Isaac Deutscher 1940
Source: Workers Fight, 20 March 1940, signed Josef Bren. Workers Fight was the paper of the Revolutionary Workers League. Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.
Stalinist: But your criticisms are futile. Since we last met events have occurred which ought to convince you. You and your friends remain revolutionary phrase-mongers, whereas Stalin, during the last few months, has done concrete work for the revolution. The Red Army has shown visible successes in Finland. The Baltic countries are entirely subdued and under the influence of the Soviet Union. In the former Polish provinces the landlords and the capitalists are being expropriated. For the first time since 1917, socialism is now really advancing and gaining new ground. These are the facts, and they prove that – contrary to your assertions – Stalin’s policy serves the cause of the international proletariat. What is even more surprising is the fact that these gains have been obtained without heavy fighting (except in Finland), and without the bloodshed of a civil war. A few clever moves on the diplomatic chess-board sufficed to bring millions of former Polish subjects into a new social order. But for your usual Trotskyist prejudice, you would admit the greatness of these achievements.
Marxist: You prefer, of course, to overlook the effects of Stalin’s policy on the broader international scene of the workers’ movement. The German revolution has been stabbed in the back. Hitler is now able to present to the German workers the bills of German imperialism, endorsed by the Soviet Government and by the Comintern. The workers of Berlin are told by Moscow that the cause they are forced to fight for is a just one. The Nazi clique are now able to recruit their cannon-fodder with the help of those who usurp the traditions of October. This monstrous and ignominious ‘paradox’ will, in the immediate future, press down like a nightmare upon the revolutionary anti-war movement in Germany. The revolutionary socialist struggle in Britain and France has suffered a severe set-back; has been compromised and broken by the ideological alliance of Stalin and Hitler. The French section of the Communist International has been forced underground by the same Daladier whom it brought to power. The Finnish adventure has made it easier for the governments of the Allied and Scandinavian countries to turn the mood of ‘their’ workers against the Soviet Union. They have succeeded to an extent of formidable danger. These losses to socialism and gains to reaction can by no means be made good by the purely local, and partly illusory gains to socialism in the former Polish provinces and in the Baltic region. This is why we stick to the opinion that the balance of the Stalinist policy remains for the working class a balance of failure and defeat.
Stalinist: These are abstract speculations. Until now the revolutionary movements of Germany, Britain and France failed to justify the hopes placed in them. I prefer concrete gains today, to uncertain gains of tomorrow. Socialism is expanding in Eastern Europe. This is enough to justify Stalin’s policy.
Marxist: ‘Socialism is expanding in Eastern Europe.’ I am afraid that I must remind you that this ‘socialism’ is coupled with a bureaucratic tyranny and with the oppression of the masses. More than ten million of former Polish subjects have been brought under Stalin’s totalitarian rule. That means that not socialism in its accepted sense, but a specific, degenerate, bureaucratic form of socialism is spreading in Eastern Europe. Of course, the economic expropriation of the Polish landlord and capitalists is progressive, even if it is accompanied by the political expropriation of the Polish workers and peasants, by the Kremlin rulers.
But the main problem still remains: by what means has this end been attained? By the clever tricks of Moscow diplomacy, or by the revolutionary struggle of the workers on the spot?
Stalinist: Moralising, idealistic stuff! What counts is the overthrow of the capitalists and landowners. The end justifies the means. I don’t see anything wrong with it if the task has been accomplished by the shorter and easier method of diplomatic barter between Moscow and Berlin, rather than the difficult and doubtful way of class struggle.
Marxist: Here we reach a point which fundamentally distinguishes our different methods in thinking, or, if you like, a point which distinguishes Stalinism from Marxism. Marxism is the teaching of class struggle. We always look on history as a long chain of conflicts between classes, that is, between the masses of all classes. We never view history as a crime novel full of intrigues and clever tricks played by ingenious leaders. Classes are never permanently victorious or vanquished by cunning tricks. Only those conquests of socialism are stable and sure which have been acquired in struggle and sealed by the sacrifice of the masses. Gains acquired by political jugglery are always of a superficial and temporary nature.
We reject ingenious tricks, not because of moral or idealistic indignation, but because we do not believe them to be efficacious in the long run. The revolution in the former Polish provinces has been brought about from above and not from below. It has not been fought out by the independent movement of the masses. It sprang from manoeuvring, from the ‘inspired’ diplomacy of Stalin. This has been favoured by an original set of circumstances, by a specific relationship of international forces. So long as this set of circumstances and this relationship of forces lasts – everything seems to be all right. But historical situations change, and now they change more rapidly than ever before. The international relation of forces which allowed the carrying through of a revolution in a part of Poland with the consent of the inexorable Nazi counter-revolution, will one day disappear. Then the easy conquests will have to be defended by heavy fighting...
Suppose that Hitler wins the war. The victorious, powerful German imperialism will then undoubtedly start its drive towards the east. The issue will first of all depend on whether the Soviet masses will show enough revolutionary fervour in the defence of the heritage of October. The former Polish provinces will form the first theatre of this new clash of arms. The spirit, the mood of the masses on these territories will be the most essential factor. But the workers there did not win the revolution by themselves. Will, therefore, a regime brought from above find, in the hour of danger, the necessary support from below? It is certain that a class which did not bear the revolution with its own conscience, with its own sufferings and sacrifices, must be the least prepared to defend this revolution, and especially when this revolution is, in the eyes of the people, identified beforehand with all the crimes and all the misery of a totalitarian dictatorship.
Let us face the other alternative: Hitler has been defeated by the Allies. Stalin has tied up the fate of the Russian Revolution with the fate of German imperialism. Their mutual struggle, therefore, can easily be turned into a mutual defeat. The collapse of Hitler can lead to a breakdown of the Stalin regime which can, in its turn, lead to the definite counter-revolution.
We have to look at events from an historical perspective and not from the angle of the present day only. History has never granted easy victories or gifts to the oppressed classes and history will continue to assert itself despite the omnipotent tricks of the almighty Stalin.
The political methods of Stalinism are not original at all. On a larger scale, Stalinism now applies all the methods and worn-out tricks of European Opportunism. The reformists also pretended to do some ‘concrete work’ for the proletariat without resorting to independent mass action. Today all this ‘concrete work’ lies in ruins over most of the Continent. To ‘obtain something’ by the way of parliamentary tricks and class collaboration they had to strangle the revolutionary movement. What Macdonald, Wels and Blum have performed on a national scale, Stalin is now accomplishing on the international scale. Do you not see that the same methods must produce the same results?
Stalinist: I cannot share your belief in the revolutionary characteristic of the masses. In Germany, Great Britain and France we have seen the impotence of the working class. They allowed themselves to be drawn into the second imperialist world slaughter with hardly a protest. When they fail to justify our hopes we must be content with the methods of the diplomats and with the gains which are obtained in this way.
Marxist: It is true that the European workers are now in a state of political and ideological prostration. This springs, not from the impotence of the masses themselves, but from the impotence and treachery of the policy imposed upon them by their leaderships. For years the combined policies of the Social Democracy and the Comintern have demoralised the masses, weakened their self-confidence, and paralysed their inherent revolutionary force. But he who has kept his powder wet for a long time has no right to blame the powder, when, at the critical moment, he is unable to fire. The masses are now demoralised, but this mood can be changed. We must strive to re-imbue them with a fighting militancy, with a confidence in their own class strength; with a distrust of diplomatic tricks, of class collaboration and cynical opportunism. We must help them to rediscover the road of revolutionary struggle. This is the only guarantee of victory.
In the course of this war, capitalism will have to face a whole series of severe crises. The workers will again become the decisive political force. The independent movement of the proletariat will again demonstrate its power and push aside the ‘inspired’ bureaucrats, the political jugglers and the specialists in unprincipled trickery.
There can be no socialism without the active participation of the masses. Diplomacy cannot substitute for class struggle. The basic condition for victory is that the masses consciously realise that their emancipation cannot be brought about from above, but only by their own independent movement. Even if such a method of struggle results in a temporary defeat of the workers, the defeat is nevertheless of greater benefit to the class struggle than the gains obtained by class collaboration or diplomatic trickery. The defeat of the Paris Commune brought to the workers’ movement more real gains than the conquests of Stalin in Poland and in the Baltic region. The defeat of the Commune taught generations of revolutionaries (the Bolsheviks amongst them) how to fight, and how to avoid major mistakes in the future. This defeat, therefore, contained the germ of future victories. The ‘victories’ of Stalin, however, have confused and demoralised the masses and contain in themselves the germs of future defeats.
Think it over, Comrade. Think it over thoroughly and you will be able to understand that Marxism and revolutionary realism are rooted in the struggle of the masses and in them alone. Victory lies with them, and not with the Kremlin bureaucrats, no matter how ‘inspired’.