Max Shachtman

Introduction to Leon Trotsky’s

In Defense of the Soviet Union

Source: Leon Trotsky, In Defense of the Soviet Union, with an introduction by Max Shachtman, New York: Pioneer Publishers, 1937.
Transcribed & Edited: Daniel Gaido for the Marxists’ Internet Archive in 2006.

There have been few propaganda campaigns in history more disloyally conceived, more elaborately and systematically conducted, and more devoid of any foundation in truth, than the campaign pursued by the Soviet bureaucracy and its servitors against Leon Trotsky, the ideas he stands for and the movement with which he is associated. In the welter of charges hurled at Trotsky in this campaign, the central place is occupied by the accusation, whose violence is in direct proportion to its falsity, that he is an enemy of the Soviet Union and the October Revolution which made it possible. The recent Moscow trials were only a most odious and tragic culmination of the attempt to ascribe to Trotsky a pathological hatred of the Russian Revolution that is supposed to have reached the point at which he plotted with the most barbaric foes of human progress and socialism—the German Nazis and the Japanese General Staff—to overthrow the Soviet system and put in its place a Fascist regime.

The average victim of the Stalinist lie that Trotsky is against the defense of the Soviet Union, can easily be liberated from this infamous delusion. He need do no more than read what Trotsky himself has written for more than a decade on the problem of defending the Soviet Union. Hitherto, Trotsky’s views on this matter could be learned only by reading a number of works, written at different times and sometimes inaccessible to the wide public for a variety of reasons. The present pamphlet is an attempt to assemble the most striking and conclusive passages in his numerous writings, that relate to the revolutionary attitude towards the defense of the Soviet system. To read them is not only to learn that the Stalinist version of Trotsky’s views and Trotsky’s actual views are poles apart, but to learn something even more important: namely, the Marxian position, whose adoption makes possible not a mere verbal and platonic friendship for the Soviet Union, but a vigorous, working class defense of it. The reader will better understand why an intransigent opposition to the Stalinist bureaucracy is not only not incompatible with support of the Soviet Union, but that it is an indispensable premise of such support if it is really to be effective.

Not only philistines and hirelings, but well-meaning revolutionists sometimes find it difficult to answer the questions: “How can you be for the defense of the Soviet Union when, day in and day out, you attack the Soviet leadership ? Don t you thereby play into the hands of the reaction and nullify all your claims to be a supporter of the Russian Revlution? And in any case, would it not be wiser to refrain from any criticism at a time when the Soviet Union is so imminently imperiled?”

These are precisely the questions that the following pages seek to answer. If one were to anticipate the answer, it might be summarized by comparing the problem with that which a class conscious worker confronts in a trade union whose leadership and policy are conservative, or, as is no infrequently the case, corrupt. In such a case, who is the real friend of the trade union and of the idea of trade unionism itself? The man who argues that the leadership should not be criticized because the enemy may exploit the criticism in his own way, or the one who argues that it is precisely the reactionary policy and leadership of the union that plays into the hands of the enemy? When a responsible militant discovers corruption in the leadership of the union, he knows that he must fight it and fight it openly, as the best way of preserving the union itself. And even—or, more accurate y, especially—when the union is engaged in direct struggle with the capitalist enemy, the truest defenders of the workers’ interests will be those who combat, inside the union, those reactionary or corrupt leaders whose continued domination of the union is just the thing that paralyzes it or reduces its effectiveness.

It is true that the labor bureaucrat always seeks to identify himself with the movement, in order thereby to ward off all embarrassing criticism. The worker who attempts sincerely to make his union a militant, effective organization, and encounters the resistance of the bureaucrat, will, as a rule, be attacked by the latter with the cry: “He is attacking the union! He’s an agent of the companies!” How many times have the most loyal unionists had such charges leveled at them by the labor bureaucracy in this country! That did not, however, deter them from continuing their course. And, because there is nothing particularly sacrosanct about a bureaucracy just because it heads a Soviet republic, the accusations of the Stalinists will not deter Trotsky, and all other revolutionists, from continuing their course.

Does this mean that the Soviet Union should not be defended from, let us say, a Nazi attack, just because it is dominated by an injurious bureaucracy? Not at all. Just as the unionist fights loyally against the capitalist foe in any struggle, even if the union leadership is composed of Wolls and Freys and Greens, so the revolutionist defends the Soviet Union in all struggles, despite its domination by the Stalinist bureaucracy. He would not be a revolutionist, however, but a tool of bureaucratism, if he did not simultaneously combat this self-same bureaucracy in order to improve the fighting capacity of the masses which the reactionary officialdom impairs.

Those “friends” of the Soviet Union who consider the Stalinist bureaucracy and the Russian Revolution to be one and indivisible, will most likely be unable to understand such a point of view, just as some people cannot understand how you distinguish between trade unionism and the A. F. of L. bureaucracy. But the worker who is engaged in the daily struggle with the class enemy, and who so often finds it imperative to fight his own officialdom and its policy in order more successfully to fight capitalism—he will more easily understand this point of view. The selections from Trotsky’s works made in this pamphlet are intended to establish the reality of the author’s standpoint—not as distorted by his enemies but as it really has been and is. This once accomplished, it is safe to leave it to the reader to judge the extent to which Trotsky’s real position corresponds to the real interests of the working class movement in general, and specifically, to the interests of the Soviet Union and its effective defense.

New York, March 23, 1937.


Max Shachtman

Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 13.9.2008