Notebook of an Agitator

(14 December 1940)

Published: Socialist Appeal, Vol. 4 No. 50, 14 December 1940, p. 4.
Source: PDF supplied by the Riazanov Library Project.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
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Finland and Greece

Public opinion – that melange of sentiments and moods which are set in motion by bourgeois pressure and propaganda – is reacting rather calmly to the Italian attack on Greece. A year ago this same public opinion was all in a lather over Finland, then under attack by the Soviet bear. Why is there no hue and cry for Greece? Isn’t poor little Greece as noble as poor little Finland, and isn’t Mussolini just as big a bullying scoundrel as Stalin? Evidently there is something different somewhere.

In many respects, the Italo-Greek war appears to be a duplicate of the Soviet invasion of Finland; the points of resemblance strike the eye. In each case a strong military power attacked a smaller and weaker opponent. The Soviet invasion of last year appeared to be poorly prepared. The victim of aggression fought back and scored initial victories. The press dispatches pictured David putting Goliath to rout while thousands cheered. So today, in the modern war of the Greeks and the Romans. The first attacks are repelled and followed by what appear to be successful counter-attacks which push the invader back in retreat.

Nevertheless, the sheer military preponderance of Italy over Greece would seem to assure eventual victory unless powerful new forces are brought to play in favor of Greece. Why, then, is the far-flung anti-Soviet mob of last year not in action? Why are they resting in their dug-outs with such maddening nonchalance while the armies of Mussolini and Metaxas fight it out? Where are the sermons thundering from the pulpit? Where is the Hoover Fund Raising Committee? Where are the special theatrical benefits for the victim of aggression? Where are the trade union relief committees?

The sympathy of the American ruling class is indubitably on the side of Greece, since Greece is an ally of Britain, and thereby also of the United States, in the developing and expanding world struggle of the rival imperialist powers. But this sympathy is lukewarm and restrained. There is no drum-beating campaign, we see no hysteria, no unbridled fury, such as that which swelled in a mighty tide against the Soviet Union during the Soviet-Finnish war.

Is this because the rulers and makers of public opinion perceive a fundamental difference between the regime in Greece and that of Finland? Not at all. The bloody work of exterminating the flower of the proletariat, which was carried through to completion under Mannerheim in Finland, and on the basis of which Finnish “democracy” was stabilized, is still in process in Greece under the dictatorship of Metaxas. But this is a factor of secondary importance which does not even interest the class rulers, to say nothing of determining their policy.

The difference from their point of view is the difference between the class nature of the Soviet Union and fascist Italy. A victory of fascist Italy over Greece would be a military episode in a drawn-out world war. The masters of America, because of the international alignment, have an interest in preventing such a victory. But they do not permit themselves to get unduly excited about the prospect. The military domination of Greece by fascist Italy would not change anything fundamentally in the class structure of the latter. It would not spread the infection of expropriation and nationalization which the masters of property fear and dread above everything else.

The difference which the ruling bourgeoisie perceives, and which motivates their instinctive reaction, is the fundamental difference between the property relations in the Soviet Union and those of fascist Italy. They do not delude themselves for one moment by a vulgar identification of the two countries Because of the superficial similarity in the political regimes. They know the difference between a fascist regime which reinforces the rule of private property and a soviet regime which signifies its annihilation, and they have great respect for this difference. The preservation of the system of private property is the one thing that really concerns them.

It was the threat to private property, implicit in a Soviet victory over bourgeois Finland, which determined the unrestrained violence of the bourgeois anti-Soviet campaign during the Soviet-Finnish war. They gave the workers an instructive lesson in class politics! The motivation of the bourgeoisie in this case was graphically summarized in the Manifesto of the Fourth International on The Imperialist War and the Proletarian Revolution, adopted by the emergency conference of the Fourth International last Spring. This Manifesto, the last great programmatic document written by Comrade Trotsky, says:

“Extremely eloquent in its unanimity and fury was the campaign which the world bourgeoisie launched over the Soviet-Finnish war. Neither the perfidy nor the violence of the Kremlin prior to this had aroused the indignation of the bourgeoisie, for the entire history of world politics is written in perfidy and violence. Their fear and indignation arose over the prospect of a social overturn in Finland upon the pattern of the one engendered by the Red Army in Eastern Poland. What was involved was a fresh threat to capitalist property. The anti-Soviet campaign, which had a class character through and through, disclosed once again that the USSR by virtue of the social foundations laid down by the October revolution, upon which the existence of the bureaucracy itself is dependent in the last analysis, still remains a workers’ state, terrifying to the bourgeoisie of the whole world. Episodic agreements between the bourgeoisie and the USSR do not alter the fact that taken on the historic scale the contradiction between world imperialism and the Soviet Union is infinitely more profound than the antagonisms which set the individual capitalist countries in opposition to each other.” (War and the Fourth International)

From a class point of view, the bourgeoisie were absolutely right in the position they took on the Soviet-Finnish war. So were we right, from the point of view of the fundamental class interests of the proletariat, in firmly maintaining our defense of the Soviet Union in spite of the enormous pressure of bourgeois public opinion, which even found expression at that time in our own ranks. Contemptible was the faction of Burnham and Shachtman which attacked our program in synchronism with the bourgeois anti-Soviet campaign. Pathetic must be the fate of the faction whose “independent” existence stems from that shameful capitulation.

Last updated on 13 November 2020