Max Shachtman

China in the World War

Marxism on the Wars of Colonies for Independence
and the Wars of Imperialism for Colonies

(June 1942)

From New International, Vol. VIII No. 5, June 1942, pp. 162–172.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan (December 2012).

John G. Wright does not approve of the position adopted by the Workers Party on China following the spread of the World War to Asia and the Pacific. That much is fairly clear from his article in the April 1942 Fourth International, a typical example of the snort-sneer-and-snarl school of polemics to which he is devoted. To an ordinary reader, nothing else in the article is very clear. We venture to say this because we are dealing with the man known as the whirling dervish of the Socialist Workers Party. He starts every argument – witness the article in question – with a piercing shriek which rises in a shattering crescendo while he executes furious pirouettes and leaps into space; his chest heaves violently and there is foam on his lips; finally, as Beck described the original Ottoman twirlers, “worn out and perspiring, with glazing eyes and pale face, he falls into the sacred convulsion (haluk).” Wright’s article on China was obviously written in a haluk. There is no other way of explaining how he got the courage to invoke Lenin in justification of the present social-patriotic position of the SWP on China which he expounds and defends.

Wright’s entire argument is based upon a cool distortion of Lenin’s position on the question. We say “distortion” rather than “misunderstanding” because it is utterly impossible for anyone to misunderstand Lenin’s views once he has read them, and Wright has at least read them. In the course of irrefutably demonstrating this charge, it will be possible, we believe, for the reader to gain a deeper insight into the Leninist view of the national and colonial question as it relates to the imperialist war and to understand why the Workers Party took the position it did in its resolution on China and the World War printed in Labor Action (March 16, 1942). This is the resolution for which Wright takes us to task. Briefly, it declares that with the spread of the World War to the East, the just struggle for national independence of China has been decisively integrated into and subordinated to the reactionary inter-imperialist war and that it can therefore no longer be supported by the revolutionary Marxists.

Why Lenin Distinguished Three Types of Countries

Wright begins his elucidation, of the “Leninist policy on the national question” by quoting from Lenin’s article in 1916 in which he distinguished three types of countries. First, “the advanced capitalist countries of Western Europe and the United States of America” where “the bourgeois, progressive national movements came to an end long ago”; secondly, “Eastern Europe: Austria, the Balkans and particularly Russia,” where the tasks of the proletariat “cannot be achieved unless it champions the right of nations to self-determination”; and thirdly, “the semi-colonial countries, like China, Persia, Turkey and all the colonies,” whose liberation is demanded by socialists who “must render determined support to the more revolutionary elements in the bourgeois-democratic movements for national liberation in these countries and assist their rebellion – and if need be, their revolutionary war – against the imperialist powers that oppress them.” (Works, vol. XIX, p. 55) The national movement in the first type of country, wrote Lenin, is a thing of the past; in the second – a thing of the present; in the third – a thing of the future.

”In the most advanced countries of Europe and America and in Japan,” says Wright about the first type, “the national issue is today simply a reactionary cover for the imperialist bourgeoisie. The national problem has been solved in these nations long ago.” This statement, like many others made by Wright, is thoughtless parroting of what Lenin wrote a quarter of a century ago, and has little in common with Marxism applied to the real situation in Europe today. The national issue in such advanced countries of Europe as France, Norway, Holland, Bohemia and others is not simply a “reactionary cover for the imperialist bourgeoisie,” but is, or should be, made into an issue by the revolutionary proletarian vanguard, precisely in order that it does not remain a cover for all kinds of de Gaulles and Wilhelminas and Haakons and Beneses, but rather one of the bridges to the socialist struggle for power. Every thinking Marxist understands this; people suffering from pseudo-Leninist psittacosis do not. That is undoubtedly why the Cannonites continue to suppress the views of the German Trotskyists on this question. However, since a discussion of this aspect of the national question today would lead us too far afield, and since it does not constitute the essence of Wright’s distortion of Lenin’s position, we reluctantly leave it for another occasion.

It is to a comparison between the second and third types of countries listed by Lenin that Wright really addresses himself, and it is this comparison that leads us to the heart of the problem.

The First World War was an imperialist war, but like all other great and therefore complex social phenomena, it was not “pure” in type. Involved in it were other, contradictory elements, like the just struggle of national minorities and small nations against their oppressors. One example was the struggle of the Poles against their Russian oppressors; another was the struggle of the Serbs against their Austrian oppressors. Lenin regarded these struggles (“wars”) as just and, given certain conditions about which more will be said herein, worthy of the support of both honest democrats and revolutionary socialists. He argued that if the war were confined to an isolated duel between the Serbs and Austro-Hungarian imperialism, the Marxists would support the Serbs and even work for the victory of the Serbian bourgeoisie. Similarly, if there were an isolated struggle between the Poles and the Great Russian Empire.

But under the concrete conditions of the European war, the inter-imperialist conflict (the Entente versus the Central Powers) and not the national struggle of the Serbs or the Poles was the decisive element. That is why it would be exactly correct to speak of the First World War (and the Second, for that matter) as a decisively or a predominantly imperialist war. Since the decisive dominates the subordinate, the character of the latter is determined by the former. That is why Lenin refused to support even Serbia or Poland in the war, because he knew that such support meant at least partial support to the reactionary imperialist war.

Now let us see how Wright presents Lenin’s views on this aspect of the question, and then check with what Lenin’s views really were. According to Wright, Lenin said that in countries of the second type, where Czechs, Poles, Serbs, Finns, etc., were fighting for national independence,

... the question of national independence plays a different rôle from that in advanced countries. Under certain circumstances it is progressive; under other conditions reactionary. What decides is whether or not in every given situation a small country plays an independent rôle in its struggle for national existence. If it does, then the Marxists say: Support of a national struggle in such a case is obligatory upon all workers. Thus, in an isolated struggle between a small country like Serbia and an oppressor nation like Austria, Lenin and the Serbian socialists supported Serbia. However, because of the overwhelming economic and political preponderance of the imperialist bourgeoisie, the small European countries cannot play such an independent rôle in the conditions of an imperialist war. They are too closely integrated economically and politically with the great powers to pursue their own nationalist goals at a time when the full power of the imperialists is unleashed.

This formulation of Lenin’s views will do as a model of a first-rate muddle until something bigger is provided – and we may calmly rely on Wright to produce even more fantastic muddles as he twirls around. Lenin at no time declared that “what decides” the progressive or reactionary character of the struggle for national independence of an oppressed European nation or people was “whether or not in every given situation a small country plays an independent rôle in its struggle for national existence.” In fact, he said exactly the opposite, that is, that these small nations could not play an independent rôle in our epoch, the epoch of imperialism. Not only did he say this, but Wright knows he said it! And Wright not only knows it, but he actually quotes Lenin to this effect! On the very same page from which we took the just-quoted paragraph, in the very next column to it, is to be found the appropriate quotation from Lenin:

The dialectic of history is such that small nations which are impotent as an independent factor in the struggle against imperialism, play the role as one of the ferments, one of the bacilli, aiding the arrival on the scene of the real force against imperialism, namely, the socialist proletariat. (Works, vol. XIX, Russ. ed., p. 270; Eng. ed., p. 303)

Now if the “independent rôle” played by a small country in the struggle against an imperialist oppressor “decides” the support of the proletariat (and the proletarian party) – as Wright says – and if these small countries are powerless “as an independent factor in the struggle against imperialism” – as Lenin says with Wright’s evident approval – we are left at a total loss to understand why the devil the question of supporting the national wars of small countries was ever raised at all, either by Lenin or by Wright.

Fundamentals of Lenin on the National Question

Fortunately, while Wright obviously does not have the slightest understanding of what he is quoting from Lenin, Lenin’s own position communicates itself without any difficulty to the normal reader:

In general, Lenin favored the struggle for national independence of any country oppressed by another on the grounds of what he rightly called consistent democracy. If, as any genuine democrat would have to grant, the right of any people to self-determination constitutes one of the elementary democratic rights, then socialists who aim at the most complete realization of democracy must necessarily support any people, any national minority, any small country which seeks to exercize this right, and support it even to the point of secession from the ruling (and oppressing) “motherland.” Nobody who is opposed to the forcible annexation of one people (or country) by another, can possibly fail to support the annexed people in a struggle for national independence (self-rule), even if this struggle is led by the bourgeoisie, and even if this struggle is initiated militarily by the oppressed people. The Finns have the right to rule themselves as they see fit, and not be ruled by the Great Russians; similarly with the Poles; similarly with the Mongolians. The Irish have the right to rule themselves, and not be ruled by the British. And so on.

In general, furthermore, Lenin favored such national struggles not because of any “independent rôle” they might play, but because they would “sharpen the revolutionary crisis. That is, being directed in each case at weakening the rule of an imperialist power (the Poles against Russian imperialism; the Irish against British imperialism, etc.), they would tend to speed “the arrival on the scene of the real force against imperialism, namely, the socialist proletariat”

In particular, however, Lenin opposed giving support to such a struggle, no matter how just it was to begin with, if it was transformed into or subordinated to an inter-imperialist war. For example: If, in 1914, the struggle between Serbia and Austro-Hungary had remained isolated, had remained what Lenin called a “duel” between the powerful imperialism and the small country, it would have been correct for socialists to support Serbia in the war despite the rule of the bourgeoisie and even though she were backed by the Russian Czar. But that war proved to be only the very briefest overture to the war between the two great imperialist coalitions, in which the national struggle of Serbia formed only a minor, a subordinate, a non-determining part.

In particular, further, Lenin opposed giving support to the national struggle of a small nation, no matter how just “in itself,” if such support meant aiding one imperialist power at war with another. For example: Lenin, like Marx and Engels, was a life-long supporter of the Polish struggle for national independence. He wrote I don’t know how many polemics against those who challenged the socialist validity of this position. Yet, when the World War broke out, he was even opposed to putting forward the slogan of independence for Polandl Josef Pilsudski, Ignace Daszynski and other leaders of the right-wing, nationalistic Polish Socialist Party (PPS) had organized an armed Polish Legion to fight for the liberation of Poland from Russian imperial rule. But the Legion fought as part of the armed forces of the Central Powers, particularly of Austria-Hungary. The “struggle for Polish freedom” became an integral, subordinated part of the struggle of one of the imperialist camps against the other. Without abandoning his basic position in favor of the right of self-determination, for the Poles specifically, Lenin nevertheless wrote:

The Polish social democrats [he referred to the SDPL, the party of Rosa Luxemburg] cannot, at present, advance the slogan of Polish independence, because, as proletarian internationalists, the Poles can do nothing to achieve it without, like the “Fraki,” sinking into mean servility to one of the imperialist monarchies. (Works, vol. XIX, p. 297)

In other words, revolutionary socialists cannot support even the just struggle for independence of a people or nation where it means, practically, supporting one imperialist camp in its war with another. We have here again an example of the emphasis laid by Lenin on the isolated (not at all on the allegedly “independent”) character of the national struggle as a condition for proletarian support.

In particular, still further, Lenin opposed giving support to the national struggle of a small nation, if such support of a democratic right conflicted with socialist, and therefore superior, rights. In one sense, the preceding example of Poland in the last war illustrates this point. In a much more striking and literal sense, however, it is illustrated by Lenin’s position with regard to the intervention of the Red Army on the soil of “democratic” Menshevik Georgia in 1920. The democratic national sovereignty of Georgia – at any rate, as much sovereignty as “protective” British imperialism then allowed it – was undoubtedly ignored by Lenin. But the march on Georgia which resulted in the federated incorporation of that country into a revolutionary workers’ state was in the superior interests of the socialist proletariat and the socialist revolution.

In particular, finally, Lenin opposed giving support to a national struggle when it was merely a front for reactionary (example: feudal or feudal-ecclesiastical) elements exploiting a just demand for people for freedom from imperialism. We need not dwell on this, as it does not enter significantly into our present discussion. It will suffice to point out, as one example, the “national struggle” – i.e., the pogroms – of the Palestine Mufti against the Jews in 1929.

As simply and briefly as possible, that is Lenin’s position on the national question. It is not the whole of Lenin’s position because the question of the relations between the socialist proletariat and the nationalist bourgeoisie, between the democratic and the socialist revolutions – problems that arose so acutely in the years of the struggle against Stalinism – has been deliberately omitted here. But it is enough of Lenin’s position to satisfy, for the moment, the needs of the present discussion.

Now it is entirely possible that Wright might express himself as more or less in agreement with our formulation of Lenin’s views; that he might retreat from his utterly invalid criterion of “independence” with the complaint that he was misunderstood or even misrepresented. This is possible, but not very likely, because of the arguments he proceeds to unfold. For his main point is: While all that has been said may or does hold true with regard to Lenin’s position on countries of the “second type,” fundamental modifications are required with regard to countries of the “third type” (China, India, Persia, Morocco, etc.). It must be remembered that Wright is out to show that what Lenin refused to do with Serbia in the war of 1914, namely, support it, the followers of Lenin must do with China in the war of 1942. And here – on guard! For Wright is about to take us for a real whirl.

How Wright Distinguishes the ‘Second’ and Third’

Unlike Serbia, China must be supported in the war because she is a country of the “third type.” And how does this type differ from the “second,” according to the way Wright interprets Lenin? This way:

Today, as in 1914–18, the task of the European workers, no matter what their country, is the accomplishment of the socialist revolution, i.e., resuming the road pioneered by the Bolsheviks in the czarist empire of 1917. The national element – for all its importance – can play in Europe only the same subordinate role that it did in 1914 in the case of Serbia. But the workers in colonial and semi-colonial countries in Asia have before them, first of all, the objective tasks of the democratic revolution, For them the national question is the most burning and immediate. Whoever seeks to divert them from the solution of this task cannot speak in Lenin’s name.

And further, after two entirely irrelevant quotations from Lenin which are calculated to impress the glass-eyed reader:

The difference between Serbia and China remains no less profound today. It is impermissible even to talk about the theory of the permanent revolution unless one first understands that the position of the colonial and semi-colonial countries in relation to the imperialists is different not only in degree but in kind from that of the small European countries. The colonial and semi-colonial peoples can play and are playing an independent rôle not only in isolated struggles, but also in the very midst of an imperialist war.

With the quoting of these two paragraphs, we have kept our promise that Wright would provide us with bigger and better muddles as he went along. But as we read his lines over and over, it is plain that not even we dreamed that muddle-headedness could be reduced to such a refined, triple-distilled essence. Let us examine them closer, and bear in mind that they were not written by a Stalinist, but by a self-avowed, self-patented and self-copyrighted Trotskyist.

As in 1914, the task of the workers in all European countries without exception is the accomplishment of the socialist revolution by taking the road pioneered by the Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917; in the colonies and semi-colonies of Asia, on the other hand, the workers face first of all the “objective tasks of the democratic revolution.” Thus Wright. And God help those who, like Shachtman, “seek to divert them from the solution of this task,” for Wright positively will not allow them to speak in Lenin’s name. Our terror at this threat is relieved by the recollection of some cogent facts:

1. In 1914, Lenin did not contend (neither did Trotsky) that the accomplishment of the socialist revolution was the proletarian task in all the European countries, at least not in the sense Wright means it – as the “most burning and immediate.” On the contrary. To the working class of the biggest European country, Russia – yes, czarist Russia! – Lenin assigned the mission of carrying through the bourgeois-democratic and not the socialist revolution. For, according to Lenin, the “objective tasks of the democratic revolution,” which Wright says are primarily before the Asiatic colonial workers today in contrast to Europe 25 years ago, were precisely the tasks primarily before the workers of Russia! When Wright, invoking Lenin, declares that the workers of all European countries today must follow the road of the Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917, he is either saying that all the European countries still have their bourgeois-democratic revolution to carry through, or else he is saying nothing. Our muddler, in his effort to “distinguish” oppressed China from oppressed Serbia, has succeeded only in identifying oppressed China with oppressive czarist Russia!

2. He may reply: But in imperialist Russia, the “objective tasks of the democratic revolution” could not be and were not solved in an independent stage. They were solved under the dictatorship of the proletariat, and under its class rule the revolution proceeded “permanently” from its democratic to its socialist tasks. In other words, in Russia the “objective tasks of the democratic revolution” were solved under the socialist dictatorship. And that is what is meant when we say that the task of the workers of all the European countries “is the accomplishment of the socialist revolution.”

Such a reply would be entirely proper and correct. Only, it is not one whit less valid if applied to “the workers in colonial and semi-colonial countries in Asia”! Even a half-baked Trotskyist should know this; even a translator of Trotsky should know this. Even he should know that “it is impermissible even to talk about the theory of the permanent revolution” unless one understands that a country like China, for example, can attain genuine national independence, or solve any other of the fundamental democratic tasks facing it, only by “the accomplishment of the socialist revolution,” that is, by establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat. In this respect, China and India today differ in no way from Serbia of 1914. The reader who is interested in Trotsky’s view on the question, and not merely in the view of the self-avowed, self-patented and self-copyrighted Trotskyist, may study the former’s brochure, The Permanent Revolution.

3. “The colonial and semi-colonial peoples can play and are playing an independent rôle not only in isolated struggles, but also in the very midst of an imperialist war,” says Wright. The people (i.e., the masses of workers and peasants) can play an independent rôle not only in colonial and semi-colonial countries but in arch-imperialist countries like Japan, Germany or the United States. But in the one type or the other, they can play an independent rôle on one condition and one only: if they (specifically, the workers) are organized as a class by the vanguard forces and (the peasants supporting the workers) direct their struggle against the bourgeoisie. Under any other conditions, the people, be they in the colonies or in the metropolises, are the dupes, the tools, the voting herds or the cannon fodder of the ruling class, and any talk of their “independence” is nonsense, where it isn’t positively pernicious. One would think that in the year 1942, a Marxist would understand this elementary fact of the class struggle.

4. Perhaps we are quibbling. Perhaps Wright did not really mean colonial peoples but colonial and semi-colonial countries. Well, if that’s what he meant, his case only grows worse. What is a “country” – even a colonial country? It is primarily an arena of the struggle between classes. In the colonial country as in the imperialist motherland, one class rules, the bourgeoisie. In China, the bourgeoisie is different in many important ways from the bourgeoisie in Japan, as is commonly known; but in both countries it is the ruling class and it represents an historically reactionary obstacle to progress. To speak of semi-colonial China, or colonial India, as “countries” that can play an “independent rôle” at the present time, that is, in the era of decadent imperialism, is to say that the colonial bourgeoisie can play an independent rôle. “Country” – that is no abstraction. It is concretized in its ruling class – precisely in its ruling class! – and in the social relations they represent and dominate. “Colonial countries” are no exception whatsoever in this respect. For if they are, then the whole bottom falls out of the struggle carried on against Stalinism by the Left Opposition (Trotskyists) on the national and colonial questions. If they are, the Fourth International must stop saying what it has always said, namely, that precisely in the colonial and semi-colonial countries national independence can be obtained only under the leadership of the proletariat and that in principle there is no difference between Chiang Kai-shek and the class he represents, and Alexander Kerensky and the class he represented, so far as their respective attitude toward imperialism is concerned.

5. According to Wright, there is a fundamental, or principled, difference between the countries of Europe and those of Asia, between the “small nations” and the “colonies,” between the “second type” and the “third.” He writes literally that “the position of the colonial and semi-colonial countries in relation to the imperialists is different not only in degree but in kind from that of the small European countries.” You rub your eyes and read again, just to make sure you saw what you saw. Then you turn to the first page of the magazine in which it appears and, yes, to be sure! it is the Fourth International. How did that get by the editor? you ask. The answer is a saddening one: The editor doesn’t know any better, either; and besides, he is too busy with other things to notice that Wright has catapulted himself right down to the theoretical level of Stalinism.

Lenin and Trotsky on the ‘Second’ and ‘Third’ Types

On this point we have ample – indeed, overwhelming – evidence from the writings of Lenin and Trotsky. Let us hear first from the latter. (Interestingly enough, despite the rich, up-to-date contribution made by Trotsky to the colonial question in the course of fifteen years of struggle against Stalinist perversion, Wright does not so much as quote one single word from Trotsky’s writings on the subject!) Trotsky is speaking of the Stalinist-Bukharinist attempt to draw a distinction in principle (”in degree and in kind,” as Wright would say) between the bourgeois-democratic struggles in the West and the colonial struggles in the East, and he says:

For a communist, a war of a colonial nation against an imperialist nation is a bourgeois revolutionary war. Lenin thus raised the national liberation movements, the colonial insurrections, and wars of the oppressed nations, to the level of the bourgeois-democratic revolutions, in particular, to that of the Russian revolution of 1905. But Lenin did not at all place the wars for national liberation above bourgeois-democratic revolutions as is now done by Bukharin, after his 180 degree turn [and by Wright, please note – M.S.]. Lenin insisted on a distinction between an oppressed bourgeois nation and a bourgeois oppressor nation. But Lenin nowhere raised and never could raise the question as if the bourgeoisie of a colonial or a semi-colonial country in an epoch of struggle for national liberation must be more progressive and more revolutionary than the bourgeoisie of a non-colonial country in the epoch of the democratic revolution. This does not flow from anything in theory; there is no confirmation of it in history. (The Third International After Lenin, p. 171)

Correct: Wright’s distinction does not exist in Marxian theory: it cannot be found in history; it is a product of a haluk.

But perhaps Trotsky exaggerated. Perhaps he was carried away by his polemic against the Stalinists. No, there is no such possibility. If anything, Lenin was even more categorical and explicit on this point. He did indeed divide the colonies from Europe as two different types. But essentially, only because the struggles of the former were still ahead, while those of the latter were already going on. As for a fundamental difference, “not only in degree but in kind,” Wright does not even merit recognition as an innovator. Lenin specifically rejected the same point of view time and time again.

Here is what he wrote in his wartime polemic against Kievsky (G.L. Pyatakov) in connection with the demand for “freedom of secession for all oppressed nations”:

And in this respect the only difference we see between the Mongolian and Egyptian peasants and workers and the Polish and Finnish peasants and workers is that the latter are highly developed, politically more experienced and economically better equipped than the Great Russians, etc., and therefore they probably will very soon convince their people, who now justly hate the Great Russians for the executioner’s role they are playing, that it is not wise to extend this hatred to the socialist workers and to a socialist Russia ... (Works, vol. XIX, p. 254)

In the very next breath, Lenin continued (bear in mind that by “Poles” are to be understood a country of the “second type” and by “Mongolians” a country of the “third type”):

There is no other difference between our attitude toward the Poles and that toward Mongolians, nor can there be any other. (Ibid., p. 255)

On the very same page, even more explicitly, if that were possible:

But what about Russia? The peculiar feature of Russia is that the difference between “our” colonies and “our” oppressed nations is not clear, not concrete and not vital! ...

While it may be excusable for a Marxist, writing, say, in Germany, to forget this peculiar feature of Russia, it is not excusable for P. Kievsky. A Russian socialist who does not merely repeat what others say, but who thinks for himself, must realize that as far as Russia is concerned, it is particularly absurd to attempt to draw a serious distinction between oppressed nations and colonies.

If Lenin had read Wright’s central argument, the above quotations could not have been written as a more direct and annihilating rebuff to the “continuator of Leninism” who issues bulls on who can and who “cannot speak in Lenin’s name.” But still there may be a reader who imagines that Lenin refused to “draw a serious distinction between oppressed nations and colonies” only so far as Russia was concerned. No, his position was more thorough-going than that. Here is what he wrote in 1916, in summarizing the whole discussion of this question with his principal theoretical adversaries, the followers of Luxemburg:

The Polish comrades ... tried to draw a distinction between “Europe” and the colonies. Only in regard to Europe are they inconsistent annexationists and object to the annulment of annexations once they have been effected. For the colonies, however, they put forward the categorical demand: “Get out of the colonies!” (Works, vol. XIX, p. 383)

Again, a few pages later:

By singling out the colonies and contrasting them with Europe, the Polish comrades become involved in contradictions, which immediately shatter the whole of their mistaken line of argument. (Ibid., p. 286)

As the reader knows, our muddler insists that Lenin attached a higher significance in principle to the colonies than to the small European nations. The fact is, as Lenin emphasized in his polemics during the war (1916), he looked for the national struggles in Europe to be even more valuable to the world revolution than the struggles of the colonies.

The fact is that revolutionary movements of all kinds – including national movements – are, under the conditions prevailing in Europe, more likely, more possible, more stubborn, more conscious and more difficult to subdue than in the colonies. (Works, vol. XIX, p. 285)

And in continuing his polemic against the attempt by the Poles to contrast “Europe” to “Asia,” he expressed himself with the greatest unequivocalness:

Social democracy, we read in the Polish theses (1, 4), “must utilize the struggle of the young colonial bourgeoisie against European imperialism in order to sharpen the revolutionary crisis in Europe.” (Author’s italics)

Is it not dear that it is least of all permissible to contrast Europe with the colonies in this respect? The struggle of the oppressed nations in Europe, a struggle capable of going to the lengths of insurrection and street fighting, of breaking down the iron discipline in the army and martial law, will “sharpen the revolutionary crisis in Europe” infinitely more than a much more developed rebellion in a remote colony. A blow delivered against the English imperialist bourgeoisie by a rebellion in Ireland is a hundred times more significant politically than a blow of equal weight delivered in Asia or in Africa. (Ibid., pp. 302f.)

Is anything more required for the reader to see what Lenin’s position on this point actually was? And is anything more required to understand that our self-styled “continuator of Leninism” has not merely diverged from Lenin’s standpoint, but has entered right into head-on conflict with it?

Two Criteria for Judging Colonial Wars

Wright explained to his readers that the criterion for supporting or not supporting a country of the “second type” in a war was whether or not it “plays an independent rôle.” Lenin never put that forward as his criterion, but let it go for the moment. What interests us now is what criterion should be employed by the proletariat with regard to wars conducted by countries of the “third type.” Wright went through elaborate conclusions to explain the fundamental difference between the one and the other, to show that the latter differed from the former “not only in degree but in kind” and must therefore be approached differently. What then is his criterion in the case of the colonies? The answer is truly seductive in its overwhelming simplicity: the criterion for the “third type” of country is ... exactly the same as the criterion for the “second type” of country! Yes, sir, after all the wind and fury have died down, and the fundamental differences between the two have been emphasized and belabored, we learn that a war conducted by either one of them must, after all, be judged in exactly the same way. Unbelievable, but there it is, black on white:

What is the criterion whereby Marxists determine whether a colonial or semi-colonial country is conducting a progressive struggle? We determine our position, first of all, on the basis of fact. Does this struggle play an independent rôle? If it does, we support it. (Wright’s emphasis.)

But that’s exactly what Wright wrote one page earlier about the wars of countries of the “second type”! Toward what end was so much good and patient paper smeared up in between these two conclusions? The most merciful answer that can be given is that in Wright’s construction, the difference boils down to the rather dogmatic assertion that the struggles of small European countries “can be progressive only in isolated instances” (does Wright mean “only in rare cases”? It is not clear from his text), whereas the struggles of Asiatic colonies can be progressive in a greater number of cases because, allegedly, they can play “an independent rôle” even “in the very midst of an imperialist war.”

Before we go over to the very important question of “fact” in judging our attitude toward China’s war with Japan in the midst of the Second World War, let us dwell for some informative moments on the guiding lines suggested by Lenin in this question. He was acquainted with the problem of a just war of a colony against an imperialist power and the relations between such a war and an imperialist war, or between such a war and aid given to a colony by one imperialist power against another.

In his wartime polemic against “Junius” (Rosa Luxemburg), Lenin gave examples to support his thesis that just wars of national liberation “may lead to an imperialist war,” in which case they could not be supported, “or they may not; that depends on many circumstances.” To illustrate, he cited the war of the thirteen American colonies for independence from England.

Out of enmity toward England, i.e., in conformity with their own imperialist interests, France and Spain, which still held parts of what are now the United States, concluded friendly treaties with the states that had risen against England. The French forces together with the American defeated the English. Here we have a war for national liberation in which imperialist rivalry is a contributory element of no great importance (Works, vol. XIX, p. 204)

Now, in the same issue of the Fourth International containing Wright’s article, there is a criticism of the Stalinist war position by the editor, Morrow. In it Morrow quotes the above passage from Lenin’s criticism of Junius as it appeared for the first time in English in the British Labour Monthly of January 1935. The quotation deserves some comment:

1. The Labour Monthly translation is no good. Morrow unwittingly accepts the bad translation because it seems to support the SWP position on China against ours! Here is how the last sentence of the Lenin quotation above appears in the Fourth International:

We thus see a national liberation war, in which the imperialist cooperation [with the colony – F.M.] appears merely as a secondary element without serious significance ...

Whereupon Morrow triumphantly comments: “Lenin was considering the great colonial and semi-colonial countries like India, China and Persia, fighting their main imperialist oppressors where it was possible for the imperialist cooperation with the colonial country to be ‘merely a secondary element.’”

What Lenin actually wrote was not that “imperialist cooperation” with the colony (as Morrow interpolates) was the secondary element, but that a just national war for independence was possible in which “imperialist rivalry” would be “a contributory element of no great importance.” The difference between the two words (cooperation or rivalry) is of key importance. Lenin considered the American war for independence a just war, not in spite of French imperialist “cooperation” with the thirteen colonies, but in spite of the “rivalry” between French and English imperialism. Why? Because, to repeat his words, this rivalry was only “a contributory element of no great importance.” Every student of the American Revolution knows this. The revolution was not a product of the rivalry between France or Spain and England; the revolution was at no time an integral part of a war between France and England (indeed, there was no war between the two countries at the time of the American Revolution; there was only the continued “rivalry” which had taken the form of war a few years before the revolution and in the Napoleonic wars after the revolution); the revolution was at no time subordinated to the struggle between France and England; the revolution was at no time directed or controlled by French or Spanish imperialism; at no time did the American bourgeoisie come under the financial, political or military domination of French or Spanish imperialism, even though French cooperation with Washington at one time became so important (Rochambeau’s expedition) as to be virtually decisive.

It is from the point of view of these facts, known to most schoolboys, that Lenin was able to say that Anglo-French rivalry was only a “contributory element of no great importance.” We shall see presently if the same can be said about the present situation of China.

2. Morrow, who had to rely on a poor translation of Lenin, may be excused for the moment. But Wright knows better. He is acquainted with the important passage from Lenin “in the original Russian.” Does he quote it? No; he paraphrases it in his own words but at even greater length that the original. We get the same stupid analogy between China’s war today and the war of 1776. He even improves on Morrow, and adds another “historical instance.” Marx supported the North in the American Civil War. Yet, Russian warships under the command of Grand Duke Alexis appeared in San Francisco harbor at one of the critical junctures in the relations between Washington and France and Great Britain. Thus, in order to defend its national existence and independence, the most progressive government in the world at that time, the United States, was obliged to ally itself with the most reactionary regime in the world – czarist Russia.

This “historical instance” is supposed to justify support of China in the Second World War! Unbelievable again, but we are ready to take our oath that it is to be found, black on white, in the April 1942 issue of the Fourth International, for all English-reading people to look at with wonderment for generations to come.

What good Alexis’ warships were supposed to do Lincoln in San Francisco harbor, we don’t exactly know; perhaps they were maneuvering to get the firing range of Richmond or Vicksburg. But Wright misses a real bull’s eye when he fails to mention that Alexander II really sent two Russian fleets, and one of them dropped anchor in New York harbor. And that the Czar gave his admirals sealed orders to place themselves at Lincoln’s disposal if France or England intervened militarily on the side of the South. And that this “hint” was enough to cool the ardor of Napoleon III, who was playing with the idea of a coalition to support the South.

But, pray, what has all this interesting and erudite detail to do with China in the war today? Was there, perhaps, in the early 1860s, a big, all-dominating war going on between Russia and France, with Lincoln (the North) allying himself with Russia to help Alexander win his war over the Little Napoleon? Was there even one shell fired from the famous Russian warships, except perhaps in salute? Did the Grand Duke Alexis perhaps replace McClellan or Grant – or Lincoln – as commander of the Union armies? Was the conduct of the Civil War by the North in any way at all (except for the obscure incident mentioned by Wright) dependent upon the Grand Duke, or the Czar, or the Czarina, or the Czarevitch, or the whole Russian Imperial Court?

And while we’re at it, let us also ask why Wright inflates the whole trivial business of Russia in the American Civil War to the imposing proportions of an “alliance”? Is it in order to gloss over the treacherous capitulatory and reactionary alliance the Chinese national bourgeoisie has made with “democratic” imperialism by suggesting that, after all, Lincoln “also” made an alliance with a reactionary power which was “approved” by Marx? We will return to this question later.

Lenin and Zinoviev on Colonial Liberation

But back to Wright’s paraphrasing of the quotation from Lenin’s criticism of Junius. Why didn’t he quote Lenin? And why did Morrow stop so short with that part of the quotation which he reproduced? It is the part that follows that is right to the point! For in it Lenin discusses precisely the question now at issue. Here is what he says:

A war for national liberation waged, for example, by an alliance of Persia, India and China against certain imperialist powers is quite possible and probable, for it follows logically from the national liberation movements now going on in those countries. Whether such a war will be transformed into an imperialist war among the present imperialist powers will depend on a great many concrete circumstances, and it would be ridiculous to guarantee that these circumstances will arise. (Works, vol. XIX, p. 205.)

Is it any wonder Morrow lost the balance of his quotation? Or that Wright suddenly found it expedient to paraphrase Lenin instead of quoting from him? Lenin does not speak of a war of China against an imperialist power or powers, but a war against them of China, plus India, plus Persia (now Iran). Such a war Lenin would support (just as we supported the “isolated” war of China against Japan up to the time this war was decisively incorporated into the general imperialist World War). But suppose a general war among the imperialist big powers broke out and “swallowed up” the war of the colonial alliance against the imperialist oppressor? Lenin replies, in effect: That might happen, in which case it would be impermissible to continue giving support, but “it would be ridiculous to guarantee” that it will happen. That is why he wrote in his polemic against Kievsky:

In short, a war between imperialist great powers (i.e., powers which oppress a number of foreign nations, entangling them in the web of dependence on finance capital, etc.) or war in alliance with them, is an imperialist war. Such is the war of 1914–16; the plea of “defense of the fatherland” in this war is deception, it is used to justify the war. (Works, vol. XIX, p. 220. Lenin’s emphasis.)

Even more specific on this score was Zinoviev, who during the war was closest to Lenin and his thoughts. In writing of a colonial war against an imperialist government as a just war, Zinoviev remarked in a footnote that this thesis “perhaps requires a certain limitation.” To illustrate, he gave the example of Persia (a country of the “third type”!) during the First World War. In September–October 1915, the Persian government, as a liberal Russian paper put it, “evidently seriously studied the question of liberating itself from Russo-English influence [!] by means of an alliance with Germany and Turkey.” The Shah was preparing the first rebellious steps, but “the appearance of a Russian detachment before the walls of Teheran – succeeded in putting an end to the Shah’s vacillations.” A real uprising then broke out in the country; revolutionary committees were formed in the center and in the South; but in the winter and spring of 1916 the uprising was crushed by Russian troops.

“What attitude,” asked Zinoviev, “should be taken toward such a state of things in Persia?” And here is the interesting reply from Lenin’s then closest collaborator:

It is obvious that the socialists sympathize with all their heart with the revolutionary movement in Persia which is directed at Russo-English imperialists. But in case Persia had participated in the war of 1914–16 and placed itself on the side of the German coalition, the Persian war would only hove been an unimportant episode in the imperialist robber war. Objectively, the rôle of Persia would have been very little distinguished from the rôle of Turkey in the war years of 1914–16. (Lenin-Zinoviev, Gegen den Strom, The Second International and the War Problem, by G. Zinoviev, pp. 499f. My emphasis – M.S.)

The hopeless confusion into which Wright got himself in trying to make a distinction between the Leninist position on Serbia in the First World War and China in the Second World War, we have already seen. What remains to be seen, in the light of what is so clearly and explicitly written by Zinoviev, is how Wright will distinguish between the rôle of Persia in the First World War and the rôle of China today. For those who can witness gyrations without yawning, the spectacle is worth looking forward to.

What Are the Real Facts of the War?

There is left, finally, in determining our attitude toward China in the war, the question of “fact” mentioned by Wright with such unexpected suddenness and in such violent discordance with everything that went before. Most important question, indeed! The question of “fact” to establish is simply this: Has the war of China against Japan become an integral and subordinate part of the general inter-imperialist World War, or has it not? Or, to use Lenin’s formula: in judging the Sino-Japanese war, is the inter-imperialist rivalry or conflict “a contributory element of no great importance” or is the national struggle of China “of no great importance compared with the all-determining imperialist rivalry”? A third position, sharply distinguished from either of these two, is out of the question.

Now, judged by the fairly precise yardstick of Lenin, there would seem to be no possibility of two answers to the question of China in the war today. That is, provided one based himself on the facts, the realities, which are universally acknowledged. More accurately, all but universally acknowledged,” for Wright and his political colleagues have an almost unique and mystical conception of what is happening in the world at war today.

To all ordinary people, and especially to those for whom the word “dialectics” is not a license for uttering the most demonstrable nonsense, the Second World War is a total war. It is not necessary to lay claim to, or possess, special military-strategical ability to understand that in this war, far more than even the First World War, all the present fronts are inseparably linked and mutually interdependent. The character of the war, the conduct of the war and (for the present) the outcome of the war, are determined by the two couples of imperialist titans which dominate each camp respectively, the United States and Great Britain, and Germany and Japan. (Within each of the two, in turn, there is a senior and a junior partner!) All the other countries in the two great coalitions are reduced to vassalage to the giants which differs in each case only in degree. This vassalage is determined by the economic (industrial-technical), and therefore the financial, and therefore the political, and therefore the military domination of the war by the two great “power-couples.” Italy is less dependent upon the masters of its coalition than Hungary, and Hungary less than Slovakia. But these facts do not alter the state of their vassalage – they only determine its degree. Stalinist Russia is less dependent upon the masters of its coalition than China (it would lead us too far afield to show in what sense, however, it is even more dependent upon U.S.-England than China), and China less than the Philippines. But again, these facts only determine the degree of their vassalage. Except, therefore, for inconsequential cranks and special pleaders in the bourgeois world, everyone in it understands the total nature of the war as a whole; the total nature of each coalition; the relative position and weight of each sector of the coalition; the mutual interdependence of all fronts.

None of this exists in the dream-world of Wright and his friends. To them, there are at least two and perhaps three distinct and separate wars going on at the same time, but, in essence, parallel to each other. There is the imperialist war between U.S.-England and the Axis (we are compelled to assume that the SWP considers this an imperialist war since it has not found it necessary to give its opinion on the subject). Then there is another war – between Germany and the Soviet Union, A third war – at least one phase of the second war – is that between Japan and China, and in it the SWP supports China.

Are these two wars (or three wars) taking place independently of each other? Whatever our theories may have been yesterday, or are today, all the facts speak against such an assertion.

Anglo-American and Japanese imperialism have been fighting a most desperate war since December 7, 1941, for the domination of the Pacific and of the Asiatic continent. In the course of a few months, territories of hundreds of thousands of square miles, inhabited by tens of millions of people, have changed hands, so to speak. Does Wright expect any Marxist, any person with a little political experience, or, in general, any moderately informed and moderately sane person to believe that this war between the two big imperialisms is only “a contributory element of no great importance” in relation to the war of China against Japan? Is this the kind of “fact” on which Wright bases himself in order to determine his position? Who is expected to take seriously a comparison between Czar Alexander II’s intrigues against Napoleon III and their relation to the American Civil War, on the one side, and the world-shaking, all-determining war for the domination of the Orient between the U.S. and Japan and its relations to China’s war, on the other?

In the environs of the radical movement, somewhere in New York, there is a man named Marlen, whose sufferings indicate the monotypic described in the studies of Wechniakoff and Letourneau. The mania which preoccupies his life is the insistent, year-in-year-out declaration that the only war going on in the world since 1939 has been the all-imperialist struggle to crush Russia, cunningly concealed behind a phoney war which the democratic and fascist imperialisms have pretended to carry on against each other. The invasions of Poland, Norway, the Balkans, Holland and Belgium and France, of Iceland and Greenland and Libya, the air raids on England and Germany – all these are just cleverly contrived frauds, jokingly arranged among England, Germany, Italy and the United States to create the impression that they have a war on among themselves, whereas in reality the only war being fought is the one all of them are fighting against Russia.

Wright puts forward a variant – a much milder variant, to be sure, but a variant nevertheless – of our monotypic’s ultramundane animadversions. Russia’s war with Germany is independent of the war with Germany of U.S.-Britain, with which Russia is allied. China’s war with Japan is independent of the war with Japan of U.S.-Britain, with which China is allied. In both cases, presumably, the inter-imperialist war is merely a second-rate, contributory element of no great importance in the “just wars” of Russia and China, or as Trotsky would have put it, it’s like “a war on the face” – not pleasant, “reactionary,” but in any case not decisive in judging the main qualities of the face itself.

The Historical References Re-examined

If we go back to Wright’s fabulous historical instances, the answer to our present problem becomes still simpler. The Russo-French rivalry did not dominate the American Civil War; the Anglo-American war with Japan does dominate the war in the East, and only a purblind dogmatist or a man in a haluk can regard it as a sort of minor side-show in China’s war with Japan.

Baron von Steuben was a great drill-master of the American colonial army and Rochambeau and his French monarchist forces were a most valuable aid to the American colonial bourgeoisie; but the latter was at all times the real master of its political and military position. On the other hand, the American General Stillwell, as head of the Chinese general staff, symbolizes the decisive subordination of China’s struggle to the interests and exigencies of the imperialist war between Washington and Tokyo (the American press speaks uniformly and with full justification of “Stillwell’s Chinese troops”). Washington gladly accepted the aid of Rochambeau’s troops, it is true; but the American colonial army did not have to fight to preserve the rule of French monarchical imperialism over the Louisiana Territory! The Chinese colonial army, however, now that it has been incorporated into the general World War, has already fought under its new commander, General Stillwell (presumably he represents the “independent rôle” China is now playing!), for the preservation of the rule of British imperialism in Burma, while the “generalissimo,” Chiang, is sent on a mission to India as recruiting sergeant for Anglo-American imperialism.

Finally, the victory of Rochambeau’s French monarchist troops over Cornwallis helped the colonies win their freedom and independence from England, without in the slightest degree bringing them under the domination of French imperialism. Again, that is why Lenin could speak of Anglo-French rivalry during the American Revolution as a “contributory element of no great importance.” Now, once more, we ask: Can that situation legitimately be compared by any rational person with the subordinating alliance the Chinese bourgeoisie has made with Anglo-American imperialism? Will the latter’s victory over Japan help China win its freedom and independence? If Wright’s fantastic comparison has any meaning accessible to the mind of an earthly being, his answer to this question must be in the affirmative. But the resolution of the Founding Conference of the Fourth International spoke its prophetic word on this question several years ago: “The imperialists of the West will intervene against Japan only to preserve their own robber interests in the Far East. If Japanese imperialism should be defeated in China by its imperialist rivals, and not by the revolutionary masses, this would signify the enslavement of China by Anglo-American capital.” (Resolutions, etc., p. 85)

Not a word about this from Wright, however. He is too busy amusing himself with his ludicrous denunciations of Shachtman as a criminal and a traitor and a two-time deserter. Pathetic hack! He is so busy, indeed, that he does not find time or space for a single word of criticism – much less denunciation – of Chiang Kai-shek, as representative of the national bourgeoisie, not for accepting material aid from one imperialist group or another (which is perfectly permissible in itself, and to which nobody could object), but for his complete capitulation to Anglo-American imperialism. It is startling, when one stops to think of it, but it is true. Instead, Wright actually glosses over, embellishes, defends this imperialist alliance! Starling; unbelievable; but it is true.

He teaches us that Chiang under Anglo-American imperialism is not quite the same as Wang Chin-Wei under Japanese imperialism. Isn’t the flavor of this argument reminiscent of the good old days of the dispute in the Russian Communist Party in 1927?

He writes: “Shachtman declares that the Chinese troops in Burma are fighting on behalf of Anglo-American imperialism. Is this so? Yes and no. More no than yes.” But it is not Shachtman he needs to convince of this puerile dream-theory; it is Anglo-American imperialism; it is Japanese imperialism; and not least of all, it is the bulk of the people of Burma. An unenviable job!

He writes: “China is freer today to play an independent rôle vis-à-vis Anglo-American imperialism than at any other time since 1937.” How can he possibly write this, you may ask, in face of the increasingly patent subjection of China (military-strategical, political, economic) to Anglo-American imperialism? The only scientific answer to this legitimate question is: Wright is in a haluk.

We denounce Chiang and the class he represents for having subordinated China’s just war for independence to the needs and interests of one imperialist camp. We summon the Chinese masses, particularly the proletariat, to break the reactionary alliance with imperialism, as did the Russian masses in 1917, and resume the struggle for independence on a higher level, the only level on which it can now be conducted. Wright says: “We, on the contrary, say to the Chinese workers: The Japanese invader is the main enemy. Fire at Japan first – and shoot with anybody who shoots in the same direction.” (My emphasis – M.S.) Could there be a more craven or deceptive way of selling the Chinese masses the reactionary alliance with imperialism? We warn against the “good friends” who, you see, are “shooting in the same direction”; Wright says: It’s all right; nothing much to worry about; Lenin approved of the same kind of alliance as far back as 1776 and 1861.

After the Chinese bourgeoisie has integrated, i.e., sold out, the Chinese national struggle to the struggle of one imperialist camp against the other, Wright still says: “Given the opportunity, Chiang will again betray the Chinese people ...”

This is like shouting a warning to a woman who has just been ravished: “Keep an eye on that man, he may yet attack you.”

Just when the Chinese masses need an alarm signal, Wright sings them a lullaby. Chiang is only a tool, but “a tool is one thing; a finished job is something else again.” China isn’t Ethiopia; “China’s position is not the same as Slovakia’s and Norway’s but just the opposite” (yes, the very, very opposite!). Do England and the U.S. completely dominate Chiang? “We answer, emphatically no.” (Wright’s assurances are about the only consolation the poor “generalissimo” has nowadays.) The Chinese aren’t really fighting for British imperialism in Burma. China is freer today to play an independent rôle than for five years past. And so on and on and on, interrupted only with reminders that the traitors to watch out for are ... Oehler and Shachtman.

Who disseminates this dope to the Chinese people and their friends – yes, this dope, this narcotic, this opiate? The self-styled, self-patented, self-copyrighted “Trotskyist.”

John G. Marlborough S’en va-t-en Guerre

Before taking our overdue departure from Wright, there are a few additional comments worth recording.

The main enemy of China today, he says, is Japan; the main enemy of India is Britain. Good, let us accept this for the moment. And who was the main enemy of Burma? Presumably that country stood in the same category as India before the Japanese conquest, and in the same category as China following the Japanese conquest.

Wright adds: “We remain supporters of national struggles whether they are led by Chiang in China, by Nehru or Bose in India. This is what we mean by unconditional support.” We already know from no less an authority than Wright himself whose tool Chiang is. And the other two whose struggles he supports unconditionally? “If Anglo-American imperialists ever had a tool, they surely possess one in the person of Nehru. Hitler is operating as best he can with Bose.” Good, very good.

Now, wars are not fought in people’s heads, but on land and sea and in the air, by one body of armed men against another body of armed men. In a war between two camps, it is possible for a third party to oppose both; it is possible to support one against the other; but it is not possible to support both at the same time. Amendment, please: it is not possible for ordinary, earth-bound people; but for Wright anything is possible.

Wright supports Nehru’s “national struggle” which is backed (i.e., dominated) by Anglo-American imperialism, and he supports Bose’s “national struggle” which is backed (i.e., dominated) by German-Japanese imperialism. Nehru and Co., despite all their impotent phrasemongering, will fight, at the showdown, at the side of (i.e., under the direction of) the “Anglo-Indian” (i.e., the British imperial) army, on the grounds that Japan is the main immediate enemy. Bose, on the other hand, will fight under the direction of the Japanese imperialist army, on the ground that Britain is the main immediate enemy. Which of these “two national struggles” will Wright “unconditionally support”?

Since in India there are “two tools in two camps,” writes the muddler, then, “according to Shachtman’s logic, it would therefore follow that India’s national struggle is twice-damned and doubly unworthy of his ‘critical support.’” His murderous sarcasm included, Wright has accidentally stumbled on a fairly correct thought. But what, under the circumstances, is to be done “according to Wright’s logic”? We can only conclude that “it would therefore follow” that India’s national struggle (excuse, please: struggles) are twice-blessed and doubly worthy of unconditional support – both struggles at the same time and with mutually annihilating vigor!

Furthermore, Wright would surely not be less generous than he is to China or India. If he is prepared to give “unconditional support” to Bose, then surely he would not withhold it from the leaders of the Burmese “national struggle” who also decided to “shoot with anybody who shoots in the same direction” – anybody, in this case, being the Japanese. The fact that he was already committed to “unconditional support” of the Chinese in Burma should not deter him from the same support to the Burmese “national leaders.” And in point of fact, Wright declares in his article that at one and the same time he was for support to China in Burma (“Stilwell’s Chinese troops”) and for support of the “Burmese peasants” (Tojo’s Burmese troops!).

A dull-witted person may scratch his head in puzzlement over how it is possible to support both armies at the same time when they are fighting each other, and add to that miracle of military science the political miracle of not supporting imperialism. Idiot! Wright will shout, with an accent from the original Russian edition. Don’t “slither all over the landscape, depending upon episodic developments in the field of diplomacy, or moves on military maps.” Be like me! I depend upon nothing. I hang freely suspended in mid-air between two entirely unmacerated and undigested quotations from Lenin.

Here we bid farewell to Wright and to all his turnings and cursings and imprecations. Are they really meant for us, or mainly for us? There is reason to believe otherwise. Is it not just barely possible a pseudonymous struggle, that the names “Oehler” or “Shachtman” actually stand for unknown persons who are members of Wright’s party with doubts and even outright disagreements over Wright’s policy; persons who, Wright believes, can be intimidated out of their views by having them denounced publicly as “desertion,” and “petty-bourgeois,” and “ultra-leftist,” and anything else that paper will allow to be printed on it? For it is hard to believe that even in a party where discussion is so violently frowned upon, there is not more than one thoughtful militant to challenge the utterly indefensible official line. It is even harder to believe that every section of the Fourth International will simply say “Amen” to the line and its apologist. We shall see.

The Future of the Colonial Struggles

Is there then no future for. China’s struggle against imperialism? Is the struggle for freedom of the colonial countries and peoples in general a hopeless one, at least while the World War is on?

Yes, the struggle of the colonies for freedom is utterly hopeless during the present World War if they continue the course of serving one imperialist camp against the other. That is today the course of the bourgeoisie in every colonial and semi-colonial country, and its tragic results multiply every day in Latin America, in Europe, in Africa and above all in Asia. It is not the course toward independence, but rather to deeper, more exhausting, more ignoble dependency upon imperialism, that is, enslavement to it.

To cover up their complete capitulation to imperialism, their betrayal of the genuine struggle for national independence, the Chiangs, and the Wangs, the Nehrus and the Boses, the Sultans of the East Indies and the Lions of Judah, the Quezons and the Sakdalistas say: Allied with our Great and Powerful Friend and Protector, we are continuing the struggle for national freedom. Join and fight with us, workers and peasants!

To cover up their sordid imperialist aims, each of the two big war coalitions, the “power-couples,” who hate the very thought of any national freedom except their own freedom to oppress and exploit all the weaker and smaller countries, says to the skeptical masses: In union with our brave allies from the little nations and the colonies who have so long suffered under the yoke of the other coalition, we are fighting for their national emancipation. Come, support us in this noble task!

The Second World War, imperialist to the marrow, is total and all-dominating. In its first stage, at least, it was inevitable that it draw into the grip of its iron ring all the small countries, all the would-be neutral countries, all the isolated national wars and struggles for national freedom. That is where these struggles are today – within the iron ring of the imperialist war.

Does this mean that this is where they will remain? Does this mean that there can be no struggle for national independence by the colonies or by other oppressed countries? Does this mean that revolutionary Marxists can no longer support any national struggle?

Deserter! You have deserted the struggle for national emancipation! screams Wright. Poor chap. He seems to think that an amateur slanderer will succeed with people who were unmoved by practiced Stalinist professionals. Yes, the struggle for national emancipation of the colonies has been deserted – by the Chiangs and the Nehrus and the Boses and the Wangs, by the people who led and directed it and then, at the showdown, brought it into the imperialist war camp. The problem is to lead the national movement out of the camp of imperialism and into the field of struggle against imperialism!

In other words, we are not one whit less the partisans of the fight for freedom of small nations and colonies today than we were yesterday. China’s struggle for national independence is not one whit less just in our eyes today than it was yesterday; nor is the struggle of India, of Iran, of Ethiopia. What we want is precisely to launch that struggle all over again where it has been strangled or betrayed; to develop it more broadly, more militantly, more consciously wherever it has already started; to help it to victory over our common enemy where it is already engaged in struggle. The precondition for this victory, however, is for the national movements to free themselves from the imperialist bondage into which they have been sold by their false leaders, the bourgeoisie. In other words, the precondition for the victory is to break the iron ring of imperialist domination and exploitation of the national emancipation movements.

The ring is made of iron; it is not easy to break; but it is not unbreakable. Where will it break? As in 1917, at its weakest point, and it is not possible to say right now where that is. When will it break? It is even more difficult to make predictions on dates. Who will break it? To this question we have a categorical and confident answer: the revolutionary proletariat. Be it in the imperialist metropolis or in the backward colony, the working class is the only one capable of leading the break through the ring. Its leadership, and only its leadership, will assure the independent rôle of the struggle for national independence, not “even” in the colonies but precisely in the colonies, because that leadership will at the same time assure the independent class road, the road to socialism, for the colonial countries. No other road is now practically possible.

This should be clear, especially in the case of China. The national bourgeoisie led the fight against Japan largely under the impatient pressure of the masses, whose struggle the bourgeoisie was afraid to “leave leaderless”; and above all in the hope of attaining that great ideal of the colonial bourgeoisie, customs autonomy, which would enable it to grow and fatten without heavy tribute abroad. But talk about “customs autonomy” for China in the present titanic struggle between the two big imperialisms is utterly ridiculous and nobody knows it better than the Chinese bourgeoisie. Above all else in importance, however, is its knowledge that in the conditions of the imperialist war, a genuine struggle for national independence demands such an arousing and mobilizing of the masses, such a revolutionization of their political thinking and acting as would instantly threaten and immediately thereafter destroy the rule of the colonial bourgeoisie itself. There is the thorny point! With the country threatened by both imperialist groups, we repeat, Chiang could carry on a real struggle for national independence only by setting in motion the revolutionary forces that would eliminate him and what he represents. Hence, when the World Imperialist War broke over its head, the bourgeoisie did not waver for a moment. It took out a commission in the camp of imperialism and brought its “national struggle” along with it as useful camouflage. This reduces the national bourgeoisie to pretty small potatoes, to be sure; but the alternative – the continuation and intensification of the struggle for independence – meant reduction to zero. Wright does not of course begin to understand the dynamics of this development; he still asks, challengingly, how the bombing of Pearl Harbor succeeded in “blowing up China’s war”? But the colonial bourgeoisie understands to perfection.

For a Marxist Colonial Policy

It is therefore on the basis of objective analysis, and not of rhetoric, that we declare that only the proletariat can break through the ring of the imperialist war, only the leadership of the proletariat can re-launch the just wars of the colonies against imperialism, or the just wars of conquered nations and peoples against their conquerors. Without the support of other social groups, especially the peasantry, the proletariat will not succeed in this struggle, to be sure. But with the leadership of the proletariat, the struggle for national independence, be it in Norway or Slovakia or India or China, cannot now even hope to succeed.

The colonial and semi-colonial countries, especially the more politically advanced, like China and India, have certainly not said their last word. The proletariat of a country like China was brought to its feet in the course of years of national struggle, not merely by the ideal of national independence but also by the ideal of social freedom. The attainment of both was bound up in its mind, as it was in fact, with the struggle against the foreign oppressor. It is likely that it will long endure the siphoning off of its efforts and struggles to the interests of one group of these oppressors as against another? The colonial working class will be least of all inclined to continue long in a war to decide that it should be ruled by a whiskey-besotted British democrat instead of by an equally depraved Japanese martinet, or vice versa. What will this working class do when it realizes the conflict between what its r61e is and what its rôle should be?

Wright terrifies weak-minded children by writing: “Oehler and Shachtman today say in effect: Chiang is the main enemy.” The formula is not bad; only, because it is too summary it can lead to misunderstandings; and that alone is why it is not our formula but rather our critic’s inadequate paraphrase. The “main enemy” of a colonial country which is oppressed and exploited by an imperialist power – this is the ABC of Marxism – is imperialism and remains imperialism so long as the country remains in a colonial or semi-colonial state. And imperialism is indeed the “main enemy” I would tell the Chinese worker and peasant to fight against.

But this generally correct formula becomes an abstraction, if not a downright deception, if it is used as a substitute for that truth which is always concrete. In the concrete situation, today as in 1914, the immediate rulers of China, Chiang and his national bourgeoisie, prevent the masses from fighting the main enemy, imperialism. Chiang makes the Chinese masses fight one imperialist power in behalf of another imperialist power – which is an altogether different thing from fighting imperialism. That is why I say to the Chinese masses, not in Wright’s brusque, unilluminating and malicious formula, but at more explicit length:

Now, today, in order to fight your classic foe, imperialism, it is necessary to remove the main obstacle in the road of that fight, Chiang. That means, remove the class he represents, for it now fears you, the masses, more than it envies imperialism and it has therefore put you under the control of one of the imperialist war coalitions. In its place you must put into power the only class whose interests, whose social cohesion and character make its rule the only guarantee today that China can gain its national independence: the working class. The bourgeoisie can desert the struggle for national freedom and has deserted it. The working class will not.

This is the counsel that the Fourth International must give the long-suffering, oft-betrayed peoples of the colonies, and no. other. When the hundreds of millions rise to act on this counsel, the whole world will shake. There is no possibility of doubt, once it happens, that it will be the final conflict.

Max Shachtman
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 29 December 2014