A.J. Muste & James P. Cannon

Alarm Signals in the Soviet Union!

(December 1934)

Written: December 1934.
Published: The New Militant, Vol. 1 No. 2, 22 December 1934, pp. 1 & 4.
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RECENT events in the Soviet Union, commencing with the assassination of Kirov and followed by secret executions totalling 103 at the present writing, cause the deepest alarm to the thinking revolutionary workers of the entire world for whom the Soviet Union is and has been since 1917 the star of hope and inspiration.

The alarm that every revolutionary worker feels at any indication of danger to the Soviet Workers’ State is increased and intensified enormously by the secrecy and mystery in which the present happenings have been shrouded. For days after Kirov’s assassination there was complete lack of any explanation as to the identity of the assassin or the reason for his act. Then the Soviet authorities placed the blame upon White Guards, counter-revolutionists left from the old Czarist regime. Later it was hinted that representatives of some foreign capitalist power were engaged in dastardly counter-revolutionary activities in the Soviet Union.

If the Soviet Union is in danger the advanced workers throughout the world will rally to its defense as they have always done and they will not object to drastic measures against conspirators.

The right and the duty of the proletarian state to adopt the sternest methods of repression against its class enemies is indisputable for a revolutionary worker. Lenin and Trotsky taught it. And history will applaud them for it, for the young revolution fighting for its very existence, and learning from the terrible mistakes of the Paris Commune that leniency to the class enemy ends in the bloody massacre of the workers, had to crush the resistance of the overthrown class with swift and terrible blows. But, once the power of the revolution was consolidated, after the working class had triumphed in the civil war and the wars of intervention, the prosecution of counter-revolutionists was conducted in court. From the beginning, moreover, Lenin and Trotsky always proved the necessity of their actions; they explained everything clearly, fully and honestly to the international working class as well as to the workers in the Soviet Union and were supported by them.

Workers who see the operation of the white terror in a large part of the world, the mass murder of the victims of fascism and reaction in Germany, Austria, Spain and other countries – not to speak of the killing of strikers in the “democratic’’ United States – will not shed tears over the fate of a few White Guards and counter revolutionists who seek to restore the capitalist order in the Soviet Union. They need only to be convinced that the victims are really White Guards and that it is really necessary to resort to such drastic measures against them.

The revolutionary workers have nothing in common with the hypocritical outcries of anti-Soviet elements, whether they be Social Democrats or capitalist editors, who come forward now with increased aggressiveness to renew their agitation for bourgeois “democracy” as against workers’ dictatorship. These critics were effectively silenced in the past, or at least deprived of all influence among the advanced workers. If methods are now employed which enable them to raise their heads again it is only another count in the indictment of those responsible for the methods.

In the Summer of 1922, more than twelve years ago, the trial of the leaders of the Social-Revolutionary Party, charged with responsibility for an organized campaign of terrorism and sabotage, took place in Moscow. It was held in open court in the one time “Hall of the Nobles”, then and now the headquarters of the Moscow trade unions. The accused, at the request of the parties and organizations of the Second International, were allowed to have foreign counsel – ironically enough one of the attorneys for the accused S.R.s was Vandervelde, Minister of the Belgian King during the war and the present head of the Second International to whom the Comintern recently offered a “non-aggression pact”. The guilt of the accused was established at the public trial beyond any doubt, in part by their own confessions. They were convicted of responsibility for and the direct organization of the assassination of Voladarsky, the attempts on the lives of Lenin and other Soviet leaders, the dynamiting of bridges and other acts of terrorism and violence against the workers’ state. As a result of this open trial, conducted before the eyes of the world, the revolutionary vigilance of the Soviet Government was approved and endorsed by the International working class: the moral position of the counter-revolutionists, including the Mensheviks and the Social-Revolutionaries, was completely destroyed.

So strong was the position of the Soviet Government then, in 1922, when the country was still suffering from the devastation of civil war and famine, when industrial production was at its lowest point, far below pre-war standards, before anybody had even thought of “socialism in one country”, not to speak of proclaiming its existence – so strong was the position of the victorious revolution that the Soviet Government, with the approval of the Communist International, found it possible to commute the death sentences passed on the terrorists by the proletarian court.

It was Trotsky who came before the Executive Committee of the Communist International, at the head of a delegation from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, to ask approval of this commutation. He explained: We must show that we do not disregard the wishes of the social democratic workers of Europe who have asked us to show leniency. We must convince them that we do not follow a policy of revenge. And, moreover, we must show the world that we are strong and can afford to moderate our penalties against those who are completely defeated.

If the Soviet Government could act so openly and yet so firmly, could display such strength and, at the same time, such moderation in 1922, how is the present procedure – the secrecy, the hysteria and the suppression of all real information – to be explained?

How does it happen that secret trials and secret executions are necessary in the 18th year of the revolution? The capitalist opposition was smashed to bits in the civil war, and the interventionist armies were routed in battle while Lenin was yet at the helm, while Trotsky led the Red Army and Zinoviev was chairman of the Comintern and the Petrograd Soviet. The great advances of Soviet economy in the past ten years, unparalleled in the history of the world, cut the ground from beneath the feet of capitalist restorationist elements and completely shattered their morale. How does it happen that they can now suddenly rise up again and begin an aggressive campaign of terror?

If it is maintained that precisely the growing strength and invincible position of the Soviet Union have inspired some foreign capitalist State or States to a desperate attack – if that is so, then it is necessary to mobilize the working class of the world against the foreign capitalist enemy, especially the workers in the country or countries involved. And for that, not secrecy and ambiguity are needed but the plain truth plainly told. The imperialists and their diplomats work very well in the dark; for them whispers and hints suffice. Not so the toiling masses; they move in the broad daylight; they need to see and to know where they are going. If some capitalist power is attacking or preparing to attack the Soviet Union at the present time it is necessary to let the workers know the name of the enemy. It is necessary to drag the conspirators out into the open and put their agents on trial before the eyes of the world in order to inform and mobilize the workers for the defense of the Soviet Union.

This, however, is not the course being followed by Stalin, the Soviet bureaucracy, the Communist International. The Daily Worker illustrates the method which is being followed – the method of sowing confusion and demoralization in the working class by hinting one day about unnamed capitalist powers and the next day about party-political opponents of the Soviet bureaucracy and the C.I., who, as every one knows, have nothing to do with capitalist governments. Instead of reporting facts and citing proofs and appealing for a common working class front for the defense of the Soviet Union, as would be done by serious people if there were a real danger and a serious desire to meet it, the Daily Worker occupies itself with bizarre descriptions of the “united front of counter-revolution stretching all the way from the Japanese imperialists to the German fascist butchers and on down to the Russian white guards, the Trotskyites with their unholy alliance or J.P. Cannon and A.J. Muste”, and so on and so forth. (Dec. 19.) The workers of the United States have seen the Daily Worker and the so-called Communist Party pursue this tactic of throwing mud at any and every one who ventures to criticize their insane policies. The workers of the U.S. see through this tactic. It is discredited. Nobody, not even the C.P. members will believe this latest slander. Only insane desperation could lead to the resort to it now. The inevitable effect is to deepen the distrust of the present bureaucracy of the C.I. and the Soviet Union.

We do not know the facts surrounding the assassination of Kirov. They are concealed from us as they are concealed from the whole international working class. We do not know whether he was killed by a white guard or by a worker whose antagonism to the bureaucracy led him to the anarchistic act of individual terror. There is plenty of ground for the latter assumption, since the individual responsible is reported as a former member of the party. If that is really the case, and if similar attempts have been made or planned by others, the international working class is entitled to know all the facts and is also entitled to an explanation of why such incidents, which never occurred in Lenin’s time, occur now in the 18th year of the revolution. Such a movement, taking the extreme form of individual terrorism, could only arise from profound social causes and would need the inspiration of an anarchistic or social-revolutionary philosophy. If such a movement, animated by such a philosophy, really exists today in the Soviet Union it is a fearful indictment of the Soviet bureaucracy.

In any event, whether the terroristic acts were committed by capitalist agents or by demoralized anc disoriented workers, the attempt to attribute the responsibility for them to party-political opponents of Stalin is a fraud on its face, and every revolutionary worker knows it. Every one in the least familiar with the history and literature of the Marxist movement knows that the Marxists always based themselves on the mass movement of the workers and opposed individual terrorism as a political weapon on the ground that it operates against the organization of the mass movement and becomes a substitute for it. Marx and Engels opposed individual terrorism. Lenin, following them, did likewise in all the years of his revolutionary activity. So did Trotsky and Zinoviev and every one of the leaders of the Russian revolution. The Communists in every country have had to explain this to reactionaries who accused them of terroristic actions. Is it necessary now to explain it to the Stalinists?

Evidently they do not dare to make the direct accusation that Zinoviev, the former chairman of the Comintern and the co-worker of Lenin, had anything to do with a terroristic group. But they have begun to whisper and insinuate it in order, at the next stage, to make a bolder and more direct accusation and then to “connect” Trotsky and his adherents and everyone else who raises a critical voice.

In the light of what has taken place in recent times, in the light, especially, of the turns in Soviet foreign policy – the recognition agreement with the United States, the entry into the League of Nations which Lenin called the “thieves kitchen of Geneva”, the pacts with capitalist governments to defend the boundaries established by the Versailles Treaty – in the light of all this, the enlightened workers of all countries have the duty to probe deeply into the present situation in the Soviet Union and ask what is behind the official propaganda. Does Stalin contemplate a still further turn to the right in foreign policy and, fearing the rise of a new proletarian opposition, does he seek to silence it by a preventive terror? Is the talk about a capitalist attack a pretext to alarm the masses and enable Stalin to take bloody revenge on honest opponents in the revolutionary camp? Is the revolutionary opposition to the regime of Stalin growing inside the country as it is growing outside on the international arena?

We contend that the present methods of the Stalin leadership, which bears the responsibility for a chain of working class defeats throughout the world, is aiming a mortal blow at the Russian revolution itself. The Stalin group would lead the Soviet Union, as it led the German working class, blindfolded to catastrophe. The international working class is the one power in the world that can prevent this catastrophe. It must do so in its own interest, as well as in the interest of the Russian revolution, for the fate of one is bound up with the other.

The defense of the Soviet Union, its real defense by revolutionary workers, not the empty pretences of careerists, not the counterfeit defense of those who cover up and justify every crime of the bureaucracy and slander honest opponents for hire – the real defense of the Soviet Union requires a merciless criticism of the methods of the Stalin bureaucracy in the present situation, a demand for complete information produced at open trials and a mighty proletarian protest against the attempt to link the proletarian opponents of the Stalin regime with the agents of capitalist counter-revolution.

Today again, as in the first years of its existence when the imperialist bandits of the whole world surrounded it with a ring of steel, the fate of the Russian Revolution depends directly on the international working class. The task today is more complicated, but the responsibility is no less direct. The Soviet Union is the greatest conquest that has been gained by the working class in all its history. It embodies the inspiration, the hope and the example that will lead the workers to victory and emancipation throughout the world. The international working class must come to the aid of the Soviet Union now against the mortal dangers which menace it from within as, from the first, they have defended it against the external enemy.

The defense of the Soviet State requires now more than ever a merciless criticism and exposure of the usurping bureaucracy. It requires the building of a revolutionary proletarian force in the capitalist countries strong enough to put pressure on the bureaucracy and to give real aid to the working class of the Soviet Union. Above all, it requires a force that can challenge capitalism in its seats of power and overthrow it.

That means for us –

  • Build the Workers Party of the United States!
  • Build the New, Fourth International!

Last updated on: 14 November 2014