Max Shachtman


In This Corner

(26 September 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 73, 26 September 1939, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The military alliance between Hitler and Stalin, cruelly attested by the partition of Poland, undoubtedly has deeper implications than appear on the surface. We do not refer to the latest discoveries about the Soviet Union and the Stalinist regime made by the Serious Thinkers of the “democratic front.” When it appeared that Stalin would enter the war against Hitler on the side of England and France, these Thinkers were magnanimously willing to paste the label of democracy on the Moscow autocrats. Fundamentally imperialist patriots, both before the Stalinazi pact and after it, they are now just as lightmindedly declaring that there is not, after all, a particle of difference between Hitler and Stalin, between Fascist Germany and the Soviet Union.

They never understood the first thing about the Soviet Union, its regime and its foreign policy, and they don’t understand it now. That – in the best case; quite often, however, they understand well enough but are interested for good and patriotic reasons in not having anyone else understand.

The New Bureaucracy

Among the forces that impelled Stain to make the pact with Hitler, there is one that has received no treatment in the general press: the new bureaucracy that has developed in Russia in the recent years.

Before his saddening capitulation to the Stalinist clique, Christian Rakovsky wrote in exile one of the most interesting and penetrating analyses of the transformation of the Soviet ruling circles we have ever seen. He traced the profound changes that had taken place in the leading staff of the Bolsheviks after more than a decade of the revolution. Most of those who had gone through the rigors of the fight against czarism, of the world, war, of the two revolutions and the civil war and intervention that followed, had grown tired. World revolution? Perhaps, but not in our time; so why waste efforts on promoting it. Faith in the vast resources that had brought them to power, gave way to cynicism. The isolation of the country was taken for granted, and with it the perpetuation of inequality. Stalin? A scoundrel, but a brutal one you couldn’t afford to antagonize until he broke his own neck. Meanwhile, hold fast to everything you can, including the not inconsiderable and not uncomfortable privileges of the bureaucratic hierarchy.

And these privileges, which gave the party functionary a decent apartment in town and perhaps a country house, with a servant or two, an office car at his disposal, plus, perhaps, one of his own, a better and then a much better gown for his wife, plus a bit of finery – all these contributed to the general atmosphere that imperceptibly but inexorably washed out of his consciousness all the revolutionary feeling and spirit that made possible the great working class triumph in November 1917.

Since Rakovsky made this study, which we reprinted some time ago in the New International, the transformation has proceeded at a terrific pace. The decisive element in the Soviet bureaucracy is no longer the degenerated old Bolshevik. In fact, his whole generation has been wiped out physically – ex-oppositionists and capitulators along with real oppositionists. Its place has been taken by a new generation which now makes up the bulk of the bureaucratic apparatus.

No Ties With the Revolution

The new bureaucracy has no real ties with the grand revolutionary tradition. The tradition is either horribly distorted or else looked upon with the upstart’s contempt. The socialist foundations upon which the life even of a man like, let us say, Zinoviev, was built and maintained, at least to one degree, or another, are entirely absent in the new bureaucratic layers. To the latter, socialist terminology and slogans play about the same role as did the anti-capitalist slogans of the Nazi machine a few years ago: a means of duping the contemptible masses.

All of them, of course, are ardent champions of the theory of “socialism in a single country,” which, as Trotsky pointed out in 1928, gives them a feeling of Messianic Russian superiority. This feeling has been fostered systematically by the purely Great Russian patriotic propaganda of the past years, the glorification of most of the despots of czarist times, of victorious reactionary generals, and the like. It is not by accident that the newly-appointed official, equipped with plenipotentiary powers by the Kremlin, operates in the provinces, and especially in the national republics of the Soviet Union, in the spirit of imperial arrogance so characteristic of the czar’s chinovniks.

Is it inconceivable that this bureaucratic layer, entirely devoid of the spirit of socialism and Internationalism, is playing with grandiose ideas of imitating the “successes” of Hitler, for whom ever so many have a feeling of purely totalitarian admiration? Far from being inconceivable, it is more than likely. A gang that was able to frame-up and destroy the whole leading staff of the Bolshevik revolution on the most infamous of charges, is capable of anything. They are far from having reached the boundaries of their degeneration; they still have more than one “surprise” in store for us.

How much pressure does this layer exert upon the formation of official Kremlin policy? Far more than most people imagine – both direct and indirect pressure. There is no doubt in our mind that their influence will be even more openly revealed in the period ahead. A little thing like a military alliance with Hitler, another detail like partitioning Poland, or the Baltic or the Balkans, with Hitler, still another detail like carving up China between Russia and Japan – all these are trifles in the mind of an eager and rapacious bureaucracy which is interested entirely and exclusively in keeping itself in power.

And if its self-preservation means the radical alteration of the foundation of present-day Soviet economy, it will not hesitate too long before making that alteration, even if it means the restoration of capitalist private ownership of the means of production and exchange. “During the war,” Trotsky said two years ago, “the allies can impose on the Soviet Union such concessions that the Soviet state can become a bourgeois state.”

What percentage or section of the bureaucracy will be the victim of such concessions, and what percentage the beneficiaries, may soon be seen. In any case, it is not decisive. Decisive for the salvation of the remaining conquests of the Russian Revolution is the position and the action that will be taken by those numerous millions in whose hands lies Russia’s future – the now gagged and fettered workers and peasants.

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Last updated on 15 February 2018