George Padmore 1940

Hands Off the Soviet Union

Source: Left, No. 41, February 1940.
Transcribed: by Christian Hogsbjerg for 2007.

The Russo-Finnish conflict makes it imperative for the international working-class movements in the capitalist countries to re-evaluate their position towards the Soviet Union.

Today the potential danger of imperialist intervention against the Soviet Union is greater than at any other time since 1921. This is the logical outcome of Stalin’s fundamental error of attempting to build “Socialism in a single country,” at the expense of the Revolution abroad. We regret the Soviet’s attack upon Finland and we must hold Stalin responsible for this major blow to the prestige of international Socialism. Nevertheless, it is necessary for the British working class to be on guard against being dragged by their capitalists into a war against the Russian workers and peasants under the hypocritical guise of defending “poor little Finland.”

We must not underestimate this danger, for already many spokesmen of Western imperialism on both sides of the Atlantic are declaring that the time has come to liquidate the socialised economy of the Soviet Union, and as a corollary of this, re-establish private ownership in the means of production.

A most significant statement was made by Daladier in the French Chamber of Deputies to the effect that “from the very evening when the League uttered its condemnation we have within the framework of the Covenant (sic) carried out our duty. We have done our duty towards this country in no half-hearted manner, and we shall continue to do so.” This, coming from one who helped to strangle Spanish democracy and who connived with Chamberlain to snuff out Czech independence, should be sufficient warning to the international working-class of the realities of the danger of open war against Russia.

The brass-hats are even more blatantly bellicose. General Sir Hubert Gough openly advocates a naval attack against the Soviet Union. The General writes: “No one would advocate sending an expeditionary force to Finland – there is no need for this – but we can, and should, make use of our Navy. We should send a naval squadron to Petsamo to destroy the Russian fleet based in the Arctic Sea, protect the left flank of the Finns, and blockade Murmansk.”

The idea also has the endorsement of the military correspondent of Le Temps, the organ of the Comité des Forges, the big industrialists of France.

These are not the ravings of irresponsible people, but the political sentiments of the military leaders of the Allied capitalist classes. Intervention has always been a danger confronting the Soviet Union and will continue to be so long as Russia is surrounded by hostile capitalist Powers. But this potential danger has now become a reality, thanks to Stalin’s foreign policy, which has been forced upon him by the isolated position in which the Soviet Union finds itself vis-ŕ-vis the international working class. Having abandoned the policy of World Revolution and dependence upon the support of the international working class against the machinations of imperialist politicians, Stalin was forced, willy-nilly, to seek new allies among the ruling sections of the imperialist Powers whose foreign orientation at a given period coincided with the peace aims of the Kremlin.

Appreciation of this fact is a prerequisite to an understanding of the zigzag course of Soviet foreign policy in recent years. The more the Soviet Union got entangled in its internal economic difficulties, the more its leaders became involved in power politics and were obliged to exploit the differences among imperialists to the complete abandonment of the support of the world proletariat and the colonial peoples. In their orientation towards the Western democracies (Britain and France), the Kremlin had to muzzle the revolutionary policies of the Comintern in order to present a respectable front to their potential allies. This orientation manifested itself in the Popular Front policies in the imperialist countries and the complete desertion of the national liberation movements in the colonies.

The bitter consequence of this policy is being reaped by Stalin today, precisely when the Soviet Union stands most in need of the sympathy and active support of the international working class and the colonial peoples. Having been let down, the Popular Fronters – that heterogeneous amalgamation of middle-class political philistines – are today the most vituperative and slanderous in their denunciations of Soviet aggression against “poor little Finland.” Overnight these petty bourgeois intellectuals crossed over into the same anti-Soviet camp with Mussolini, Franco, the Pope and that venerable organ of British “Socialism” – The Daily Herald. Theirs is the bitterness of frustrated love! The workers, on the other hand, despite their healthy class instinct, have been left confused and bewildered by the political contortions of the Comintern and its British appendage.

In this befogged situation it is difficult for most people to see clearly ahead. A special duty, therefore, falls upon Revolutionary Socialists to clarify the problem, for only by this means will the masses be able to see the situation in its true class perspective.

While rejecting the claim of the Stalinists that “the irrevocable victory of Socialism has been achieved in the Soviet Union,” we nevertheless maintain that Russia is fundamentally a workers’ State. Space prevents a full examination of this subject, but we rest the claim upon the indisputable fact that private ownership in the means of production – land, railways, mines, banks, factories, etc. – has been abolished. The fact alone puts the Soviet Union in a fundamentally different category from capitalist-imperialist nations. This common ownership in the means of production is the essential prerequisite for the transition of society from capitalism to Socialism – Socialism to Communism – the fully classless society. It is this economic difference and its social potentialities which claim our support. Our attitude, however, does not blind us to many economic and social inequalities and the absence of any really genuine proletarian democracy in Russia. With all its limitations, however, the Soviet Union is historically an advance upon other great nations.

Heaven knows that Stalin and his satellites have not only made us feel morally ashamed, for as socialists we are justified in feeling that the ethical conceptions and ideals for which we are striving have been traduced. We are put on the same standard as the bourgeoisie – the suppressors of the rights of nations, the exterminators of weaker peoples and the instigators of war. But again we must not allow our subjective feelings to blur our vision to the dangers involved not only for the Soviet Union but for ourselves also. The slimy, treacherous bourgeoisie always watches eagerly to exploit our class indignation in its own interests, and to make us – the working class and colonial peoples – its instruments in this exploitation.

Until the day Stalin restores to the Russian and foreign capitalists their properties and allows them to set up in Moscow a stock exchange and all the other paraphernalia of finance-capital, the Western capitalists will never give up their plans to drown the Russian working class in blood in the attempt to regain what they lost in 1917. These money-bags have no more interest in the Finnish workers and peasants per se than they had in Czechoslovakia, Austria, Abyssinia or China, which has been struggling for many years to throw off the yoke not only of the Japanese but of the imperialisms of France, Britain and America. The British and French imperialists, who have conquered scores of nations in the past and have trampled on the rights of weaker peoples, are not concerned with the principle of self-determination but merely use it as a slogan to mask their own imperial and class interests.

It is significant that Mussolini, who has grabbed Abyssinia with the aid of poison gas and sent his legions into Albania on the holiest day in the calendar of the Catholic Church – Good Friday – is today foremost among those denouncing Stalin’s aggression. And the Vatican, which gave its blessing to the Abyssinian adventure, is not lagging in its criticism of the Reds.

The American capitalists are just as hypocritical as their European counterparts. When they considered that the construction of the Panama Canal was essential to the national safety of the United States, they blatantly disregarded the sovereignty of Columbia and resorted to the same technique that Stalin is now trying to foist upon Finland.

In 1903, Franklin Roosevelt’s cousin, Theodore, then President of the United States, decided to cut a ship canal through Central America to facilitate the quick movement of the American Navy between the Atlantic and the Pacific. He instructed his Secretary of State, Hay – Molotov’s opposite – to enter into negotiations with the Columbian Ambassador in Washington for a concession to build a canal, which the Colombian Parliament refused to grant on the terms proposed. Roosevelt then conspired with a group of Columbian political refugees in America, and Wall Street financed and armed them to stage a revolution. Roosevelt immediately recognised the rebel Government, which proclaimed itself the Republic of Panama, and an American army was landed on the Isthmus to protect this puppet Government against intervention by the lawful Columbian authorities. The puppet Government there and then accepted the exact terms which had originally been refused by the lawful Government – a lease of the canal zone ten miles wide and the right of occupation by American military and naval forces. In return America guaranteed the protection and maintenance of the Panama Republic!

We mention these facts to illustrate the hypocrisy and perfidy of the capitalists. We say that Stalin is wrong, but only socialists and true internationalists have the right to say that Stalin is wrong, for we are consistent in our attitude. The bourgeoisie wink at aggression when it suits their imperialist interests and denounce it when it does not. Perhaps they would like us to believe that Gibraltar is on the British coast, that Cyprus is in the English Channel, and Kenya – to say nothing of India! – in the Scottish highlands. Bourgeois morality is completely immoral.

The working class, therefore, must not allow itself to be led astray. For it is not only the safety of the Soviet Union that is at stake, the entire socialist and working-class movements are involved.

Does anyone seriously believe that if the Chamberlains and Daladiers – not to speak of Mussolini and the Pope – and their satellite, Mannerheim, had their own way, they would be satisfied merely with the military defeat of Russia and the liquidation of Stalinism? This Unholy Alliance of Capitalism and Jesuitism would completely destroy the Russian working-class movement – trade unions and co-operatives. Worst disaster of all, they would completely liquidate the collective ownership of the means of production and restore to the financial manipulators of the City, Wall Street, and the Bank of France, who can visualise civilisation only in terms of sterling, dollars, and francs – the swag confiscated from them by the October Revolution.

Nor will these “Saviours of Christianity and Civilisation” stop here. In every country – yes, even in “democratic” Britain – the working class will be driven into an undreamed-of condition of slavery. In short, such a wave of reaction and white terror would sweep over Europe as to make Hitler’s Germany pale into insignificance.

Let us make no mistake about it. The destruction of Russia would give rise to such conditions of repression everywhere that it might take decades before the working class could recover its force once more. The vision of socialism would become a Utopian dream. Moreover, just as the German capitalists used the Social Democrats of the Weimar Republic to strangle a genuine workers’ revolution in that country, the international bourgeoisie is quite prepared to exploit to the maximum the support of the British, French and other varieties of social-democracy in their anti-Soviet campaign.

Further, experience, from Mussolini to Daladier, has shown most clearly that when reaction sits in the saddle the bourgeoisie does not differentiate between Social-Democrats, Stalinists, Communists, Trotskyists, Anarchists, or even “pure” trade unionists ŕ la Bevin – it liquidates them all. Those Utopian “socialists” who think that when the bourgeoisie have settled accounts with Stalin they will turn around and invite them to show the poor backward Russians how socialism should be run will find themselves with plenty of time to mediate upon their lack of judgment when they are languishing in concentration camps.

Moreover, the restoration of capitalism in Russia would give a new lease of life to a dying world capitalism, whose demise is a necessary prerequisite to the reorganisation of society on collectivist lines. It would be ironical for workers that when the system which had reduced them to abject poverty and unemployment, and dragged them into bloody warfare, is in its death throes, they should be instrumental in pumping new life into it. A capitalist Russia would provide Anglo-French-American imperialisms with new markets, additional sources of raw material and fresh fields for the investment of capital. The Soviet Union, which covers a sixth part of the earth’s surface, would be restored to its former Tsarist status – a semi-colony of Western capitalist-imperialism – and the Russian masses would be used as “storm-troopers” to keep the proletariat in the advanced industrial countries servile and obedient. In short, Russia would be restored to her previous ignominious position of the “Gendarme of Europe.”

If the international working class, despite its differences with the Stalinist bureaucracy, allows itself to be so short-sighted as to become the shock troops of international finance in any anti-Soviet adventure, it will deserve all that history has in store for it.

Returning to the present imperialist conflict between the Allies and Germany, it would be well to remind those workers who have allowed themselves to be drawn into the anti-Soviet camp out of disgust of the Communist Party’s unprincipled abuse of their confidence, that they are deluding themselves if they think that imperialist intervention in Russia will bring down the Stalinist bureaucracy. Such a war would enable the bureaucrats to present the issue to the Russian masses as one of “self-defence” against a united world capitalist attempt to restore Tsarism and capitalist property relations. The opposition, along with the rest of the peoples of the Soviet Union, would be compelled to rally to the defence of what remains of the October Revolution. For, as we have already stated, so long as the ownership of land and the means of production is socialised, Soviet economy represents a historical advance upon capitalist-imperialism.

An interventionist war would fortify Stalin’s case for attacking Finland and would raise him in the eyes of the Russian masses to the status of a prophet, since it would be his justification. Furthermore, such an imperialist adventure would split the Labour movement in every country.

But even before actual military intervention takes place, Stalin himself may very conceivably, as a precautionary measure against the threat itself, be forced to enter into more active military collaboration with Hitler. Such an open military alliance between Russia and Germany would complicate even more an already extremely complicated situation, leading only to tragic consequences for the international working class. We are now paying the price for Stalin’s disastrous policy of trying to construct socialism in a backward agrarian country without the support of the proletarian revolution in the industrialised West. He has landed not only the Soviet people but the international working class into a tragic dilemma. Lenin prophesied correctly when he wrote of Stalin that “this cook will make too hot a stew.”

There is only one way in which we can extricate ourselves from this dilemma. We must, while repudiating Stalin’s Finnish adventure, dissociate ourselves from all entanglements with the imperialist warmongers and their anti-Soviet campaign. But most important of all, we must at the same time intensify the class struggle at home and tighten the bonds of solidarity and understanding with the working classes of all lands, who alone can settle accounts with their own bourgeoisie. This international struggle will offer the best example to the Soviet masses for it would remove the danger of intervention. With this removed the Russian workers and peasants would shake off their own bureaucracy. Thus today, more than ever, the emancipation of the working class remains the task of the workers alone.