Max Shachtman

Lovestone and
the “Pseudo-Revolutionists”

(April 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 18 (Whole No. 114), 30 April 1932, pp. 2 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Our attack upon the proposal made in Izvestia by Karl Radek for a military alliance beween the Soviet Union and the United States against Japan, has called forth at least one reply. If the diplomats and statesmen in the Stalinist camp who hastened to endorse Radek’s idea promptly relapsed into silence and have since said nothing more on the matter, at least their Right wing brothers-under-the-skin have entered the field to break a lance for the embarrassed Stalinists.

In the current issue of the Workers Age (April 23, 1932), the leading editorial is devoted to a warm defense of Radek and an “anonymous” assault upon our position, with the argument that even though Radek is playing “bad politics based upon an unrealistic analysis” there is nothing at all the matter with the idea in principle, that it is quite in harmony with the teachings and practises of Leninism. The case is even helped along by the printing of a quotation from Lenin which is supposed to put the imprint of Bolshevism on the idea of a military alliance and, by implication, upon the Lovestoneites. As for our arguments, they are summarily dismissed as follows :

“That it is wrong in principle for the Soviet power to form temporary alliances, even military alliances, with capitalist powers, only a muddled pseudo-revolutionary phrasemonger will maintain. For we must remember that ‘war is the continuation of politics by other means’, and that ‘politics is concentrated economics’; any ‘principle’ that would forbid a military alliance must likewise, if logically extended, forbid a political treaty or a commercial agreement!”

Utilizing Capitalist Antagonisms

Have the Bolsheviks (or any other ruling revolutionary proletarian party) the right to utilize differences and antagonisms existing at a given moment in the camp of world imperialism? Absolutely, the right and the duty. So long as the proletariat in other countries has not yet come to the aid of an isolated workers’ dictatorship, the latter must exploit the antagonisms in the camp of world imperialism in the interests of its own preservation. The noteworthiest example of this is the action of the Bolsheviks when the German imperialists marched against the Soviets following their failure to accept the terms of the Brest-Litovsk treaty in February 1918, that is, while the Allied imperialists were still at war with Germany. Trotsky describes the action as follows:

“On the twenty-second of February at the meeting of the Central Committee I reported that the French military mission had conveyed the French and English offers to help us in a war with Germany. I expressed myself as in favor of accepting the offer, on condition, of course, that we be completely independent in matters of foreign policy. Bucharin insisted that it was inadmissible for us to enter into any arrangements with the imperialists. Lenin came vigorously to my aid, and the Central Committee adopted my resolution by six votes against five. As far as I can remember now, Lenin dictated the resolution in these words: ‘That comrade Trotsky be authorized to accept the assistance of the brigands of French imperialism against the German brigands’.”

This is the “agreement” (Lenin deliberately uses ironical quotation marks around the word) to which Lenin refers in his Letter to the American Working Men. In reprinting excerpts from this letter, Lovestone, to justify his contention, commits a little forgery which is quite characteristic of him and entitles the letter: On ‘Alliances’ with imperialism. Lenin writes:

“We shook hands with the French monarchist although we knew that each one of us would be pleased to hang the other ... And however much the hypocrites of Anglo-French and American imperialism may howl and abuse us ... I will not hesitate for a moment to conclude a similar ‘agreement’ with the German imperialist robbers in case the attacks of the Anglo-French armies would require it.”

But such entirely legitimate “agreements” are quite a distance from the alliance proposed by Radek and justified by Lovestone in principle. What Radek proposed was the conclusion of a military alliance between the United States, as one of “the capitalist powers which at the present stage do not infringe on her (the Soviet Union’s) frontiers or interests”, an alliance against imperialist Japan. That is how the issue stands. In reply to this reactionary proposal we quoted from Lenin’s theses in March 1918, directed not only against the ultra-Leftist advocates of a “revolutionary war against Germany” (Bucharin and Radek), but also against the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionists who insisted upon a Soviet alliance with France and England against the Hohenzollern armies.

“Our policy must be based, not on a choice between two imperialisms but on the possibility of strengthening the socialist revolution or at least on the necessity of enabling it to offer resistance until the other countries join the revolutionary movement ... We have always fought our own imperialism, but the overthrow of the imperialism of one country by means of an alliance with the imperialism of another, is a line of action that we reject both on reasons of principle and because we consider it inadmissible.”

Let us remember that this was written at a time when Russia’s need for “allies” was infinitely more acute than today, at a time when there was no Red army and when (unlike the situation in Manchuria) the German forces had already advanced upon Russian territory into the very heart of the country. In spite of this Lenin offered objections in principle to the proposals for an alliance with the Anglo-French imperialists. He did not withdraw them even when Kamkov, leader of the Social Revolutionists, announced to the Soviet Congress the withdrawal of that party’s support of the Bolshevik government because Lenin preferred to sign the humiliating treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

Towards the end of the same year, Lenin wrote to the party’s Central Committee:

“Now the least enlightened will understand what cowardly treason to socialism, the Mensheviks and the S.R.s committed by accepting the alliance with the rapacious Franco-English bourgeoisie with the alleged aim of annulling the Brest peace.” And again, to the Sixth Congress of the Soviets, Lenin declared in retrospect: “Fate condemned us to isolation and after the Brest peace we have lived through a grievous period. We were told: ‘Better a new alliance with the imperialists than such a peace.’ ... rather a new war together with the Anglo-French than the yoke of this violent peace. We replied: if we address ourselves to the international working class, we shall be able to continue our work.”

As Lenin writes in the Letter published by Lovestone: “There are agreements and agreements.” With one, the proletariat makes a revolutionary use of temporary divisions in the imperialist camp; with the other, the proletariat allies itself with the bourgeoisie of one country, sacrificing its revolutionary principles – towards a reactionary end, to which we shall refer later on.

Lenin made one kind of “agreement”. When the Soviets were pressed to the wall by the advancing Germans, he readily accepted arms and ammunition from the French and English; he agreed to use their military specialists to blow up bridges and railroad lines in order to impede the German advance. The Soviets bound themselves to nothing. They created no illusions among the workers of the world concerning any “friendliness to the Soviet republic” or “nobleness of purpose” on the part of the Entente brigands. They concluded no secret (or any other kind of) treaty of alliance with France. They continued to agitate unreservedly for the overthrow of both sets of imperialist powers by their respective proletarians.

Under similar circumstances, the Soviets would act the same way today in the conflict with Japan. In face of a Japanese intervention against the U.S.S.R., or even a threat of such a step, the Soviets would be entirely justified in buying or accepting arms or ammunition from, let us say, the United States (if it could get them from this imperialist power which, far from standing aside, as Radek implies, is the fundamental counter-revolutionary force in the world today and, in the deepest sense of the word, the spearhead of the anti-Soviet movement in the camp of imperialism).

The Meaning of an Alliance

But the conclusion of a military alliance with America is another matter entirely. Such measures are not taken merely for the sake of remaining on paper. In the event that war actually breaks out between the Soviet Union and Japan, the United States will appear on the scene as the military ally of the former. It will be in a position to carry out its imperialist designs not merely against Japan, but primarily against China, under the convenient banner of defending the workers fatherland from military intervention by Japan! The American bourgeoisie, which has always fastened the imperialist yoke upon weaker peoples in the name of the loftiest ideals – the “open door” in China or “democratic elections” in Nicaragua – could not wish for a more noble banner under which to sink its teeth into China than the “defense” of the Soviet Union from Japanese intervention!

Still more: Let us again assume the outbreak of a Japanese-Soviet war. On the basis of the “alliance”, the Soviets are “legally” justified in calling for the dispatch of American aid to relieve its hard-pressed forces from the Japanese offensive. If Lovestone is a member of Congress by that time, we assume that he will vote war credits to the army and navy; perhaps, also, he will call upon the working class to suspend its war upon the bourgeoisie which is engaged, you see, in fighting to a successful finish its war in defense of the Soviet Union.

If not, he will be infinitely less consistent than the Stalinists whose defense he has assumed “in principle”. They already demand, in complete harmony with the idea behind Radek’s proposal, the expulsion of the Japanese diplomats from the State. And since the breaking off of diplomatic relations is usually the forerunner of a declaration of war, the American bourgeoisie (which has, let us assume, acted favorably upon Browder’s demand) can thereupon address itself to the party C.E.C. as follows:

“Now that we have taken one step together with you, you must take the second step together with us. We have expelled the Japanese diplomats as you demanded, we are precipitating a war and we want your assistance in prosecuting it to the finish, not merely to the finish of the diplomats, but also of their government. We suppose you will stop your attacks upon us while we are fighting Japan and helping the Soviet Union ward off her attacks. We feel no qualms or insolence in asking this of you, because we have learned from Lovestone that almost anything may be done by the Communists ‘in principle’.”

What Browder will reply to this we do not know and we are quite ready to let him worry about it But, shouts Lovestone to us muddled pseudo-revolutionary phrase-mongers, to us disbelievers in socialism in one country, in Kellogg Pacts being signed by the Soviet Union, in raising slogans for the expulsion of Japanese diplomats, in making military alliances with the United States – all of them ideas which are inseparably connected and which must be opposed or advocated as a whole – but, he shouts, is not war the continuation of politics by other means, and is not politics concentrated economics, and is not a military alliance with America a “logical extension” of a commercial agreement?

Here you have a classic instance of how generally accepted postulates can be prostituted to serve a reactionary purpose, of how truth, “logically extended”, becomes a lie.

Economics, Politics and War

The Soviet Union grants foreign imperialist concessionaries certain economic rights, even allowing them to exploit Russian labor and accumulate capital. And yet, even though “politics is concentrated economics”, it stubbornly refuses, in principle, to grant the concessionary any political rights whatsoever. With the introduction of the N.E.P., the exploiting Kulak was granted definite economic privileges, yet Lenin opposed granting him any political rights.

The worker makes a “commercial agreement” to work for his employer and to surrender the surplus value he produces so that his employer may accumulate capital. William Green “logically extends” this idea, he “concentrates” economics into politics, and tells the worker to vote for his employer at the polls. And since “war is a continuation of politics by other means”, he helps herd the workers into the trenches so that more capital can be accumulated at home.

The Soviet Union might allow the Japanese the use of the Chinese Eastern Railway for the “economic” purpose – let us imagine – of dumping Japanese products on the Chinese market and causing the ruin of certain native industries. Yet, Russia would rightly refuse the use of the Chinese Eastern for the transport of Japanese troops in a war against China, in spite of Lovestone’s learned explanations that war is a continuation of politics which is only concentrated economics.

A revolutionary trade union, finally, would take proper advantage of a rift in the ranks of the manufacturers, or of antagonisms between different strata among the latter, and adjust its tactics in order to make the most gains for the workers. But it would not enter into an “alliance” with one set of manufacturers for the purpose of wiping out a rival set of manufacturers. (It is with some reluctance that we refrain from dwelling here on an analysis of the ex-ent to which Lovestone’s resent advocacy “in principle” of Radek’s proposal is a “logical extension” of the policy pursued in the needle trades union under the regime of Lovestone-Zimmerman

No, we are against “military alliances” of the Stalin-Browder-Radek-Lovestone type, and yet we are entirely in favor of utilizing imperialist disagreements as well as of concluding, “commercial agreements”. If “logical extension” is to be spoken of at all, then it is only in this connection:

The reactionary theory of socialism in one country is predicated upon transforming the international Communist movement into a pacifist frontier guard defending, the Soviet Union from intervention while it builds an isolated, national utopia. In endeavoring to build this national socialist fantasy, intervention must be warded off at any price. The price thus far has included the heavy payments made by the English proletariat for the Soviet alliance with Purcell; the payments made by the Chinese proletariat and peasantry for Stalin’s alliance with Chiang Kai-Shek and Wang Chin Wei; the payments still being made for the pacifist confusion and delusion of the world proletariat by the signing of the Kellogg Pact and Litvinov’s Kautskyism antics every six months at Geneva.

Lovestone exerts himself, and defames Lenin in the bargain, in an effort to present Radek’s proposal, as well as the party’s demand for the “expulsion of the Japanese diplomats”, as isolated aberrations, as accidental deviations from the generally correct line. Not at all! They are entirely logical results of the fundamental line. The tree of national socialism can only bear chauvinist fruit.

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