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Arne Swabeck

The Stalinists and Pacifism

(August 1934)


From New International, Vol.1 No.2, August 1934, pp.54-56.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde OŪ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).


ON THE twentieth anniversary of the beginning of the first world war, the conquest of power by the Russian proletariat stands out as the only achievement of the epoch. From this highest point humanity has traversed half of a new cycle to its lowest depth, to the conquests of the Fascist counter-revolution.

This is the stark reality of today. Instead of the victorious development of the revolution of 1917 on a world scale, the new epoch has witnessed a series of defeated revolutions culminating in the smashing of the German and the Austrian proletariat. As a most immediate consequence of these terrible calamities the capitalist encirclement of the Soviet Union is more tightly drawn, the mortal danger to its existence increases daily, and humanity faces the volcanic eruptions of new imperialist wars.

At the approach of these new stormy developments, the Soviet Union finds itself right in the danger zone next door to the main stage of the coming imperialist world conflict for the possession of China and India. In the West it faces the most consistent organizers and inspirers of national aggression in control of a chain of Fascist and semi-Fascist states.

The diplomatic relations between the two antagonistic systems, the Soviet Union and the capitalist powers, is of necessity a compromise relationship dictated by historical circumstances. In no sense can it be conceived as a stable equilibrium. One or the other must finally assert its supremacy and the present compromise relationship is therefore essentially a question of relationship of forces. But this relationship of forces cannot be determined merely on the basis of two solid entities as represented by the nations or their respective governments. In the determination of this question must be taken into account, on the one hand, the forces within the Soviet Union that are weakening its proletarian basis and, on the other hand, not only the elements of conflict among the capitalist powers, but above all the forces within capitalism antagonistic to its system.

To illustrate the point it is well to take an example from the everyday process of the class struggle. The working class is compelled to enter into constant compromise relationships with capitalism. Only its victorious revolution changes this situation. At one moment one section of the class is able to forge ahead and strengthen its position while another may be forced to retreat. At no time is there a lasting, stable equilibrium. The relationship of forces decides which side may advance. But here it is necessary to add that at no time is this decided merely by the relationship of the separate sections, but primarily by the position of the conflicting classes as a whole. And so long as the accumulation of capital remains the economic law of motion of modern society the class existing on the appropriation of surplus values will remain the aggressor.

On the international arena this question of relationship of forces of the classes as a whole is even more decisive in its importance. From this flows the inescapable conclusion that the relations between the proletarian Soviet republic and the capitalist powers is constantly influenced by and in the final analysis determined by the strengthening or the weakening of the position of either class on a world scale. We are therefore compelled to proceed in our estimate today from the fact that the proletariat has suffered catastrophic defeats in one country after another, with the result that the Soviet Union today stands badly isolated. Its most important allies are crushed. In view of this situation the foreign policy pursued by the Soviet Union has become a question of fundamental importance.

During the time of Lenin this foreign policy proceeded as an integral part from the basic strategy of the world revolution. Even its main measures of execution were worked out by the revolutionary general staff. But the policy of the Comintern of Lenin is no longer the foreign policy of the Soviet Union. On the contrary. The Soviet foreign policy of the Stalin bureaucracy is the policy of the Third International today. It flows from the theory of socialism in one country and means in actuality the abandonment of the world revolution and the ignoring of all of its problems. This theory assumes that the capitalist and the communist systems can coexist peaceably. Thus the compromise relationship which was necessitated by historical circumstances, due to the feebleness of the world revolution, which in turn due to a great extent to the previous mistakes and blunders of the Stalinist regime, shifting constantly to the disadvantage of the Soviet Union, is being raised into a universal system of international relations. It is called the peace policy of the Soviet Union.

Naturally the proletarian republic desires peace and strives for peace; it is the only power capable of conducting a peace policy. But in a world of capitalist relations this question of war or peace, of the offensive or the defensive, must be determined by revolutionary criteria, which means that it must be determined by the interests of the strengthening of the proletarian republic and not by the interests of the maintenance of the imperialist status quo as defined by national boundaries artificially imposed by force. Moreover, the strengthening of the proletarian republic, nay, its very life and existence, is bound up with the question of the extension of the revolution. Universal peace in a world of capitalist relations is a Utopia and it can not, of course, be secured at all through diplomatic pacts signed by the capitalist robber nations. Such a policy represents an adaptation to the methods of the enemy class. The course through the diplomatic pacts to the joining in the deceptive cry for disarmament Ů under capitalism Ů and the equally deceptive cry for mutual rejection of aggression, has proceeded in pace with the disastrous defeats inflicted by capitalism upon the world proletarian forces. With each new defeat, greater illusions are created in the inviolability of the pacts with capitalism. So long as this policy prevails, paralysis of the proletarian allies, the debilitation of their parties, the preparation of new defeats on a more colossal scale, isolation and encirclement of the proletarian revolution within the national framework of the USSR and, without the victory of the proletariat in the leading countries, doom to failure all the successes of socialist construction in the USSR.

The fatal concept that the two systems, capitalism and communism, can coexist peaceably emanates from the highest source, from the infallible General Secretary. In his interview with Eugene Lyons, published in the New York Telegram on November 24, 1930, Stalin said: ‘It is possible, and the best proof is that they have lived peacefully side by side since the conclusion of our civil war and the intervention period.Ó In a second interview, given to Walter Duranty and published in the New York Times on December 1, 1930, Stalin added dryly: ‘They have not fought for ten years which means they can coexist.Ó And while pointing out that all the bourgeois powers would ‘readily crush a weak enemy if it could be done with little or no riskÓ, Stalin intimated that the risk was now too great: ‘They might have tried it against the USSR five or six years ago,Ó he said, ‘but they waited too long. It is now too late

In this period capitalism has not been strong enough to launch an armed attack against the Soviet Union in the same sense that the international proletarian revolution has not been strong enough to conquer. Meanwhile, however, the capitalist powers in Europe, directly aided by the failure of the parties of socialism and with the direct assistance of Fascism, proceeded to decimate the most important sections of the proletarian forces and violently to exterminate their parties and trade unions. Alongside of this devastating slaughter, the armaments race has increased at a furious pace. All of the capitalist nations are today armed to the teeth. While Germany under the Weimar republic fell behind, it is now, under Fascism, feverishly making up for lost time.

The exponents of the pacifist foreign policy of the Soviet Union, instead of rallying to the support of the proletarian allies and mobilizing all their forces to smash Fascism before it could destroy the German proletariat, capitulated to Hitler and sacrificed its proletarian allies. In the strategic line of a revolutionary world general staff, the fact of this changed situation, so overwhelming in its importance, would of necessity mean; the retracing of a number of steps; but not so to the directors of present day Soviet diplomacy. In the career of Litvinov, this policy is focused upon his exploits in Geneva and elsewhere. In 1931 he proposed complete disarmament if acceptable or partial disarmament if more practicable. Neither could be a road to peace among capitalist powers whose industrial technique can always provide for rapid rearmament, nor could it be acceptable to them. Such proposals, presented as means to peace, can serve only to mislead the workers and create illusions among them for the sake of a common front with petty bourgeois pacifists. These illusions are further broadest from the Soviet Congress. The proud body that once accepted the new revolutionary power in its name listened to Litvinov reporting his achievements at its session December 29, 1933.

The question of the United States recognition granted by the Roosevelt administration, held the center of Soviet diplomacy. Litvinov reported his appraisal as follows:

‘We must say in justice to the clearsightedness of President Roosevelt, that soon after he assumed office, and perhaps even before that, he had realized the fruitlessness of further struggle against us on behalf of capitalism, and saw the benefit to American state interests and the interests of world peace, of the establishment of relations with us.Ó

Evidently this sort of appraisal by the epigones is handed down to the proletariat as a compensation for the heavy defeats suffered; but it is treacherously deceptive. The real situation presents an entirely different picture. We are not concerned here with the accomplishment of the United States recognition itself, but purely with the appraisal made by the directors of Soviet diplomacy. And it is not difficult to discern that the motive force in recognition by the American imperialists, for whom Roosevelt is now the official spokesman, were not at all those stated by Litvinov. For them the unbridled advance by the Japanese in Manchuria posed in a sharper form than before the question of the struggle for supremacy in the Pacific, and thereby hastened the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Washington government and the Soviet Union. Behind these diplomatic relations the American imperialists will seek to provoke the conflict between the USSR. and Japan at the opportune moment in order to weaken both and to prepare for itself a territorial base in China so as to raise the question of the ‘liberationÓ of India at the next stage. The peaceful motives attributed to Roosevelt in reality furnish the cover for military aggression on a colossal scale by the United States which is seeking to restore its economic equilibrium on a far more extensive world base. Soviet diplomacy can naturally have no interest in furthering such plans, but an appraisal that declares this to mean gains to the cause of world peace shows the frightful degeneracy of Soviet diplomacy. It is reduced to the level of petty bourgeois pacifism. This appraisal was not a mere slip of the tongue for in the attitude of the butcher of the Italian proletariat Litvinov found similar qualities. He reported on the conclusion reached by Signor Mussolini and himself

‘after exchanging opinions on questions of current politics and the best methods of preserving peace. Our desire simultaneously to support and develop relations with all the big countries is no small contribution to the cause of universal peaceÓ.

In passing it might be mentioned that Litvinov, in his report on Soviet diplomatic relations throughout the world, found no occasion to mention Soviet China. He said:

‘Unfortunately, China is still suffering both from foreign invasion and from profound internal discord. While strictly adhering to the policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of China, we are watching its struggle for independence and national unity with the greatest sympathy.Ó

National unity under what banner? Oh, our innocent opponents may argue: This was reported to the Soviet Congress and not to the Third International; you know that is not the same thing. No, this is the essence and content of Soviet foreign policy within the framework of which the Third International vegetates in a miserly existence.

The Soviet government is now in the process of changing its course with regard to the League of Nations. Stalin in his interview with Duranty, published in the New York Times of December 25, 1933 said that

‘if the League is even the tiniest bump somewhat to slow down the drive toward war and help peace ... it is not excluded that we shall support the League despite its colossal deficienciesÓ.

Litvinov added in his report to the Soviet Congress:

‘it may be assumed, however, that that tendency which is interested in preserving peace is gaining ground in the League of Nations and this, perhaps, explains the profound changes which are taking place in the composition of the LeagueÓ.

Surely the composition and position of the League of Nations fluctuates, but essentially it remains as characterized by the Third Comintern Congress, the League ‘of victorious states for the exploitation of the vanquished and the colonial peoplesÓ. To consider it today or in the future as an instrument of peace is to poison the minds of the masses.

Almost seventeen years after the conquest of October the Soviet Unions finds it necessary to seek a rapproachment with the League, demonstrating the substitution of conservative criteria for revolutionary criteria that has taken place within its leadership. But, when we use the formula Ů finds it necessary Ů this needs be explained, and the explanation is, that this is the result of the defeats and the weakening of the international proletarian revolution and the international position of the Soviet Union itself. Within the capitalist world, in the case of war, one cannot exclude in advance the possibility of the Soviet Union making a combination with one or the other of the conflicting powers, equally hostile to it in essence, if necessitated as a means of self-preservation. And it is not this or that step of rapproachment that is exclusively to be condemned; but the whole policy which has helped to bring the Soviet Union to its present weakened position.

The dangers of a new world war are manifest. The causes of these dangers are inherent in capitalism and have been bared by Marxism in irrefutable fashion. To revert to or to hide behind pacifism in the face of this menace, regardless of whichever brand, idealist, social democratic, petty bourgeois or purely imperialist pacifism, is the most dangerous political poisoning of the masses and means in reality to give up the struggle against war. Yet, this is what is being practised by Soviet foreign policy in its international relations and in relations with the world proletariat. The Third International in its ‘struggleÓ against war has capitulated to the pacifists, to the shady types as well as to the honest types among them, and has given them the initiative in what became anti-war masquerade conferences, composed mostly of individuals, groups and organizations without social weight or influence. The abdication of the Third International as the organizer of international revolution is virtually acknowledged by formal renunciation. Its sections are transformed into mere pacifist frontier guards for the defense of the Soviet Union. The very first consequence of the transformation of the original policy of the Comintern into its dialectic antithesis is reflected in the relations between the Soviet government and the Third International as they exist under the Stalin regime. The Third International itself has become transformed into an appendix to suit the needs of the Soviet foreign policy of Stalin.

We repeat, a workersŪ state has every right and even a duty to utilize for the benefit of the proletariat the differences existing among the various bourgeois groups and powers; it has every right to effect compromises with them as traders, even to the point of concluding defensive alliances when necessary. But this must be subordinated to revolutionary politics on the international arena, to the life and death necessity of weakening the class enemy and strengthening the proletarian forces. Above all, the revolutionary parties must be built up independently of these alliances or combinations and remain free to perform the mission assigned to them by history.

Arne SWABECK


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