From New International, Vol.4 No.3, March 1938, pp.67-70.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The Collapse of a Pernicious Myth – The “Democracies” Acquiesce in Schuschnigg’s Capitulation to Hitler – The Versailles System at the End of Its Rope – Towards a Four-Power Pact of the “Peace-Loving” and “War-Loving” Nations – A Free Hand for Hitler in the East and for England in the Far-East – Russia’s Isolation – Stalin’s Letter: A Confession of Bankruptcy – Roosevelt as a Home-Builder – The Death of Leon Sedoff
THE EVENTS SURROUNDING AND following the capitulation of the Schuschnigg regime to Hitler, mark the collapse of the most ludicrous and pernicious of contemporary myths. Ever since 1935, the Third International, like the Second before it and along with it, cultivated the notion that the world is divided between peace-loving democracies, representing the principles of Good, and the war-loving fascisms, representing the principle of Evil. England, France, the United States and the latest convert to democracy, the Soviet Union, fell into the first category and constituted the bulwark defending the world from an assault upon peace and democracy by Germany, Italy and Japan which, of course, fell into the second. In addition to the two main tasks which the first group was guaranteed to perform, it would also defend the Soviet Union from invasion and preserve the national integrity of the little countries menaced by fascist absorption. The criteria of the class struggle, of class interests, were relegated to the museum of horse-and-buggy socialism.
The degree of faith which the Austrian clerico-fascist leaders put in this myth is not known, but their efforts to test its validity proved even less fruitful than those made for twenty months by the Spanish Loyalist government. The repeated rhetorical flourishes of the democratic statesmen must, however, have left some impression upon Schuschnigg, for, before bending the knee to Hitler and consenting to the virtual annexation of Austria by Germany, he made perfervid appeals for assistance to Downing Street and the Quai d’Orsay. But since the self-confessed democracies are not yet militarily or politically prepared for that war which is the only means of seriously challenging Hitler’s advances, they again made a virtue of their peace-loving pretensions and ruefully counselled their not-very-democratic but now sadder and wiser Austrian protege to accept the Berchtesgaden ultimatum.
The dismayed outrage expressed by the associated Stalinist, social-democratic and liberal press at what they regard as the perfidious passivity of their democratic idols, simply adds up to. disappointment over the fact that the “peace-loving” nations failed to go to war – as yet.
The same pathetic consternation is being voiced over the fact that Neville Chamberlain has dropped his pilot, Anthony Eden, in midstream. From the liberal-Stalinist canonization of the British ex-Foreign Secretary as a martyr to the cause of the League of Nations, peace and democracy, one would never conclude that he was and is the sworn defender of British imperialist might. The debate in the House of Commons following Eden’s resignation, showed that there was a purely practical and not a principled difference between the former Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister.. Neither Eden nor Chamberlain expressed any concern over the abstract principle of democracy in disputing the method of arriving at an agreement with Italy. As for the question of peace, Chamberlain’s argument for immediate negotiations with Rome put him, formally at least, in a less bellicose position than Eden. Certainly from the standpoint of the People’s Fronters, Chamberlain would have to be designated as a greater “peace-lover” than his former aide. In any case, the discussion revolved entirely around the question of which approach was better calculated to fortify the waning power of the British Empire.
The reaction to the events of the other democratic paladin across the Channel was not essentially different. While England has a Conservative government, her closest ally now has what the French, with their irrepressible sense of humor, continue to call a government of the People’s Front. On any number of occasions since the famous Curtius plan of several years ago for an economic union between Germany and Austria, France has proclaimed its determination to preserve the territorial integrity and independence of Austria, with armed force if need be; which merely meant that Austria had to remain under Anglo-French tutelage, and that Germany would be well advised not to attempt to draw her neighbor into her sphere of influence. Now, however, that Hitler has actually taken the step from which Curtius was forced to recoil by the merest gesture from Paris, the French government has not even taken formal cognizance of the “incident”. Without British support, French imperialism is little more than helpless.
The recent events have only underlined the fact that the political relationships established by the victors of the last World War – the Versailles system and the League of Nations that was to police it – are broken beyond repair. Not even the desperate efforts of Soviet diplomacy and the Third International to preserve the Versailles set-up, have been of any avail. Brought into existence as an instrument for Anglo-French domination of the continent, its death reflects the declining power of the two Versailles victors. Eden’s heroic efforts could not keep it alive; Delbos, another of the League’s pillars, is scheduled to go the way of Eden; Chamberlain, whose party came to power after the 1935 elections on the basis of its League advocacy, disavowed it bluntly in the Commons debate. Stalin-Litvinov alone remain with the corpse, and even they will not stay long. Meanwhile, new and significant realignments are being prepared in Europe to take the place of those which have been discarded because they could not be maintained.
UP TO YESTERDAY, THE political division in Europe seemed to align France, England and the Soviet Union against Germany and Italy. To one degree or another, the former group made common cause against Italy when she invaded Ethiopia and against both fascist powers when they intervened on the side of Franco in Spain. A series of fortuitous circumstances thus strengthened the illusion that England and France were actuated by a concern for democracy and the integrity of the small nations and that France in particular, having signed the Franco-Soviet pact, was a defender of the Soviet Union from fascist assault. These circumstances also seemed to lend some plausibility to the main line of policy – the People’s Front – of the Stalintern.
In reality, of course, both England and France were impelled in their course by purely imperialist considerations. During the conquest of Ethiopia, the murderous rulers of the Indian Raj were not at all interested in defending the principle of independence of small nations, but in preserving British imperialist interests in Africa and along the Red Sea from the rival imperialist interests of Italy. In Spain, neither England nor France gave a fig for “democracy”; London feared the strengthening of Italy in the Mediterranean and France looked with apprehension upon the likelihood of her Roman rival establishing a solid base on the Other side of the Pyrenees, which would be especially dangerous to French domination of the continent in light of the progress made by both Italy and Germany in recent years in weakening the hold of France in Central and Southern Europe.
If England and France failed to intervene directly and forcibly against Germany and Italy during the Spanish civil war, or before that against Italy during the war upon Ethiopia, it was not because they were insufficiently firm in adhering to the principles of democracy – such abstractions play no real part whatsoever in determining imperialist policy – but because they were not in a sure enough military position to challenge their rivals.
Europe today is not the Europe of fifteen years ago. Especially since Hitler’s advent to power, Germany has recovered a great deal of her former strength; she has re-armed at a frenzied pace, broken through her isolated and subjugated position and strengthened her alliances to the East and the South. Italy, although she still remains a second-class power with first-class pretensions, has grown powerful enough to challenge England, a first-class power with a second-class future. Both Germany and Italy have very little more in common than the fact that each wants a larger share of the world market, which can be obtained only at the expense of England and France. Therein they are in the same position as Japan. These considerations – and not a “common fascist ideology” – have produced the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo alliance.
Few imperialist alliances, however, have ever been of such a precarious and transient nature. The hostility between Germany and Italy, momentarily muted, is a notorious reality. How minor a partner Italy is in the alliance and how high a price she must pay for it, is attested by the silent surrender to Hitler of her Austrian protectorate, for which she mobilized her troops at Brenner Pass only a few years ago, when Dolfuss was assassinated and it seemed that Germany would attempt to do what she finally did without let or hindrance early in 1938. As for the Far East, neither Italy nor Germany has any pressing interests there, and if they both consent for the time to give Japan a free hand in China, it is mainly for the purpose of keeping England occupied and helpless on two fronts while they extort greater concessions from her.
Hitler’s real concern is not with Asia and not even with Africa. Even if he should prevail upon England to restore the former German colonies of the Cameroons and Togoland, that would not begin to satisfy the expansionist aspirations of the Third Reich. Germany’s main interest is concentrated upon the East, specifically upon the Soviet Union, and more specifically upon Soviet Ukraine.
England and France, especially the former, face two choices: Either an inter-imperialist war against Germany, Italy, Japan and their allies, for a re-division of the world, a war of uncertain outcome and certainly entailing many risks and losses of position gained in the last World War; or, a few minor concessions to Italy, a free hand for Germany against the Soviet Union, actions which would wean these two British rivals away from Tokyo and make it possible for Britain to concentrate her attention upon substantial resistance to Japanese encroachments upon China.
In the political resolution adopted at the New Year’s founding convention of the Socialist Workers Party, and written early in December of last year, the trend of development was summed up in the following words:
If the inevitable World War has not yet broken out, this is due to the large elements of uncertainty represented by the dense criss-crossing network of conflicts, rivalries and contradictions among all the powers of the world. The deliberately simplified Stalino-reformist division of contending forces into “democracies” and “dictatorships”, does not seriously correspond to any reality save that of the need to prepare the working masses to act enthusiastically as cannon-fodder for “democratic” imperialism. The rivalry of the two great imperialist monsters, the United States and Britain, continues to be deep-going, in spite of the recent mitigation of its sharpness by momentarily coinciding interests (opposition to Japanese expansion). The British conflict with Japan over the domination of China and, prospectively, of India, is presently sharper than the antagonism between Japan and the United States for the hegemony of the Pacific. However, the conflict between England and Italy for control of the Mediterranean, is of secondary importance and does not necessarily signify the occupation of opposite sides by these two countries in the coming war, any more than it did in the last war.
It would be erroneous, also, to conclude that because England and Germany were opposed in the last war, they will inevitably be opposed in the next. The bonds making for an alliance between these two powers are far stronger than, for example, the bonds making for an alliance between France and the Soviet Union. It is inconceivable, practically speaking, that France would engage in a large-scale war without the assured and direct support of Great Britain, for whom all her present allies of the small “democratic” countries (Poland! Rumania!) can scarcely substitute from the standpoint of strength or importance ...
The Soviet Union occupies a singular position in the present world situation. The fragility of its alliances with the capitalist powers (France, etc.), is only a reflection of the still existing irreconcilability between the world of imperialism on the one side, and the yet remaining achievements of the Bolshevik revolution on the other. It is conceivable, of course, that for a given period the conflict between the two imperialist camps may become so sharp as to cause one side to enter into a real military alliance with the Soviet Union. But it is no less likely that the rival imperialist camps will find it more expedient to postpone a settlement of the conflicts among themselves, involving not only the risk of the defeat of one set of imperialists by the other and their reduction to a secondary status by the victory, but also the defeat of all of them by the proletarian revolution.
A postponement of the inter-imperialist war for a re-division of the capitalist world market is conceivable only in the form of a joint imperialist struggle to destroy the Soviet Union and to divide it among themselves as colonies, spheres of influence and protectorates. The imperialist “haves” would thereby not only preserve their present forces in the world market (colonies, etc.) from being snatched up by victorious “have-nots”, but, in the event of a defeat of the Soviet Union, would even extend their powers along with their present threatening rivals. It would therefore be the greatest blindness to imagine that the plans of Germany and Japan, which are ready to forego for the time being their demands for a larger share of the world market of the other imperialist powers if the latter consent to a partitioning of the Soviet Union, are unacceptable to countries like France and England because of their adherence to the renowned principles of democracy. It is not at all out of the question that the imperialist powers may seek to compose their own differences at a feast over the body of the Soviet Union.
Chamberlain’s announcement that he will strive to bring about a Four-Power pact among England, France, Germany and Italy – which, it is a foregone conclusion, Poland would join – shows that the second choice is being made and bears out the forecast of our political resolution. Looking towards the Four-Power pact, Chamberlain would like to speed a reconciliation with Italy even before a settlement with Germany, if England can assure herself in advance that she will not be faced, in the quadruple alliance, by a solid front of the two fascist countries; if her former friendship with Italy can be established by weaning Mussolini from Hitler; then, England hopes, she will dominate the new alliance as she dominated the Anglo-French bloc in the past. The recognition of the Ethiopian conquest plus a few other trifles, would be a cheap price to pay for such a combination. As for Germany, an alliance with her would give Hitler a free hand in Central Europe and above all against the Soviet Union; but it would leave England free from acute troubles in Europe and the Mediterranean, for a time at least, and would enable her to defend her empire in the Far East, which is being so hard-pressed by Japan, which, significantly, is not included among the pact powers.
In a word, while the Four-Power pact would postpone the outbreak of an inter-imperialist conflict in Europe, it would speed such a conflict in the Far East. All it would alter would be the scene, not the danger, of war.
It is precisely in the Far East that the war danger is most acute for the American working class. The talk about a firmer “isolation” policy of the United States as a result of the latest events in Europe, is so much nonsense. It is not against Germany that the huge armaments program of American imperialism was directed, and not even, primarily, against England. Japan is still the main immediate enemy of the United States, for it threatens to corner the whole Chinese market which, as Mr. William Phillip Simms put it, is still America’s “best bet” of tomorrow. An England which is in a position to bring its full armed might into play in the Far East is the best possible ally for the United States in the given circumstances. The war danger in the Far East has not been diminished by the latest European trends; it has, actually, been heightened.
As for the Soviet Union, it has not only been manoeuvred into a greater isolation than it has been in for more than fifteen years, but the threat of war against it has become acute in the highest degree. It is reaping the fruits of the disastrous diplomatic policy of Stalin-Litvinov and the no less fatal course of the Communist International.
THE UTTER COLLAPSE OF SOVIET foreign diplomacy and the People’s Front line of the Communist parties, is only emphasized by the letter written by Stalin to the young communist from Kursk, Ivan Philipovich Ivanov. One of Ivanov’s local elders, Urozhenko, declared that “We have now the final victory of socialism and the full guarantee against intervention and the restoration of capitalism”; to which Stalin replies that “comrade Urozhenko’s assertion can be explained only by his failure to understand the surrounding reality and his ignorance of the elementary propositions of Leninism, or by the empty boastfulness of a conceited young bureaucrat” (Daily Worker, Feb. 17, 1938).
Yet it is precisely this “failure to understand”, and “ignorance”, and “empty boastfulness” that characterized the official dogma laid down in the articles of faith of the Seventh Congress of the Communist International in 1935, which claimed that socialism had triumphed in the Soviet Union “finally and irrevocably”. The Stalin letter contains a complete turn-about-face on this by no means trivial point, even though it continues to reiterate the traditional Stalinist doctrine of “socialism in a single country”.
It would, however, be a mistake to regard the Stalin letter as nothing more than an excursion into the fine and dubious distinction between the “victory” of socialism, “in the main” (as Stalin now puts it), that is, the establishment of a classless socialist society, and the “final victory” of this socialism. The letter represents much more than this, both by what it says and by what it leaves unmentioned.
For the first time in years, Stalin goes out of his way to emphasize the fact that “political assistance [?!] of the working class in the bourgeois countries for the working class of our country must be organized in the event of a military attack on our country”; that the “final victory” is possibly “only by combining the serious efforts [?!] of the international proletariat with the still more serious efforts of the whole of our Soviet people”. It is true that he nowhere declares that these “serious efforts” must be directed at overthrowing capitalism by means of the proletarian revolution, for, after all, he continues to regard the role of the international working class as limited to a border patrol for the Soviet Union – nothing more. But the implicit recognition of the working class of the bourgeois countries as a force by itself, and not merely as an indistinguishable component of the “people”, or of the “People’s Front”, or of the “forces of democracy”, is something new in the Stalinist literature of the past few years.
The omissions are far more revealing. A declaration by Stalin is not only worth a dozen by the Communist International, but determines those of the latter. For three years, the course of all the communist parties has been steered along the line of those policies inseparably associated with the “People’s Front”. Yet, there is neither syllable nor hint in Stalin’s letter about the “united front of the democratic powers”, or the “peace-loving countries”, or the League of Nations, or the People’s Front itself. Not a single word! What has happened to all these great forces and institutions heralded for years as the bulwark of peace, democracy and the Soviet Union? The answer is simply that the illusions sown about them by the Stalinists, have collapsed under the impact of imperialist realities. With them have collapsed the Stalin-Litvinov diplomacy and the Comintern’s People’s Front line. The sacrificing of the interests of the proletariat in the capitalist countries – indeed, the active combatting of the proletarian revolution, as in Spain – was justified by the Stalinists in more candid moments with the argument that everything had to be subordinated to the defense of the Soviet Union. We repeated a thousand times that the only real defense of the Soviet Union lay in the organization and advancement of an independent proletarian revolutionary movement pursuing the policy of the class struggle; that the People’s Front policy of abandoning the latter in the alleged interests of the former, would bring incalculable harm both to the workers under capitalism and to the Soviet Union itself. Even the purblind should be able to see the truth of this today.
Does the Stalin letter signalize a turn in policy to world revolution? Not in the least. A genuinely revolutionary and internationalist course is impossible on the basis of the reactionary national-socialist theory to which Stalinism continues to cling. Apprehensive at the turn of events in European politics, totally unforeseen by the Kremlin bureaucracy, Stalin is attempting a perfectly futile bluff with England and France: If you turn to an alliance with Germany, I may become “radical” again. But because it is a little more than splutter and wind, it is not calculated to influence Russia’s whilom “democratic” friends, who are subject to far more weighty pressures than any wordy manifesto which Stalin’s clerks in the Comintern may write.
At the same time, it is not excluded that, in desperation over the menace of growing isolation, the Comintern may be ordered to issue a new edition – revised in the direction of moderateness – of the late, unlamented “Third Period” policy. But the spurious and essentially literary radicalism of that policy would have even less success today than it did seven, six and five years ago, when it was crowned with the fascist victory in Germany. By sheer administrative force, it was possible to dragoon the communist parties into dropping the raucous ultra-leftism of the “Third Period” and accepting the traditional policy of the Second International, namely, class collaboration and social patriotism. Indeed, more often than not the communist leaders were only too glad to discard the unpopular policy of self-isolation and to adopt a more attractive and respectable course. But while it is not difficult to convert a Browder into a mixture of Roosevelt Democrat, Nebraska Populist tub-thumper and Fourth of July yokel-catcher, it is not so easy to visualize his People’s Front allies of yesterday – Farmer-Labor politicians from Minnesota, sheltered editors of The Nation and New Republic, rabbis and ministers of various denominations, the Hollywood elite, etc., etc. – joining him in hand to hand combat with the police for “the capture of the streets”, and denouncing Roosevelt as the spearhead of fascism and Congress as the fascist Grand Council, as was the weekly custom during the “Third Period”. The first serious attempt to trade-in the People’s Front line for the wild-eyed “radicalism” of yesterday, would automatically bring with it the loss of the great bulk of the present Communist party support – here, in France or in Spain. It would be like depriving a Tolstoyan colony of parsnips and prunes and trying to force it on a diet of raw elephant steaks.
The defense of the Soviet Union is an elementary duty of every worker. Stalinist policy, bankrupt through and through, has gravely imperilled this defense. The greater, then, is the need of redressing the ranks of the dispersed and disoriented proletariat along the line of revolutionary class action, and under the banner of the Fourth International.
FEW SOCIAL PROBLEMS OF OUR time are more urgent than the problem of housing, and few concern more directly the everyday lives of the people. It is conservatively estimated that a third of the population of this country is inadequately housed to a degree not merely unpleasant in terms of comfort but gravely injurious to health. Millions of families live in homes and tenements deprived of the most elementary and primitive necessities.
At the same time every technical means for solving within a comparatively short period the whole problem of housing is here in abundance. Scientific knowledge, wonderful new building materials developed by inventive genius, the factories and mills, trained and able workers, the beginnings of a splendid new architecture, all are present. From a technical point of view, mass production methods could be widely applied to building without any sacrifice of architectural or general aesthetic values. There is no romantic ballyhoo in saying these things: it is literally and exactly true that the adequate technical means are present now to enable every family to live in comfortable, convenient, and beautiful surroundings. Those unacquainted with the new architecture, in fact, will have difficulty even in imagining how admirable these surroundings might be.
In the light both of the urgency of the problem and of the technical possibility of solving it, there are few acts of the New Deal more shameful and degrading in their demagogy than the recently passed Housing Bill. It is a gratuitous, deliberate insult to those tens of millions to whom the propaganda surrounding the bill is designed to appeal.
The new bill is palmed off as a “$3,000,000,000 housing program”. The truth is that it not merely provides for no housing whatever, but does not even allot any government money for housing subsidies. It is simply a financing bill, and only a very little enquiry is needed to discover for whose benefit it is drawn.
There is nothing in the bill which can aid those who need homes or apartments, nothing which can to any appreciable extent lower their rent and give them better places in which to live. The bill merely provides that new mortgages on homes and apartments will, under certain stipulated conditions, be guaranteed by a government corporation. In this way, it offers an ironclad insurance to the banks for the credit which they lend on housing. Besides an insurance to the banks, it is also a banking subsidy, since the banks collect heavy special charges and 5½% interest on the mortgages, whereas the government can borrow money at about half the rate.
In addition, the bill gives real estate operators and speculators the chance to make big deals and profits, and to continue to erect inadequate, badly planned housing projects, with scarcely any risk – the risk being borne by the government and home dweller or tenant. And through the bill it is also hoped to revive the badly sickened construction industries.
During its passage through Congress, an amendment calling for the payment of the highest prevailing wages on all projects coming under the bill’s provisions was stricken out under Administration pressure. This act made clear that the bill will be used as part of the attempt to lower wages in the building trades, and through them in industry generally.
In all probability, this housing measure will have very little effect of any kind. It cannot do anything of importance in meeting the actual needs of cheap and adequate housing. It is one more striking and concrete demonstration of the complete inability of a declining capitalism even to utilize the productive resources and possibilities which capitalism itself has constructed.
ON FEBRUARY 15, 1938, LEON SEDOFF, son of Leon Trotsky, died in a hospital in Paris, as the aftermath of a surgical operation. Of Trotsky’s four children, Nina died of tuberculosis in Moscow on June 9, 1928, after her husband had been arrested as an oppositionist and she had been deprived of the possibility of adequate treatment; her sister, Zinaida, was driven to suicide in Berlin on January 5, 1933, after having been deprived arbitrarily of her Soviet citizenship by the Stalin regime; their brother Sergey, who had not participated at all in political activity but confined himself to purely scholastic and technical work, was arrested and disappeared right after the Radek-Pyatakov trial early last year, charged with planning the mass poisoning of the workers in his plant, and it is not known definitely if he is alive today. Leon was the last of Trotsky’s children.
Although the investigation into the circumstances of his death has not been completed as this is written, enough is already known to evoke the gravest suspicion. It is a matter of record that Leon Sedoff was under the most perilous surveillance of the GPU. The examination of Stalin’s agents apprehended by the Swiss and French police in connection with the murder of Ignace Reiss near Laussanne, showed that plans were already being carried out to assassinate Trotsky’s son in France. Like his father’s activities, his had become a thorn in, the side of the counter-revolutionary bureaucracy in the Kremlin, and there can be no doubt that it was determined to remove him at all costs. The findings of the autopsy will disclose whether or not the hand of death was the hand of Stalin.
Closest collaborator of his father, especially since their banishment from Moscow in 1928, he was a qualified Marxist in his own right. He was the managing editor of the Bulletin of the Opposition in Berlin and later in Paris, and contributed several excellent studies to its pages, under the pseudonym of N. Markin.
Leon Sedoff was, so to speak, born into the revolutionary movement and he never weakened for a moment in his ardent devotion to the great cause of labor. Half his young life he spent in the difficult struggle of the Bolshevik-Leninists in the Soviet Union and, later, in Turkey, Germany and France. The ignoble campaign of the bureaucracy against him and his father, only served to temper his revolutionary intransigence and to reveal more plainly a capacity for sacrifice, courage and inflexibility in principle which endeared him to the world movement of the Fourth International and made him a model for the revolutionary generation of today and tomorrow.
We share the grief of his bereaved parents, upon whose heads has descended one blow after another, struck in the dark by a perfidious foe.
We lower our flag at the grave of Leon Sedoff, fearless soldier, deathless friend, exemplary comrade-in-arms. His name is carved on the bronze tablets of the Fourth International.
Last updated on 4.8.2006