Max Shachtman

In This Corner

(11 April 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 23, 11 April 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

An interesting dispute arose during my recent debate with Mr. Joseph Shaplen, of the Social Democratic Federation, on the subject: Has Bolshevism Failed? It related to the trial of the twelve leaders of the Russian Social Revolutionary party who were convicted of counter-revolutionary activities by the Soviet court in Moscow, 1922.

In what I considered a hopeless effort to prove that the Stalinist regime differs in no essential from the Soviet regime of Lenin’s time, Mr. Shaplen declared that the recent Moscow frame-ups against the so-called Trotskyists had their origin in “identical” frame-ups organized by Lenin and Trotsky in 1922 against the Social Revolutionary party leaders – Abraham Gotz, Eugene Timofeyey, Eugenia Ratner, Gendelman, Donskoy, Nikolai Ivanov and half a dozen others.

My reply was that the two trials had nothing in common. The S.R. leaders not only expressed freely and vigorously their irreconcilable opposition to the Soviet regime, and not only admitted-even boasted of – their armed struggle to overthrow it, and their intention to resume it whenever they considered it possible and expedient, but also admitted that they had worked together with the Allied imperialists.

The latter part of my reply was especially challenged by Shaplen, who imprudently stamped it a part of what he called the “Trotskyist school of falsification.” He insisted on his challenge, even after I had called attention to my documentary reference, with which he was acquainted – if one may be permitted to draw such a conclusion after seeing a marked copy of the document in his hands during the debate.

Because it has an importance far beyond that of proving a casual debater’s point, I shall quote the document here. It is not written by the Stalinists; it is not written by the Bolsheviks. It is an official publication of the Social Revolutionary party itself. The English edition is called The Twelve Who Are to Die, and was published by the “Delegation of the Party of Socialist-Revolutionists” in Berlin, 1922.

Kautsky and Vandervelde Testify

Let us hear first from Karl Kautsky, who wrote an introduction to the brochure:

“The Social-Democracy was never averse to the use of violence in resistance against violent persecution. It simply made the advisability of the use of such violence conditional upon considerations of purpose and the possibility of success. If the Social-Democracy found itself in disagreement with the Socialist-Revolutionists in this regard, it was not from considerations of principle but of tactics.” (p. 9)

No comment.

Now let us hear from the late Emile Vandervelde, the Belgian social-democratic attorney for the defendants in the trial:

“The Socialist-Revolutionists [say the Bolsheviks] waged an armed struggle against the Soviet Government. The Socialist-Revolutionists admit this as an undeniable historic fact.” (p. 62)

No comment.

Let us hear further from defendant Abraham Gotz’s statement during the trial itself:

“After the October coup d’etat [the Bolshevik revolution], we considered it our bounden duty to wage armed resistance against the usurpers of power, who signed the Brest-Litovsk peace and were ready to accept other compromises leading to the enslavement of the Russian people, who had just thrown off the fetters of Czarist rule.” (p. 65)

Again no comment.

S.R.’s Plead Guilty as Charged

But what about S.R. collaboration with the foreign imperialists in the attempt to overthrow the Soviet regime by force? Let us listen to defendant Timofeyev’s court statement:

“They [the Kerensky government and the S.R.’s] regarded Russia’s continued participation in the [imperialist] war as essential, and in basing their program upon socialist ideas of peace they hoped to wrest at the future peace conference conditions of peace acceptable to Russia. The Brest-Litovsk treaty, concluded in 1918, made continued cooperation with the Allies for salvation of our country from German imperialism, supported by the Soviet government, doubly essential. Our relations with the Allies continued up to the German revolution.” (p. 66)

That is, up to November, 1918 – at least!

And finally, from the official declaration in the brochure by the Foreign Delegation of the S.R. party:

“In the summer of 1918, the conflict of the Government against the people assumed the form of civil war. The S.R. party was on the side of the people [Ahem!]. On the Volga and in the Urals, it organized peasants’ and workmen’s regiments, which fought against the Bolsheviks on the so-called Front of the Constituent Assembly. They were helped by the Czecho-Slovak legions, formed from war prisoners, which Trotsky had tried to disarm on the demand of imperial Germany.” (p. 114)

Whatever Mr. Shaplen may assert 20 years later, it nevertheless remains true that the Social Revolutionists themselves did not even try to make a secret of the fact – denied by nobody at that time; denied today only by those who count on popular amnesia – that (1) they had taken up arms in the hope of overturning the Soviet regime, (2) they had worked as tools of Allied imperialism (Lloyd George, Poincaré, Wilson and Co.) and its Czech legions, and (3) one of their aims was to drive exhausted, peace-thirsting Russia back into the imperialist war.

Workers’ State Must Defend Itself

Under the circumstances, the S.R. party had as much right to Soviet legality and toleration as would a gang of British Tories who sought to open up headquarters in Boston and appeal for recruits and arms during the American Revolution.

A workers’ state, governed by one or more parties, has no right to suppress other working class organizations for their political views. It has an elementary right and duty to act with the utmost vigor and rigor against any group, no matter what it calls itself, which takes up arms against it. Doubly so if the group in question works hand in glove, as did the S.R.s, with domestic or foreign capitalism.

Apart from incidental and secondary errors – which, of course, our good social democrats never commit – that was the course followed by the Bolsheviks in the period of Lenin and Trotsky. The record proves it conclusively. And no amount of stuttering or blustering can obliterate that record.

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Max Shachtman
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