Max Shachtman


In This Corner

(8 August 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 57, 8 August 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

It has taken the Stalinists three whole months to get the necessary instructions on how to deal with the problem of the Ukraine as raised so boldly, honestly and simply by Leon Trotsky in his article printed in the Appeal of May 9, 1939.

Analyzing the position of the Soviet Ukraine under the yoke of the Kremlin autocracy, and the position of those millions of Ukrainian workers and peasants suffering as national minorities under Polish, Rumanian and Hungarian domination, Trotsky raised the slogan of “A united, free and independent workers’ and peasants’ Soviet Ukraine” – free and independent not only of the German, Polish, Hungarian and Rumanian imperialists but also of the oppressive Stalinist clique.

Trotsky Anticipated Arguments

In his article, submitted for discussion of the revolutionary movement, Trotsky anticipated the objections of the Moscow apologists to so thorough an extent that the reply they have finally made in the New Masses of August 8, over the signature of the not unknown hack A.B. Magil, may be thoroughly disposed of merely by re-reading what Trotsky wrote.

Magil is one of a numerous tribe trained up at the breast of the Stalinist treasury. When the archives of the old regime were seized and made public by the Bolsheviks in 1917, they disclosed what had long been suspected. The Czarist regime bought up journalists and whole editorial staffs all over the world, whose job it was to defend and justify, with the only type of argument at their disposal, every misdemeanor and crime committed under Nicholas the Bloody. Some of these literary lackeys were paid exceedingly well; none of them went hungry. The Czar didn’t do so well by his own people, but he was not stingy when it came to retaining journalistic advocates abroad. Stalin follows the same practice with the boys on his foreign payroll, and from the services they render and the arguments they use, he gets at least as much out of his investment as did the Czar.

Let us pass over the tiresome calumnies repeated by Magil (they all boil down to the charge that Trotsky is Hitler’s ally) and comment only on one point he makes. Declaring that the right of nations freely to secede must not, as Lenin said in 1917 and many other occasions, “be confused with the question of whether it would be expedient for any given nation to secede at any given moment (but) must be settled by the party of the proletariat in each particular case independently, from the point of view of the interests of social development as a whole and the class struggle of the proletariat for socialism” – Magil concludes that “when Trotsky, therefore, calls for separation of the Ukraine, what he is advocating is the subjection of the Ukraine to ‘imperialist bondage and national oppression’.”

Denies RIGHT of Separation

Magil is simply making mendacious use of a quotation from Lenin. While Lenin emphasized the need of considering the expediency of advocating separation of one nation or people from another, he never denied the right of separation. That is precisely what Magil denies to the Soviet Ukraine. And not only to it, but also to the Ukrainian minorities in Poland, Rumania and Hungary. Lenin used to point out that the right of divorce does not necessarily mean that at every single moment you advocate a divorce between a given couple. Magil is not only outraged (Outraged? Not in reality; he is merely putting on an act) at the idea of the Soviet Ukraine separating from the Soviet Union, but he is no less indignant at the thought of the Ukrainian minorities in adjacent countries breaking from their oppressors and joining with their co-nationals in a powerful, united Soviet Ukraine.

Such a united country, he says, “formed with the blessing of Hitler and as a result of the dismemberment not only of the U.S.S.R. but of Poland, Rumania and Hungary as well, would deal a death blow to the independence of those three countries. His (Trotsky’s) program is, therefore, in contradiction with their national interests.”

In other words, the Polish landowners, the Rumanian Boyars and the Hungarian feudal lords who rule over millions of Ukrainian peasants and workers, have found in Magil a stout warrior protecting their “national interests.” In other words, furthermore, it would be a “death blow to the independence” of Hungary if the peasants of the Carpatho-Ukraine, whose territory was given to Hungary after Munich “with the blessing of Hitler” (as Magil might say, and this time correctly), were to fight for freedom from Hungarian rule and for incorporation into a more powerful, united Soviet Ukraine.

Present-day Soviet Ukraine must not, cannot separate from Moscow, cries Magil. Why not? Does not the “most democratic Constitution in the world” provide, in Article 17, that “Each Union Republic reserves the right freely to secede from the U.S.S.R.”? It does; only the “right” is a horrible joke. Anyone who tries to exercize that right is immediately labelled a fascist spy and executed on the spot – unless he is driven to suicide before then, as has been the case of more than one Ukrainian Communist. What value has a right which MAY NOT BE EXERCIZED? The same value as all the other “rights” the Father of the Peoples grants his subjects.

The Stalinist policy towards the Ukrainian question plays right into the hands of reactionary nationalists and of Hitler. The truly imperialistic refusal of Stalin and his Magils to acknowledge and fight for the right of self-determination of peoples, nations and national minorities, has left this field free for reactionary and demagogic exploitation by Hitler. That explains in large part why Hitler was able to win the Sudeten Germans so easily to his standard. Stalin’s policy towards the Ukrainian millions is facilitating a similar fate for them.

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