-222.
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2003. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.
“WE” FORESAW the alliance with Hitler – write Shachtman and Burnham – but the seizure of Eastern Poland? the invasion of Finland? – no, “we” couldn’t foresee these events. Such completely improbable and utterly unexpected events necessitate, they insist, a complete upheaval in our politics. These politicians labored under the impression apparently that Stalin needed an alliance with Hitler in order to roll Easter eggs with him. They “foresaw” the alliance (when? where?) but couldn’t foresee what it was for and why.
They recognize the right of the workers’ state to maneuver between the imperialist camps and to conclude agreements with one against another. These agreements should, obviously, have as their goal the defense of the workers’ state, the acquisition of economic, strategical and other advantages, and, if circumstances permit, the extension of the base of the workers’ state. The degenerated workers’ state attempts to gain these ends with its own bureaucratic methods, which at every step come into conflict with the interests of the world proletariat. But exactly what is so unexpected and so unpredictable about the Kremlin’s attempt to get as much as it could from its alliance with Hitler?
If our ill-starred politicians failed to foresee “this” it is only because they fail to think a single question seriously through to the end. During the protracted negotiations with the Anglo-French delegation in the summer of 1939, the Kremlin openly demanded military control over the Baltic States. Because England and France refused to grant him this control, Stalin broke off negotiations. This alone clearly indicated that an agreement with Hitler would secure Stalin at least control over the Baltic states. Politically mature people the world over approached the matter from precisely this standpoint, asking themselves: Just how will Stalin accomplish this task? Will he resort to military force? And so on. The course of events depended, however, a great deal more on Hitler than on Stalin. Generally speaking, concrete events cannot be predicted. But the main direction of the events as they actually unfolded contained nothing essentially new.
Because of the degeneration of the workers’ state, the Soviet Union turned out at the threshold of the second imperialist war to be far weaker than it need have been. Stalin’s agreement with Hitler had as its objective the securing of the USSR from a German assault and, generally, securing the USSR from being drawn into a major war. While seizing Poland, Hitler had to protect himself on the East. Stalin was compelled, with Hitler’s permission, to invade Eastern Poland in order to avail himself of some supplementary guarantees against Hitler on the Western boundary of the USSR. As a result of these events, however, the USSR acquired a common frontier with Germany, and by virtue of this very fact the danger from a victorious Germany became much more direct, while Stalin’s dependence on Hitler was greatly increased.
The episode of the partitioning of Poland had its development and sequel in the Scandinavian arena. Hitler could not have failed to give some intimation to his “friend” Stalin that he planned to seize the Scandinavian countries. Stalin could not have failed to break into a cold sweat. After all, this signified complete German domination of the Baltic Sea, of Finland, and hence constituted a direct threat to Leningrad. Once again Stalin had to seek supplementary guarantees against his ally, this time in Finland. However, he met with serious resistance there. The “military excursion” dragged on. Meanwhile Scandinavia threatened to become the arena of major warfare. Hitler, who had completed his preparations for the blow against Denmark and Norway, demanded that Stalin conclude an early peace. Stalin had to cut his plans short, and renounce sovietizing Finland. These are the salient features of the course of events in the European Northwest.
Under the conditions of World War, to approach the question of the fate of small states from the standpoint of “national independence,” “neutrality,” etc., is to remain in the sphere of imperialist mythology. The struggle involves world domination. The question of the existence of the USSR will be solved in passing. This problem which today remains in the background, will at a certain moment come to the forefront. So far as the small and second rate states are concerned, they are already today pawns in the hands of the great powers. The sole freedom they still retain, and this only to a limited extent, is the freedom of choosing between masters.
Two governments struggle for a while in Norway: The government of the Norwegian Nazis, covered by the German troops in the South, and the old social-democratic government with their King in the North. Should the Norwegian workers have supported the “democratic” camp against the fascist? Following the analogy with Spain, it might at first glance appear as if this question should be answered in the affirmative. In reality this would be the crudest kind of blunder. In Spain there was an isolated civil war; the intervention of foreign imperialist powers, however important in itself, nevertheless remained of secondary character. What is involved in Norway is the direct and immediate clash between two imperialist camps in whose hands the warring Norwegian governments are only auxiliary tools. On the world arena we support neither the camp of the Allies nor the camp of Germany. Consequently we have not the slightest reason or justification for supporting either one of their temporary tools within Norway itself.
The very same approach must be applied to Finland. From the standpoint of the strategy of the world proletariat, Finnish resistance was no more an act of independent national defense than is the resistance of Norway. This was best demonstrated by the Finnish government itself which preferred to cease all resistance rather than have Finland completely transformed into a military base of England, France and the United States. Secondary factors like the national independence of Finland or Norway, the defense of democracy, etc., however important in themselves, are now intertwined in the struggle of infinitely more powerful world forces and are completely subordinate to them. We must discount these secondary factors and determine our policy in accordance with the basic factors.
The programmatic theses of the Fourth International on the war gave an exhaustive answer to this question six years ago. The theses state: “The idea of national defense especially if it coincides with the idea of the defense of democracy, can most readily be utilized to dupe the workers of small and neutral countries (Switzerland, in particular Belgium, the Scandinavian countries ...).” And further on: “Only petty-bourgeois blockheads (like Robert Grimm) from a god-forsaken Swiss village could seriously believe that the World War into which he will be drawn is a means for defending the independence of Switzerland.” Other petty-bourgeois equally stupid imagined that world war is a means for defending Finland, that it is possible to determine proletarian strategy on the basis of a tactical episode such as the invasion of Finland by the Red Army.
Just as during strikes directed against big capitalists, the workers often bankrupt in passing highly respectable petty-bourgeois concerns, so in a military struggle against imperialism, or in seeking military guarantees against imperialism, the workers’ stateeven completely healthy and revolutionary – may find itself compelled to violate the independence of this or that small state. Tears over the ruthlessness of the class struggle on either the domestic or the international arena may properly be shed by democratic Philistines but not by proletarian revolutionists.
The Soviet Republic in 1921 forcefully sovietized Georgia which constituted an open gateway for imperialist assault in the Caucasus. From the standpoint of the principles of national self-determination, a good deal might have been said in objection to such sovietization. From the standpoint of extending the arena of the socialist revolution, military intervention in a peasant country was more than a dubious act. From the standpoint of the self-defense of the workers’ state surrounded by enemies, forceful sovietization was justified: The safeguarding of the socialist revolution comes before formal democratic principles.
World imperialism for a long time utilized the question of violence in Georgia as the rallying cry in mobilizing world public opinion against the Soviets. The Second International took the lead in this campaign. The Entente aimed at the preparation of a possible new military intervention against the Soviets.
In exactly the same way as in the case of Georgia, the world bourgeoisie utilized the invasion of Finland in mobilizing public opinion against the USSR. The social-democracy in this case too came out as the vanguard of democratic imperialism. The unhappy “third camp” of the stampeding petty-bourgeois brings up the rear.
Along with the striking similarity between these two instances of military intervention there is, however, a profound difference – the present USSR is far from being the Soviet Republic of 1921. The 1934 theses of the Fourth International on War declare: “The monstrous development of Soviet bureaucratism and the wretched living conditions of the toilers have extremely reduced the attractive power of the USSR for the world working class.” The Soviet-Finnish war revealed graphically and completely that within gunshot of Leningrad, the cradle of the October revolution, the present regime of the USSR is incapable of exercising an attractive force. Yet it does not follow from this that the USSR must be surrendered to the imperialists but only that the USSR must be torn out of the hands of the bureaucracy.
“But where is the Civil War in Finland which you promised?” demand the leaders of the former opposition, who have now become the leaders of the “third camp.” I promised nothing. I only analyzed one of the possible variants of the further development of the Soviet-Finnish conflict. The seizure of isolated bases in Finland was as probable as the complete occupation of Finland. The seizure of bases presupposed maintaining the bourgeois regime throughout the rest of the country. Occupation presupposed a social overturn which would be impossible without involving the workers and poorer farmers in civil war. The initial diplomatic negotiations between Moscow and Helsinki indicated an attempt to solve the question in the way it was solved with the other Baltic states. Finland’s resistance compelled the Kremlin to seek its ends through military measures. Stalin could justify the war before the broadest masses only by sovietizing Finland. The appointment of the Kuusmen government indicated that the fate awaiting Finland was not that of the Baltic states but that of Poland, where Stalin – no matter what the amateur columnists of the “third camp” scribble – found himself compelled to provoke civil war and to overthrow property relations.
I specified several times that if the war in Finland was not submerged in a general war, and if Stalin was not compelled to retreat before a threat from the outside, then he would be forced to carry through the sovietizing of Finland. This task by itself was much more difficult than the sovietizing of Eastern Poland. More difficult from a military standpoint, for Finland happened to be better prepared. More difficult from a national standpoint, for Finland possesses a long tradition of struggle for national independence from Russia, whereas the Ukrainians and the White Russians were fighting against Poland. More difficult from a social standpoint, for the Finnish bourgeoisie had in its own way solved the pre-capitalist agrarian problem through the creation of an agricultural petty-bourgeoisie. Nevertheless the military victory of Stalin over Finland would unquestionably have made fully possible an overthrow of property relations with more or less assistance from the Finnish workers and small farmers.
Why then didn’t Stalin carry out this plan? Because a colossal mobilization of bourgeois public opinion began against the USSR. Because England and France seriously posed the question of military intervention. Finally – last but not least in importance – because Hitler could wait no longer. The appearance of English and French troops in Finland would have meant a direct threat to Hitler’s Scandinavian plans which were based on conspiracy and surprise. Caught in the vise of a twofold danger – on one side from the Allies and from the other, Hitler-Stalin renounced sovietizing Finland, limiting himself to the seizure of isolated strategical positions.
The partisans of the “third camp” (the camp of the stampeding petty-bourgeois) now piece together the following construction: Trotsky deduced the civil war in Finland from the class nature of the USSR; inasmuch as no civil war occurred, that signifies the USSR is not a workers’ state. In reality there was no necessity whatever for logically “deducing” a possible civil war in Finland from a sociological definition of the USSR – it was sufficient to base oneself on the experience in Eastern Poland. The overturn in property relations which was accomplished there could have been achieved only by the state that issued from the October revolution. This overturn was forced upon the Kremlin oligarchy through its struggle for self-preservation under specific conditions. There was not the slightest ground for doubting that under analogous conditions it would find itself compelled to repeat the very same operation in Finland. That was all I pointed out. But conditions changed during the course of the struggle. War, like revolution, often develops abrupt turns. With the cessation of military operations on the part of the Red Army, naturally there could be no talk of the unfolding of civil war in Finland.
Every historical prognosis is always conditional, and the more concrete the prognosis, the more conditional it is. A prognosis is not a promissory note which can be cashed on a given date. Prognosis outlines only the definite trends of the development. But along with these trends a different order of forces and tendencies operate, which at a certain moment begin to predominate. All those who seek exact predictions of concrete events should consult the astrologists. Marxist prognosis aids only in orientation. I made reservations several times as to the conditionality of my prognosis as one of several possible variants. To clutch now, as the rock of salvation, at the tenth rate historical fact that the fate of Finland was temporarily determined on the pattern of Lithuania, Latvia and Esthonia rather than the pattern of Eastern Poland can occur only to sterile scholastics or – the leaders of the “third camp.”
Stalin’s assault upon Finland was not of course solely an act in defense of the USSR. The politics of the Soviet Union is guided by the Bonapartist bureaucracy. This bureaucracy is first and foremost concerned with its power, its prestige, its revenues. It defends itself much better than it defends the USSR. It defends itself at the expense of the USSR and at the expense of the world proletariat. This was revealed only too clearly throughout the entire development of the Soviet-Finnish conflict. We cannot therefore either directly or indirectly take upon ourselves even a shadow of responsibility for the invasion of Finland which represents only a single link in the chain of the politics of the Bonapartist bureaucracy.
It is one thing to solidarize with Stalin, defend his policy, assume responsibility for it – as does the triply infamous Comintern – it is another thing to explain to the world working class that no matter what crimes Stalin may be guilty of we cannot permit world imperialism to crush the Soviet Union, reestablish capitalism, and convert the land of the October revolution into a colony. This explanation likewise furnishes the basis for our defense of the USSR.
The attempt of the conjunctural defeatists, i.e., the adventurers in defeatism, to extricate themselves from their difficulty by promising that in the event the Allies intervene they will change their defeatist policy to a defensist one is a contemptible evasion. It is in general not easy to determine one’s policies according to a stop watch, especially under wartime conditions. In the critical days of the Soviet-Finnish war, as has now become known – the Allied general staffs reached the conclusion that serious and quick aid to Finland could come only through destroying the Murmansk railway by bombing it from the air. From the point of view of strategy this was quite correct. The question of intervention or non-intervention by the Allied air forces hung by a hair. From the same hair apparently, the principled position of the “third camp” also dangled. But from the very beginning we considered that it was necessary to determine one’s position in accordance with the basic class camps in the war. This is much more reliable.
The policy of defeatism is not punishment of a given government for this or that crime it has committed but a conclusion from the class relationships. The Marxist line of conduct in war is not based on abstract moral and sentimental considerations but on the social appraisal of a regime in its reciprocal relations with other regimes. We supported Abyssinia not because the Negus was politically or “morally” superior to Mussolini but because the defense of a backward country against colonial oppression deals a blow to imperialism, which is the main enemy of the world working class. We defend the USSR independently of the policy of the Moscow Negus for two fundamental reasons. First, the defeat of the USSR would supply imperialism with new colossal resources and could prolong for many years the death agony of capitalist society. Secondly, the social foundations of the USSR, cleansed of the parasitic bureaucracy are capable of assuring unbounded economic and cultural progress, while the capitalist foundations disclose no possibilities except further decay.
What unmasks the noisy critics most of all is that they continued to consider the USSR a workers’ state at a time when Stalin was destroying the Bolshevik party; when he was strangling the proletarian revolution in Spain; when he was betraying the world revolution in the name of “People’s Fronts” and “collective security.” Under all these conditions they recognized the necessity of defending the USSR as a workers’ state! But no sooner did this same Stalin invade “democratic” Finland, no sooner did bourgeois public opinion of the imperialist democracies – which covered up and approved all Stalins’ crimes against the communists, the workers and the peasants – raise a howl to the skies, than our innovators immediately declared: “Yes, this is intolerable!” And following Roosevelt they declared a moral embargo against the Soviet Union.
Educated witch-doctor Burnham’s reasoning on the theme that by defending the USSR we thereby defend Hitler, is a neat little specimen of petty-bourgeois fatheadedness which seeks to force contradictory reality into the framework of a two-dimensional syllogism. By defending the Soviet Republic after the Brest-Litovsk peace did the workers support Hohenzollern? Yes or no? The programmatic theses of the Fourth International on war which deal in detail with this question, establish categorically that agreements between a soviet state and this or that imperialist state do not place any restrictions upon the revolutionary party of that state. The interests of the world revolution stand above an isolated diplomatic combination, however justifiable the latter may be in and of itself. By defending the USSR we struggle far more seriously against Stalin, as well as Hitler, than do Burnham and Co.
It is true, Burnham and Shachtman do not stand alone. Leon Jouhaux, the notorious agent of French capitalism, also waxes indignant over the fact that the “Trotskyists defend the USSR.” Who should be indignant if not he! But our attitude toward the USSR is the same as our attitude towards the CGT (General Confederation of Labor) we defend it against the bourgeoisie despite the fact that the Confederation is headed by scoundrels like Leon Jouhaux who deceive and betray the workers at every step. The Russian Mensheviks likewise are howling: “The Fourth International is in a Blind Alley!” because the Fourth International still continues to recognize the USSR as a workers’ state. These gentlemen themselves are members of the Second International, which is led by such eminent traitors as the typical bourgeois mayor Huysmans, and Leon Blum, who betrayed an exceptionally favorable revolutionary situation in June 1936 and thereby made possible the present war. The Mensheviks recognize the parties of the Second International as workers’ parties but refuse to recognize the Soviet Union as a workers’ state on the ground that at its head stand bureaucratic traitors. This falsehood reeks with brazenness and cynicism. Stalin, Mobtoy, and the rest, as a social layer are no better and no worse than the Blums, Jouhaux, Citrines, Thomases, etc. The difference between them is only this, that Stalin and Co. exploit and cripple the viable economic foundation of socialist development, while the Blums cling to the thoroughly rotted foundation of capitalist society.
The workers’ state must be taken as it has emerged from the merciless laboratory of history and not as it is imagined by a “socialist” professor, reflectively exploring his nose with his finger. It is the duty of revolutionists to defend every conquest of the working class even though it may he distorted by the pressure of hostile forces. Those who cannot defend old positions will never conquer new ones.
April 25, 1940
Last updated on: 22.4.2007