From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 27, 7 July 1941, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
In preparation for the coming convention of the Workers Party, the National Committee of the WP herewith opens the pre-convention discussion period. To the extent that space is available, Labor Action will publish discussion contributions on the various political problems confronting the party. ALL CONTRIBUTIONS MUST BE LIMITED TO 1,200 WORDS. The article we print below runs over the space allotment because it is the first presentation of a position counter to that taken by the Political Committee of the Workers Party.
Hitler’s Drang Nach Osten took the form of a blitzkrieg attack on the Soviet Union to carve out a rich colony supplying essential raw materials, in particular from the Ukraine, to his strained war economy. It came as a surprise in only one respect to the Marxist movement.
Stalin failed to capitulate to Hitler’s demand for the Ukraine and, for other concessions. Or more accurately, Stalin was forced to fight because the tremendous pressure of the Soviet masses made itself felt even through the bureaucracy and caused the change in Stalin’s orientation.
Two years ago Leon Trotsky warned of the possibility of Stalin capitulating to Hitler’s demand for the Ukrainian breadbasket and the Caucasian oil wells and therefore raised the slogan for an Independent Soviet Ukraine. When Stalin hitched his wagon to Hitler’s ascending star, when and if Hitler began to lose, i.e., suffer a major defeat, would Stalin switch sides and make an agreement with the British and American ruling classes.
Meanwhile Stalin assumed the contemptible role of jackal to Hitler’s marauding lion, grabbing a share of Poland, Finland, Bessarabia and the small Baltic countries.
Hitler’s military and diplomatic successes in Europe and especially the Balkans brought fear and dread to the Kremlin, but also, in the eyes of the entire world, made Stalin a closer prisoner in the Axis chain from which escape was possible only by a London-Washington victory of such decisive proportions that Stalin would not fear the Nazi war machine. So the accepted theory went. Yet the Soviet Union today is fighting desperately for existence, against the panzer divisions, long before the full force of American imperialist intervention has been felt: Hitler is bête noire; the jackal fights not for spoils but for his own skin.
One must be candid: The present turn of the war is different than that considered probable or possible by the entire Marxist movement, not to speak of the rest of the world.
Trotsky foresaw, and predicted often, that sooner or later the Second Imperialist World War would turn into an onslaught of world imperialism against the Soviet Union with Hitler in the role of super-Wrangel. His supporters in the American movement even went so far as the headline in the Socialist Appeal which announced an undeclared four-power pact and war against the Soviet Union.
But that Hitler would attack the Soviet Union while the Battle of the Atlantic was raging, would attack the USSR while still fighting London-Washington, and that this would bring not a four-power pact against Russia but renewed British-American determination to defeat Hitler – a possible Washington-London-Moscow combination! This was entirely unexpected.
For, to re-emphasize, even such strong apologists and mouthpieces of Stalin as Walter Duranty in the New York Times only a few days before the attack began declared again that the world must expect capitulation because Stalin feared war above all things.
What does this indicate? What does the war mean?
Stalin feared war because it would crack his shaky regime and bring closer the revolution at home, Trotsky pointed out time and again. Stalin feared something today greater than his fear of revolution tomorrow. It was the internal uprising today. inevitable if he pursued once more a Munich policy in relation to Hitler. This profoundly significant fact caused the drastic shift in Stalin’s policy. Garbled reports of the struggle of Red Army leaders against the capitulation to Hitler’s demands hint at what really happened. Three years ago this same army was unable to protect its leaders from the purge.
Stalin was forced by tremendous internal pressure to take the step he dreaded, to fight a war for the defense of the Soviet Union, in particular the Ukraine. And the primary role of the USSR in the Second World War NOW is self-defense, a struggle for sheer existence.
How terrible the tragedy that in this crucial hour the Soviet Union will pay heavily for the crimes of mismanagement under Stalin’s regime: Its Red Army deprived of the possibility of leadership from its creator and revolutionary soul, Leon Trotsky, a victim of the GPU; its general staff and the brilliant Tukachevsky destroyed: its workers and peasants’ demoralized by the cruelty of the regime; its economy in grave crisis from the blundering Stalinist policies and the extermination of competent technicians an administrators in the purges: its once invincible Bolshevik party and leadership murdered and mummified.
Hitler didn’t suddenly become a madman when he decided to attack the Soviet Union, although the war with Britain was just reaching the decisive stage. Hitler knew precisely the exact weaknesses of the Soviet Union. His technical and military missions, the Gestapo, his friends in the Stalinist bureaucracy told him of the terrible results of Stalinism in Russia. Hitler envisions a blitzkrieg victory over the Soviet Union – another France, in his eyes – before American imperialism can throw its full military weight in the war and dominate the world. For the possibility of successful war against Anglo-American imperialism Hitler must reduce Russia into a super-India on whose shoulders would fall the intolerable burden of the imperialist war as a slave. And it is not excluded that Stalin might become a peculiar kind of Petain, or that he visualizes himself as reserved for that role in “unoccupied Russia.”
Victory of Hitler over the Soviet Union means a prolongation of the Second Imperialist World War, and the attendant miseries to the peoples of the world. It would signify the destruction of the remaining vestiges of the October Revolution, the nationalized economy and the monopoly of foreign trade; it would wipe out the tradition of the Russian Revolution, already horribly deformed by Stalinism.
Victory of the Soviet Union can come only through the resurgence of the flaming spirit and morale which distinguished the Russia of Lenin and Trotsky, defending itself successfully on fifteen fronts over thousands of miles against all the world’s big powers. The Soviet people must utilize this war not only to drive the enslaver from Germany into oblivion, but to restore the country to the path of socialism.
Hitler’s defeat would bring a revolutionary crisis in Germany; it would inspire and arouse all the oppressed small nations and peoples in Europe. It would smash the myth of the invincibility of fascism.
These considerations are not one whit less valid for those comrades who, disagreeing with the present position of the Workers Party that Russia is a bureaucratically degenerated workers state, state with Comrade Shachtman that the class character of the USSR is “bureaucratic collectivism.”
“As in the case of a colonial or semi-colonial country or a small nation, we defend the Soviet Union against imperialism when it is fighting a progressive war, one that corresponds with that of the international socialist revolution,” he wrote in the December 1940 New International, and he gave an example which is exactly the case today, in demonstrating when he would defend the USSR.
“Should the character of the present war change from that of a struggle between the imperialist camps into a struggle of imperialists to crush the Soviet Union, the interests of the world revolution would demand the defense of the Soviet Union by the international proletariat. The aim of imperialism in that case, whether it were represented in the war by ONE OR MANY POWERS (our emphasis – J.W.) would be to solve the crisis of world capitalism at the cost of reducing the Soviet Union to one or more colonial possessions or spheres of interest.”
“Such a transformation of the Soviet Union as triumphant imperialism would undertake would have a vast and durable reactionary effect upon world social development, give capitalism and reaction a new lease on life, retard enormously the revolutionary movement and postpone for we don’t know how long the introduction of world socialist society. From that viewpoint and under these conditions, the defense of the Soviet Union, even under Stalinism, is both possible and necessary,” Shachtman declared. Correct, for those conditions prevail today.
Winston Churchill, arch-foe of Lenin’s Russia, shed a crocodile tear over the plight of the Soviet people under the lash of the Swastika. He called for aid to Russia as an ally of British imperialism. Britain undoubtedly received a badly needed breathing spell from Hitler’s diversion in the East. Most of the defenders of democratic imperialism who yesterday denounced Stalin not for his crimes against the workers but for his refusal to help them bolster the dying British Empire, France and the United States, are ready to clasp him to their bosoms again, as befitting political prostitutes. If a conjunctural relationship of forces brings a military alliance between these three powers against Hitler we do not in advance condemn Russia’s signature there. But the Soviet people must see to it that the pact does not become another “Stalin-Hitler” alliance, dividing small nations, binding the world proletariat to the imperialist war aims of the other belligerents.
The difference between the Stalin-Hitler pact and a Washington-London-Moscow pact now is not that one was with a fascist nation and the other with democratic imperialism. No. Marxists have always realized that under certain circumstances temporary military alliances by a workers’ state or a semi-colonial country might be necessary. What is decisive in these alliances is the specific content. That under no circumstances must the struggle for world revolution be signed away. The Fourth International criticized the Franco-Soviet pact not because it was an agreement with a capitalist nation but because Stalin tied the Communist Party of France to the coattails of the French bourgeoisie. It replaced class struggle with class collaboration and the Communist Party voted for the military budget. Stalin’s pact with Hitler was reactionary basically for the same reason. And Stalin dragged Russia into a treacherous adventure so the bureaucracy could satisfy its lust for power, revenue and prestige. His plunge into Finland alienated the world proletariat, his enslavement of a section of Poland likewise was reactionary. All these things were part of the Stalin-Hitler pact. Stalin’s blunders and crimes weakened the Soviet Union, not defended it. Now Stalin is forced to defend the Soviet Union. He finds himself “reluctantly and unwillingly” fighting Hitler, as one radio commentator put it exactly. In these concrete circumstances, a military pact with London-Washington would be primarily a defensive one from the point of view of the interests of the Soviet Union.
Neither Roosevelt nor Churchill need to nor will they offer anything to Stalin except perhaps to assist him long enough to save his skin temporarily while they prepare to settle with German imperialism. Actually the mutual exhaustion of Germany and Russia in this war is the hope of the Anglo-American rulers. But their fear of a quick collapse of Stalin’s regime apparently is inducing them to some aid now. Thus, any agreement between London-Washington and Moscow now will have a different content and significance now than did the Stalin-Hitler pact in 1939.
And the war assumes a dual character now. The aims of Britain, Germany, America and their respective allies are purely imperialistic. Each of these nations seeks world domination of the markets, the sources of raw materials, etc. The Soviet Union has been forced into the Washington-London camp purely for defensive reasons. This kind of war was foreseen as possible by the old thesis of the Fourth International on war and the strategy and tactics flowing from it are known to students of the movement.
No trust in the “democracies” to aid in the defense of the Soviet Union. It is not excluded by a long shot that a turn in the fortunes of war would bring a deal with Hitler by Britain and America. Russia today must not be permitted to become another Spain.
It goes without saying that we are as unalterably opposed to American participation in this war today as ever. Only scoundrels and traitors in the labor movement will call for America’s declaration of war against Germany, even if given under the false excuse that this will aid the Soviet Union. America’s participation in this war is motivated by only one urge – expansion of American imperialism, its world domination. To bind the American workers to this reactionary aim is to betray their best interests. The main task of the American workers consists of continuing the class struggle at home. Trotsky expressed the whole strategy very well in the February 1940 issue of The New International.
“The Fourth International has established firmly that in all imperialist countries, independent of the fact as to whether they are in alliance with the USSR or in a camp hostile to it, the proletarian parties during the war must develop the class struggle with the purpose of seizing power.”
The world proletariat through independent action helped save the Soviet Union in the crucial years from 1917–21, while the big powers, recently concluding a four year war for world mastery, united then to destroy the Soviet Union. This lesson must not be forgotten.
So today the Soviet people have only one ally. It is the oppressed people of the world; industrial workers, sharecroppers, colonial peoples, white, brown, black and yellow. They must come to the rescue again by giving material aid to the Soviet Union, independently of their ruling governments.
The Stalin regime proved itself bankrupt in time of peace. Its international record is one of tragic blunders and defeats and treachery. Stalin can hardly expect the slightest bit of confidence or political support from the world proletariat even while it aids the Soviet Union materially. While the Soviet Army is battling desperately to drive Hitler from Russia, the Russian workers and peasants should not forget – they must carry on to win the war – another task. The overthrow of the Stalin regime, this stinky and deadly albatross around their necks. Transform the present Red Army into, the invincible legions of Trotsky’s Red Guards. Create Soviets to direct the struggle as in the days of old. This must be the strategic goal of the Soviet fighters defending valiantly the country from Hitler. Out of their rich historical experience and knowledge, the Russian workers will know how to carry out the tremendous tasks placed on their shoulders by history.
Nor should the many crimes of Stalin and the bureaucracy blind or prejudice either the Russian workers or the world proletariat to the vital need lot being Soviet defensists today against the onslaught of Hitler. To settle accounts with Stalin is a job the proletariat must reserve for itself. A crushed Russia today means not merely the defeat of Stalin but the extermination of all that is left of the October Revolution, the further enslavement of the Soviet people, a setback for the world revolution.
The new twists and turns of the Stalinist parties throughout the world already evident today should be treated with exactly what they deserve, the contempt and repudiation of the world proletariat. In America and England the Stalinists will rush back into respectable society and repeat all the tragic blunders of the old Peoples Front days.
Stalin and his lackeys throughout the world will try to fight fascism now as they “fought” it in Spain. They still fear the call for revolutionary struggle against fascism. It was this fear that betrayed the Spanish workers and brought Franco to victory. The Soviet people and the world proletariat can be mobilized in unconquerable struggle; against fascism only under the revolutionary banners and ideas of Lenin and Trotsky. Rather than depend on this force, Stalin in Spain banked on England and America, and the Spanish Revolution was crushed, with the GPU hounding and murdering the revolutionists who stood firmly for a program of victory. This tragic mistake must not be repeated now.
While giving full material support to the Soviet Union in the war against Hitlerism now, the revolutionary movement must not renounce one single line of its devastating political criticism of Stalinism. Building the parties of the Fourth International to lead the proletariat in triumph against world imperialism assures the best and only defense of the workers of the world and the Soviet Union.
Last updated: 5.1.2013