From Fourth International, Vol. 6 No. 5, May 1945, pp. 139–142.
Originally published in Quatrième Internationale, January 1944.
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Translated from January 1944 issue of Quatrième Internationale, theoretical organ of the European Executive Committee of the Fourth International, for the information of our readers.
In comparing the attitude of the workers’ parties on the eve of the war of 1914–1918 and on the eve of the present war, we must not fail to emphasize an important difference. The internal crisis and the betrayal of the Second International were laid bare only after the outbreak of the first world war, whereas the decomposition of the Third International along social patriotic lines was already complete between 1935-1939, the period commonly known as the “People’s Front,” which followed the notorious ultra-leftist “Third Period” of 1929-1933. Upon its entry into this war, the Third International was already shot through with communo-chauvinist ideology, the seeds of which can be found in the theory of “socialism in one country,” elaborated in 1924 by the Soviet bureaucracy.
Already at that time it was Trotsky alone who refused to accept as a “palliative” this “soothing” theory which despite its lack of consistency did offer a slight hope to the Russian workers who were isolated from the world revolution and struggling against enormous internal difficulties. On the contrary, Trotsky insisted, even at that time, that the theory of “socialism in one Country” was no mere theoretical trifle of no great practical importance, but as he wrote a little later “a mortal blow struck at the International,” which would break “the backbone of internationalism.”
The communo-chauvinist ideology was perfectly suited to the Soviet bureaucracy which, owing to the country’s backwardness and its isolation in the capitalist world, developed into a privileged caste. But it was a less suitable ideology for the Stalinist parties working in the capitalist countries and recruiting their militants in part from among the workers’ sections in these countries.
It was through the medium of their respective bureaucracies that the social patriotic ideology permeated the various Stalinist parties. Up to the termination of the “Third Period” the social basis of these parasitic layers was secured exclusively by subsidies from the Soviet bureaucracy.
But beginning with the “People’s Front” period, the infiltration of the Stalinist parties into the layers of the petty bourgeoisie, into the state, municipal, trade union and parliamentary apparatus has provided their bureaucracies with a new though secondary source of nourishment – the same source that has fed the Social Democratic bureaucracies: the super-profits of their own imperialism.
As a result of this process, nationalist tendencies within the Stalinist parties have not only gone unchecked but, on the contrary, have become so powerful that the parties have some times tended to move away from their traditional dependence on the Soviet bureaucracy. At the outbreak of the second imperialist war, the ideological situation in the Stalinist parties was as follows:
Certain powerful elements among the party bureaucracies were not disposed to take orders from the Soviet bureaucracy for the defense of the USSR, except insofar as this task fitted in with the interests of their own imperialism. This was particularly true in the “democratic” imperialisms of France, England and the United States.
Thus the Soviet-German pact (1939) provoked a genuine crisis in the ranks of the social-patriotic bureaucrats, as evidenced by mass desertions in France and elsewhere and by a profound unrest in the Stalinist parties of the “democratic” countries. This unrest was really not dissipated completely until after the (Stalin-Hitler) pact was broken and the USSR entered the war.
The war has speeded up the chauvinist decomposition of the Stalinist parties, relegating them to the role which for a long time had been their only justification for existence: political and military defense of the USSR in the same sense that the Soviet bureaucracy undertakes this defense. In fact, the Soviet bureaucracy wanted the Third International and its parties to fulfil no role other than the one they could play in facilitating the Kremlin’s relations with the capitalist states, in other words, its foreign policy and diplomacy.
Just as in the period when she was defending “her peace,” so too during the war, Moscow has understood the defense of the USSR exclusively in terms of alliances with the imperialist gangs who – each for their own purpose – have all been out for the same goal: the defeat of Germany. Thus the duty of the Stalinist parties was clear and simple: to make concessions which even they themselves characterized as “enormous” ; to completely give up all class politics, and thus to make their peace with the imperialist anti-German alliance, “so that the brave Socialist fatherland might avail itself of the material aid of capitalism against Hitlerism.”
Here briefly are the results of this policy:
It is hardly surprising that with their policy of systematic submission to the wishes of the international bourgeoisie, the bureaucracies of the Stalinist parties found themselves unable to bottle up the discontent of the rank and file who were finding it hard to understand the justification for such conduct. The report of the Central Committee of the French Stalinist party, which we have cited above, states the following:
We know that many of our comrades are boiling with impatience and we have received a number of bitter letters addressed to the Central Committee. But we exhort everyone to remain patient and to retain faith in the proletarian Party which will know, at the right moment, how to take the appropriate and necessary action.
The constant attempt of the bureaucracy is to mask its treachery as a pretended maneuver.
Grovelling before the banner of the bourgeoisie, complete abandonment of class politics, support of Roosevelt in the United States, Churchill in England, de Gaulle in France, and the grandson of Bismarck in Germany – all this is palmed off as a “maneuver” to obtain the help of “capitalism” against “Hitlerism” (sic) in the Soviet Union’s war against Germany. All this is depicted as a “maneuver” to win over the patriotic mass movements, to hoodwink the possessing classes and “at the right moment” to take them by surprise with the Revolution. It is with such puerile philosophy that the Stalinist bureaucracy continues to wield political influence over large sections of the working class and to assuage the unrest among the most tested and most intelligent proletarian elements.
Ever since Lenin died, the argument of “manuever” has been used to camouflage the rapid descent of the Third International into opportunism and social patriotic degeneration. The political history of Stalinism from 1925 on is nothing but the systematic substitution of unprincipled maneuvers in place of the strategic line.
A maneuver can be thought of only as an episodic move of a subordinate tactical character and limited in its duration and usefulness, but can in no case replace the revolutionary power of the class. But in the politics of the Stalinist bureaucracy the maneuver is blown up to the proportions of a strategic line which no longer represents the struggle against the bourgeoisie, and for its revolutionary overthrow, but rather collaboration with the bourgeoisie so as to gain at any given moment a few advantages for the foreign policy of the Soviet bureaucracy.
The entire “People’s Front” period palmed off as a maneuver terminated in the outbreak of the imperialist war and the collapse of all proletarian resistance. The bourgeoisie, and it alone, has profited from this “maneuver.”
With the activity of the proletariat paralyzed and their class interests subordinated to “national” interests – which are the interests of the bourgeoisie – the latter had its hands free to plunge into the war whose outbreak had been retarded solely by the threat of revolutionary ferment among the masses. By continuing during the war this same policy of national unity the Stalinist bureaucracy is today preparing the way for the triumph not of revolutionary strategy but for the triumph of imperialism.
The most ingenious “maneuver” is incapable of solving such fundamental contradictions as those between the classes, or between the USSR and the capitalist world. It is at best a dismal manifestation of empty-headedness to think in terms of duping the vigilance of the possessing classes who are so well trained and expert in camouflaging themselves behind the “national colors.”
In justification of their enormous concessions to the international bourgeoisie, the Stalinists cite the assistance rendered by capitalism in the struggle of the USSR against “Hitlerism.” But just what was this “assistance”? Was it the shipment of arms and ammunitions – shipments kept at the barest minimum for sustaining the efforts of the USSR, which by its entry into the conflict in June 1941 had deflected the avalanche of the German war machine away from England and America and supplied the Anglo-American imperialisms with an unhoped for opportunity to gird themselves free from all surprise and disturbance? Or was it perhaps the establishment of the famous “second front” – the only way in which real military aid could be given the USSR and which despite all wailings and implorings and even veiled threats of the Stalinist bureaucracy, has remained since 1941 in the realm of projected operations? 
Undoubtedly, it will not be long before the Anglo-American forces will undertake the invasion of the continent. But this will not come as the end-product of the political wisdom of the Soviet bureaucracy, which knew so well how to assuage the uneasiness, hesitations and fears of Anglo-American imperialism by its ingenious maneuvers. No, it will come as a well-considered action of Anglo-American imperialism, undertaken at a moment chosen by the latter, or rather at a moment when the objective conditions of the development of the war make this measure absolutely necessary for its own interests.
Let the pundits of the “maneuver” tell us how by exercising their supple spines at the feet of “democratic” imperialism they have up to now advanced by a single day the disembarking of the “Allies” or the establishing of the “second front,” or even the speeding up of arms and munition shipments either to the USSR or the “maquis” armies in the occupied countries?
Imperialism arrives at its decisions in accordance with its class interests, and no “maneuver” will get it to launch its offensive against “Hitlerism” prematurely. The moment and the measures will be chosen in accordance with its own interests.
It would, however, be naive to think that the Soviet bureaucracy and the top circles among the bureaucracies of the Stalinist parties are simply making mistakes, all in good faith, about the means to be employed in arriving at one and the same revolutionary goal, namely: the conquest of power and the establishment of socialism. For many years they have not been thinking in terms of maneuvers in the interests of revolutionary strategy, but in terms of a new strategy thoroughly thought out and consistently applied which aims at obtaining through class collaboration an occasional advantage or two for the foreign policy of the USSR. When a “maneuver” is applied over a period of many years, it is no longer a question of a tactical episode, but of an entire political line. It is a question of strategy.
The top circles of the Stalinist bureaucracy constitute a parasitic body, hostile to revolutionary aims and methods. The argument of a “maneuver” serves as their smoke-screen before the proletarian rank and file of the Stalinist parties. It is the proletarian rank and file and not the bourgeoisie who are the sole victims of the “sly tricks,” and double-dealings of the Stalinist leaders. When, for example, the latter, with a perfectly straight face, explain to the Stalinist militants that “the antagonism of the Giraud crowd towards de Gaulle’s policies is the product of Giraudist opposition to de Gaulle’s ideas which are more liberal, more tolerant and more sympathetic to communism (sic!) whereas Giraud’s policies stand for the best future interests of capitalism,” (loc. cit), it is certainly not de Gaulle who is duped by the flirtation of Marty and Florimonde Bonte at Algiers. Nor do Marty or Bonte nurse any illusions concerning Gen de Gaulle’s true sentiments toward communism. The ones who are tricked are the poor fellows who are dying by the hundreds under the banner of the Stalinist party, without suspecting that the policy of their party is leading, alas! not to the revolution, but straight to the future triumph of bourgeois reaction, which de Gaulle serves as a far more skillful and “sly” agent than Giraud.
The concept of “maneuver” which has been implanted in the minds of Stalinist militants corrodes and saps the revolutionary spirit of a proletarian party which is, by its very nature, hostile to unprincipled combinations, to games of hide-and-seek, and to palming off rotten opportunism as the highest political wisdom.
The misfortune lies precisely in the fact that the epigones of Bolshevik strategy extol maneuvers and flexibility to the young Communist parties as the quintessence of this strategy, thereby tearing them away from their historical axis and principled foundation and turning them to unprincipled combinations which, only tots often, resemble a squirrel whirling in its cage. It was not flexibility that served (nor should it serve today) as the basic trait of Bolshevism but rather granite hardness. It was precisely of this quality, for which its enemies and opponents have reproached it, that Bolshevism was always justly proud. Not blissful “optimism” but intransigence, vigilance, revolutionary distrust, and the struggle for every hair’s breadth of independence – these are the essential traits of Bolshevism. (Leon Trotsky, Third International After Lenin, pp. 140–141)
The Stalinist parties have definitely broken away from the proletarian axis and have degraded themselves to the status of political instruments analogous to the Social Democracy. Like the latter, the Stalinist parties do not work towards the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeoisie but for the perpetuation of class equilibrium, to which they wish simply to give a pro-Soviet political orientation. Thus whereas Social Democracy prepares anew to serve as the political agency of the strongest imperialism, namely, that of the United States, on which the stabilization of European capitalism depends, and consequently also the material and political rehabilitation of the Social Democracy itself depends; the Stalinist parties, on the other hand, tying themselves more and more closely with the interests of their own imperialism, will still represent for a certain period the real interests of the Soviet bureaucracy.
We have already seen that the antagonism between the USSR and the US must sharpen until either the social conquests of October still existing in the USSR are overthrown, or the Revolution triumphs. The line of demarcation between the Social Democracy and the Stalinist parties will be clearly drawn by the conflicting tendencies within the framework of their common interest of maintaining class equilibrium – the former orienting themselves toward the interests of the United States, the latter towards the interests of the Soviet bureaucracy.
This contradiction is of secondary importance in view of the identical principal role that is being played by the Social Democracy and the Stalinist parties, both of them serving as the instruments of a class collaborationist policy. But nevertheless it offers certain perspectives which must not be lost sight of in the period of the gigantic revolutionary crisis which we are entering.
1. Information du Militant, published by the Central Committee of the French Communist Party “exclusively for the leadership of the recognized sections.” May 1943.
2. This was written prior to the Allied invasion of France. – Ed.
Updated on: 10 April 2015