Hal Draper


The Franco-Soviet Alliance and the World Proletariat

(October 1935)

From Socialist Appeal [Chicago], Volume 2 No. 1 October 1935, pp.6-7.
Transcribed & marked up by Damon Maxwell for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

IT IS well known, by now, that since the Franco-Soviet Pact the Comintern and its sections have openly taken the stand that they will support war by an imperialist government where the government is fighting on the same side as the Soviet Union – i.e. against Hitler Germany or Japan; and that so long as this line-up remains, they will not attempt to overthrow that imperialist government through revolution. In the words of the editor of the Daily Worker:

“At the outset of the war and in so far as France really fights alongside the Soviet Union, we are not going to call for the defeat of the country that is helping us” (Hathaway, Daily Worker, July 6.)

It is likewise well known that the C.I.’s explanation runs as follows The Franco-soviet Fact is a force for peace. Anything that delays the coming of war (which must however be admitted to be inevitable under capitalism) is in the interests of the Soviet Union, and ipso facto, of the world proletariat The Franco-Soviet Pact must therefore be supported by the French workers. Of course this means that when war does come they must support that war; but although it may be true that the French government will fight Germany for its own imperialist interests, yet the by-product of its action (defense of the USSR) is objectively desirable and beneficial to the working class, and it is therefore that we support the war.

The Socialist Appeal and the Socialist Call have already pointed out that this “justification” is the same as that of the social-patriots of 1914. One need only point to the Serbian question in the World War: Serbia was one of the national states of the Austrian Empire, fighting a national-revolutionary war against Austria. Everyone knows that it is as incumbent on revolutionaries to support national-revolutionary wars as proletarian struggles. And Russia entered the war, she said to help the Slav peoples to freedom. Although her real reason was her own imperialist aims, Russia was objectively working for the liberation of Serbia. Was Lenin therefore wrong in working for the defeat of Russia?

So today: war by France on Germany may objectively aid the USSR, but as far as the French working class is concerned, their government is carrying on an imperialist war, and they cannot support it. And since support of the Franco-Soviet pact entails support of France’s war against Germany, they cannot support that either, even if it is otherwise of aid to the Soviet Union.

This is the fundamental criticism. But apart from this basic consideration – IS IT TRUE THAT THE FRANCO-SOVIET PACT IS IN THE INTERESTS OF THE SOVIET UNION?

1. The Franco-Soviet military alliance does NOT make for peace, as the Communists claim. (The Communists, indeed, claim more than this. They have actually asserted that the Pact guarantees peace! – See Duclos in L’Humanité, central organ of the t French C.P., June 21.)

But when France and the USSR declare their alliance against German aggression, the situation is not eased but only made tense. Germany does not cease to be impelled toward war by the international forces of fascist capitalism, but it is spurred to still greater armaments and militarization. In reaction to one alliance, counter-alliances are crystallized. Since the Pact, England has been pushed closer to Germany (cf. the air treaty), and a sharp swing in Japanese opinion in the direction of Germany has been reported. Nothing is pacified. The lines of war are merely clearly drawn. All existing antagonisms are jacked up t a notch. When war does come, it is bigger and better.

This process is nothing new. Fay’s Origins of the World War traces it in detail. The Communists point to the defensive character of the Franco-Soviet Alliance as distinguishing it from the pre-war variety: this means nothing except to clear the Soviet Union of suspicion of aggressive or imperialist designs, if this is necessary. The Pact is no less a part of the lining up of the Powers for the next war.

But more important even is the fact that the Franco-Soviet Pact removes the biggest obstacle to the provocation of war: the fear of the war-makers that the declaration of war will unleash revolution or, at least, internal struggles. As far back as 1909, Kautsky gave this as the reason why the war he saw brewing had not yet broken out.

“Long ago this situation would have led to war.... had it not been for the fact that this alternative would have brought the revolution that stands behind the war – nearer than even behind an armed peace. It is the rising power of the proletariat which for three decades has prevented every European war, and which today causes every European government to shudder at the prospect of war. But forces are driving us on to a condition where at last the weapons will be automatically released.” (Road to Power, pp. 111-112.)

And indeed, the memoirs of German statesmen show that their anxiety before the war was not to see whether the Social-Democrats were in favor of peace, but to make sure what they would do once war was declared.

The Franco-Soviet Pact means that the menace of internal disturbance – the main obstacle to war – is removed (as far as the Communists are concerned). The boldness and provocativeness of the French imperialists then depends only on the strength of their enemy without, not within.

And it is this pact that is hailed as a step toward – nay, a “guarantee” of – peace!

II. But let us probe all the possibilities. Suppose the Pact did delay war (it is not worthwhile here refuting the view that it cannot guarantee the end of war): The Communists argue that even if the pact means a breathing-space of only a month, or a year, or two years, it is worth supporting; for then the Soviet Union has so much more time to grow strong. Certainly, if this were the only result of the Pact, there could be no criticism. But to sacrifice the opportunity for proletarian revolution that imperialist war offers – to sell the workers into the service of imperialism – for the sake of one month, or one year or one decade of the Second Five-Year Plan is – rather a bad bargain.

The question is squarely posed: Which is of greater value to the USSR – a breathing space, or the existence of a revolutionary menace behind the lines of the capitalist nations? What should a Socialist state rely on – national self-sufficiency, or the revolutionary workers of the world? Hitherto, the Communists have claimed that these two are not mutually exclusive, but rather complementary. This should be so, but the Franco-Soviet Pact drives a wedge between the two, and forces the Comintern to choose – the first. The Soviet Union thereby sacrifices its ultimate interests to its temporary interests.

Lenin defined opportunism as the sacrificing of “the fundamental interests of the masses” to the temporary interests of a minority of the workers. This is what the German Social-Democrats did on August 4, 1914: it would have been impossible for them to fight the war without seeing the magnificent structure which they had so laboriously built up within capitalism go to smash – their labor institutions, unions, banks, cooperatives the whole labor bureaucracy… This constituted for the Social Democrats a vested interest which they had to preserve at all costs, since to them it represented the nucleus around which the future Socialist society would gradually grow. (So, being opportunists, they saved their Socialist-society-within-capitalism, and these same opportunist policies made it possible for a Hitler to smash their little world anyway, later. Truly, reformism carries within itself the seeds of its own destruction.)

“The more things change, the more they are the same,” said a French wit, (some time before the Franco-Soviet Pact). Opportunism may change its form, and call itself by the horrendous name of Communism, but it remains the same. For behold! the Communist International also has its vested interest, called the Soviet Union, and it is as willing as the next to sacrifice the “fundamental interests of the masses” to the temporary, short-range, and therefore false interests of a minority.

Does this mean that the Third International is following in the footsteps of the Second? No. Everybody knows that Communists work with a quicker tempo then reformists. The Second International held congresses at Stuttgart and Basle at which it sent out clarion calls to the workers of the world to warn them against the approaching imperialist war. Even the despised German Social-Democrats vigorously opposed war until its very declaration. It took them until August 4 to come around to social-patriotism and betrayal.

The Comintern is more honest. It scorns to deceive the workers so long.

Last updated on May.22.2009