George Padmore 1941

The Socialist Attitude to the Invasion of the U.S.S.R.

Source: Left, No. 60, September 1941.
Transcribed: by Christian Hogsbjerg for 2007.

The defence of the Soviet Union against Nazi imperialism is the obligation of every worker, colonial and progressive intellectual, regardless of our justifiable contempt for the Communist contortionists in Britain. This is not a sentimental matter. It is one which vitally concerns the future of the international working class and all progressive humanity.

At the time of the Russo-Finnish “incident” – to use the Japanese euphemism for aggression – I warned against the danger of that conflict developing into an imperialist war of intervention against the Soviet Union. This is what I wrote in Left (February, 1940):

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 into a war against the Russian workers and peasants under the hypocritical guise of defending ‘poor little Finland.’

This tragedy was narrowly averted, thanks to the intransigent attitude of the Norwegian Government, and more particularly the transport workers of that country, who let it be known that they would refuse to transport the Franco-British expeditionary force that Chamberlain and Daladier were preparing to send through Norway.

In the light of the disasters that have since overtaken the Allied armies, the British people have every reason to he grateful to the Norwegians for spiking this adventure. For had Russia been attacked, she might have been forced willy-nilly into a military alliance with Germany, a combination too dreadful to contemplate.

It is always easy to be wise after the event. But it was clear to all class-conscious persons, on the Right as well as on the Left, that Stalin’s move against Finland (like Britain’s intervention in Syria) was dictated by strategic-military aim. What was this aim? The defence of Leningrad. Against whom? Nazi Germany.

While desiring peace, Russia had to prepare for war. The Soviet leaders knew that Russia could not remain immune from the main conflict should it spread. Stalin knew that Hitler’s pact was just a mariage de convenance, dictated by Germany’s military needs at the time it was signed. But in order not to strain this fragile relationship and perhaps provoke attack before the Soviet defences are ready to meet a blitzkrieg. Russian journalists and radio commentators dared not publicly state that Nazi Germany was the enemy against whom the Soviet was preparing. Instead, we had the ludicrous situation of compliments for the real enemy and abuse for Britain, France and even America. In this way the Soviet masses were made to believe that the Western imperialists were the only ones plotting war against their country, using the ex-Tsarist officer, Baron Mannerheim, as the cats-paw.

All this propaganda was duly parroted by British Communists and the Daily Worker. Instead of explaining the real situation, these contortionists played into the hands of the capitalists, making it easier for their press to confuse further the British workers concerning Russia’s defensive needs.

Finland, contrary to widespread belief at the time, was never so innocent as was made out. Geographically, Finland is the Baltic gateway to the Soviet Union. And the pro-Fascist ruling classes have been always ready to allow it to be used as a jumping off ground for imperialist armies to attack Russia. It was through Finland that German and other forces attacked the Soviet Union during the last war. The truth is, from the time Finland acquired her independence (thanks to the Russian Revolution) she has been a vassal, first of one Power, then of another. Accordingly, relations with the Soviet Union have been dictated not by the interests of the Finnish masses, but by those of some foreign Power or Powers. It has been consistent in one respect: hostity to the Soviet. It is an illusion, cherished only by Social-Democrats and muddle-headed Liberals, that in an imperialist-dominated world, small States can play an independent role in international affairs, especially in time of war, when Great Powers are manoeuvring for positions. What has happened to Iran while I write is a typical example of the helpless position of a small nation surrounded by big and powerful belligerents.

Why Hitler Did Not Help Finland

Hitler certainly knew that Stalin’s attack upon Finland was a defensive move directed against Germany, but, with the French Army and the B.E.F. standing on his western frontier, he could not risk going to the assistance of the Finnish Fascists. It was precisely in order to avoid a major war on two fronts that he signed the pact with Stalin in 1939. Why should he jeapodise it before settling accounts with the Democracies? Knowing the anti-Communist sentiments in the West, he could well afford to leave it to the Western Powers to render aid to Mannerheim (which they did) and perhaps get themselves invoked in a major war in Scandinavia and the Arctic.

Hitler’s calculations were not far wrong. Influential sections of the Right-Wing imperialists here and in France literally howled for war against Russia. These crypto-Fascists were prepared to forget Hitler and turn on Stalin. In this they had the objective, if not direct, support of certain British labour leaders, who were ideologically preparing the workers for such an adventure. Sir Walter Citrine, for example, hurried to Finland to confer with Mr. Tanner, the Social-Democratic leader, who is now the comrade-in-arms of Hitler, the greatest butcher of the European workers. What a let-down for Sir Walter!

The Finnish Fascists may yet use the arms supplied them by Chamberlain and Daladier, with the approval of British Labour leaders, against British workers, should an expeditionary force land at Murmansk to help the Russians.

Such a betrayal of the working-class is inevitable. So long as the Labour and Socialist movements have no independent foreign policy from that of the capitalists, they are compelled willy-nilly to follow their ruling classes. Thus, the British Social-Democrats support the Tories; the Finns, the Lappo Fascists. Stalin’s aggression against Finland pales into insignificance before this treachery of the Finnish Social-Democrats. For with all the shortcomings in the Soviet Union, it is fundamentally a Workers’ State. And this is precisely why we appeal to all workers and oppressed Colonial peoples to rally to its defence.

The Soviet Union is the first country in which the working class and peasants – the common people – have achieved power and abolished the system of private property which permits a handful of capitalists and landlords, financiers and Stock Exchange speculators to exploit the vast majority of people. In the Soviet Union the land, the factories, the mines, the workshops, the banks, the railways, etc., all the means of production, constitute the socialized property of all the people as a whole. Differentiations may still exist, working-class democracy might be stifled, but, unlike the situation here and elsewhere, there is no parasitic class living on rent, profit and interest. In other words, there are no “coupon-cutters” in the Soviet Union.

It is the socialized property of the Soviet people (not Stalin’s) that the Fascist bandits are trying to seize. I am writing this at the very moment when Voroshiloff summons the proletariat of Leningrad to defend their factories, their workshops, their houses, etc. Let’s be honest to ourselves. Dare Churchill call upon the British workers to defend “their” property? While we certainly enjoy more freedom and economic security than our comrades in the Fascist-dominated countries, the factories, mines and workshops in Britain still belong to the capitalists. This is a fact which no amount of sophistry can obscure. The common people in Russia have something to defend. And that supplies the dynamic for their heroic and fanatical resistance. Neither Hitler nor Churchill nor Roosevelt have anything to offer them except capitalism and landlordism. Blood, tears, toil and sweat in perpetuity.

The Colonial Question Solved

Another reason why we should defend the Soviet Union, and this applies particularly to Colonial and subject races, is because Russia is the only Great Power that has solved the National problem. As a British Colonial and one who has travelled extensively in the former Russian Empire, I want to address myself to the British workers, who have a great responsibility towards the peoples of India, Africa and the Colonial Empire.

In the Soviet Union, colour-bar (rampant in Britain) and racial segregation, widespread throughout the Empire, have no place. I have visited most European countries and America, and I have never come across people more sympathetic to coloured races than the Soviet people. Perhaps because of their long sufferings. Serfdom, comparable to Negro slavery, was only abolished in 1861, a quarter of a century after African emancipation. Since then, the Russians have gone far. We are still fighting for the most elementary economic, political and social rights. Let me recall an incident to illustrate the Soviet attitude on the “Race Question.” For, make no mistake about it, the Nazis are not the only whites poisoned with racial “superiority” arrogance.

In 1930, while serving as a Deputy on the Moscow Soviet, Losovsky, then secretary of the Profintern, asked me to serve on a commission investigating the conduct of some American engineers working on the construction of an automobile factory in Stalingrad. It was alleged that they had beaten-up a Negro engineer named Robinson (I think he was a native of Jamaica) because they objected to a coloured man eating in the same restaurant with them! The men admitted the assault and offered to apologise to the Negro, but the Russian workers were so indignant at white men treating a fellow-worker in that fashion simply because of his race, that they demanded their immediate expulsion from the Soviet Union. The Americans were packed back to the United States and a warning issued to others to behave themselves. Could such a thing happen in “democratic” Britain? The English people certainly have a lot to learn from the “Godless” Russians.

The Revolution not only emancipated the Russian workers from the yoke of Capitalism, but liberated over a hundred nationalities and subject races from the yoke of Tsarist Imperialism. The Russian Empire, second in size to the British, was transformed into a union of free peoples, equal in status. This is how the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics came into being. So it is no utopian dream of Revolutionary Socialists when they advocate the transforming of empires as they presently exist into federated commonwealths based upon Socialist principles. It has been done in Russia. It must be done everywhere if we are ever to solve the problems of War and Poverty.

The Labour Movement has neglected this question so long that it is necessary to emphasise this tremendous contribution of the Russian Revolution to mankind. What we commonly call “Russia” is merely one of the 16 Republics comprising the Soviet Union. The others are: Georgia (where Stalin was born), Ukraine, Armenia, Byelorussia, Azerbaidgan, Tadjikistan, Turkmenistan, Kirghizstan, etc., etc. Then apart from these fully-fledged Republics, we have autonomous territories and regions, all enjoying full local self-government and cultural autonomy, united on a federal basis for common defence and economic well-being of all.

Try to imagine, if you can, India, Burma, Malaya, Ceylon, the Fiji Islands, the African Colonies, the West Indies, Guiana, Honduras, and other coloured areas, equal partners with the white Britishers living in the United Kingdom and the Dominions. Imagine the members of a federal parliament (Supreme Soviet) composed of white and black and brown men and women. Imagine a government made up of the representatives of dozens of races, in various stages of cultural and social development, working together for a common cause. Then you have a rough idea of the ethnic and geographical entity called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

This is what Hitler wants to destroy and replace with his “New Order,” where Germans will be Herrenvolk and all others slaves working for the benefit of the “master” race. Is it any wonder why coloured Asiatics are fighting and dying in defence of Moscow, Leningrad and Kieff against the racial megalomaniac Hitler?

Workers! Colonial Brothers! We cannot let down the Soviet people. We must do everything in our power to help them defeat Fascism and Nazism. By fighting here in Britain for a Workers’ Government.

Imperialist and Anti-Imperialist Wars

The present world-war can be divided into three kinds:-

  1. The purely inter-imperialist conflict between Anglo-American capitalists on the one hand, and Axis capitalists and their satellites on the other;
  2. The defence of the Soviet Union – a Workers’ State – against capitalist-imperialist intervention; and
  3. The Sino-Japanese conflict, in which we have a semi-colonial country defending itself against imperialist aggression.

These three wars have, therefore, distinctive and separate political objectives. As a result, however, of Axis action they have been merged, militarily. This intermingled anti-Fascist front is being exploited by certain sections of the Left to justify support for British imperialism. This kind of philistinism and opportunism must be ruthlessly exposed and combated. Unfortunately, the new turn of the Communists only serves to reinforce this opportunistic policy.

Germany and Japan are waging war in an attempt to redistribute the world to their advantage, throwing a few crumbs to Mussolini, Franco, and other jackals. Britain and America, on the other hand, are opposed to any such redivision, as it can only be at their expense, since they control most of the world’s raw materials, colonies, markets, etc. This constitutes the inter-imperialist conflict.

Since modern war cannot be confined to any particular geographical area or national groupings, after nearly two years of conflict, Germany, in pursuit of her main imperialist objective, and to replenish her stocks of oil before attempting an invasion of Britain, has drawn the Soviet Union into the general maelstrom.

Although drawn into the primarily inter-imperialist conflict, the Soviet Union, unlike the Axis and their democratic adversaries, has no imperialist aims, its sole objective being to defend the frontiers and socialized achievements of the first Workers’ State. The Soviet Union cannot have imperialist aims, inasmuch as it has no colonial empire, seeks no markets, sources of raw materials or spheres for the investment of finance capital, simply because there are no private capitalists using the State to promote and defend their selfish interests.

The Soviet Union, therefore, is waging a socially progressive war, and consequently is entitled to the full support of all workers and anti-imperialists.

Similarly, China is fighting a progressive war of national liberation. The Chinese are defending themselves against Japanese imperialist bandits, who seek to reduce them to the same status as the Indians, Indo-Chinese, the peoples of the Dutch East Indies, and the subject peoples of the other colonial empires. This distinguishes China’s struggle from that of the Dutch, for example, who are fighting not for the emancipation of the 60 million natives of the Netherlands Empire, but rather to continue to hold them in subjugation. The Chinese people, therefore, demand our full support.

But does our support of these anti-Fascist, anti-imperialist struggles of the Chinese and Soviet peoples mean that the working class of Britain must surrender its independence and give unconditional support to Anglo-American imperialism? Postively NO!

The Anglo-American Plan

Churchill and Roosevelt have offered aid to Stalin. Well and good. Let him take it – if he can get it! But he would be a fool to depend upon them, and Stalin is no fool. Let us be frank. The British imperialists, even if they really wanted to help the Soviet Union, are not in a position to give it the aid it so urgently needs – planes, tanks, guns, ships. Yes, they will sell rubber and tin – that’s good business. They are doing the same with the enemy, Japan. Russia does not need gold. She is one of the greatest gold-producing countries of the world. She needs ARMS. Now. Not next year. She needs concrete military assistance now. It is highly significant that in eight weeks of fighting the British General Staff has not been able to create the smallest diversion in the West, even though over 75 percent of Hitler’s army is tied up on the Russian front.

It is quite obvious that the Soviet people will be left to save themselves. Anglo-American imperialists cannot be interested in saving the first Workers’ State from destruction. While they desire the defeat of Hitler, since he represents their most dangerous imperialist rival, a resounding victory for the Soviet Union is the last thing they wish or can allow to happen. Such a victory must enhance the prestige of the Soviet Union and be the inspiration to social revolution in Europe, especially in Germany.

From the viewpoint of Anglo-American capitalism, the ideal solution, and one towards which they are working, is the mutual exhaustion of Germany and the Soviet Union. When this opportune moment is reached they will land an expeditionary force on the Continent, finish off Hitler, impose their “New Order” on Europe, and generally become the spearhead of the European counter-revolution.

In this they already have not merely the tacit, but openly expressed endorsement and proffered support of the leaders of the German Social-Democracy, who are anticipating at the end of this war a similarly treacherous role to that which they carried out after the last war. Their attitude has been quite plainly expressed in their official organ, the “Sozialistiche Mittellungen.” Commenting on the Nazi-Soviet conflict, they say;-

If either of them should be successful in gaining a quick victory, then nobody on the European-Asiatic mainland would be able to organize serious resistance. Should they exhaust each other in long battles, then the pressure on the peoples of the mainland would be lifted, then the power of British and American democracy would become the dominant factor for the political reorganization of the world.”

In the fate of the Soviet Union lies the future not only of the Russian people, but of the toiling masses of Europe and the world.

Only a Workers’ Government in Britain can sustain our Russian comrades in their struggle and guarantee the final and irrevocable victory of Socialism over Nazism, Fascism and Imperialism.