Max Shachtman

China in the War

A Reply to Shamefaced Critics

(September 1942)

From The New International, Vol. VIII No. 8, September 1942, pp. 249–255.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

There is a growing social-patriotic tendency in the war position of the Socialist Workers Party. It has not yet undermined the programmatic foundations of the party. But it is a tendency that cannot be ignored, or dismissed as so many disconnected, episodic errors. What is most disturbing is the apparently unanimous acquiescence of the party leadership in the unfolding of this tendency. There is seemingly nobody able or willing to check it; if there is, he does not display sufficient courage to disrupt the deadening calm imposed upon this monolithized party in recent years.

The present article aims to offer proof of our assertion.

We are frank to say at the very outset that while it is not exactly impossible to carry on a political dispute with the Cannonites, it is not very easy either. A few examples of what we mean will lead us straight to the heart of the subject.

In the period leading up to the split in the Socialist Workers Party and the founding of the Workers Party, we insistently demanded of the Cannonite leadership a clear statement of position on Russia’s role in the war. We were met with dogged evasion. There was only one question that was worth while discussing, they said, and that was the “class character of the Soviet state.” Rightly or wrongly, we proposed to discuss that separately, that is, .as much divorced from the active factional struggle as possible, in the columns of the theoretical organ of the party, and declared that we would make our contribution to that discussion in good time. After the split, whether in time or belatedly, we accommodated the demand of the Cannonites. The present writer and other members of the Workers Party developed a criticism of the position put forward by Trotsky and supported by the SWP. Presently, our party adopted as it own this critical revision of our old view. The Cannonites suddenly forgot their demand that we discuss the “fundamental question of the class character of the Soviet state.” To this day they have not replied to our position. Some scribbler whose name escapes us did indeed smear up a few pages of SWP paper in order to say that Shachtman was preparing to support American imperialism in the war. But apart from this truly clairvoyant prediction, our thesis on the bureaucratic-collectivist state in Russia was not dealt with by a word, not then, not before, not since.

Our next experience dates back to September 1940. At an SWP conference in Chicago, Cannon revealed a new “proletarian military policy.” The revelation was as sorry a mess as its author ever got into when he ventured beyond the sphere of trade union tactics and practical organizational questions on which he so often makes judicious and experienced observations. After elbowing our way through the veritable maze of misunderstanding and downright theoretical ignorance, we came upon what was in Cannon’s own words the centrally new point in policy: Whereas up to now, in imperialist countries like the United States, we have said that we will first take power and only then be for defense of the fatherland, from now on the new policy is that the “two tasks must be telescoped and carried out simultaneously.” In a polemical article we attacked the “concession to social-patriotism,” as we restrainedly called this position of defensism under imperialist rule. What answer did we get? Cannon started a “series” of articles in which he promised to answer us “point by point.” He toyed with a few items for a week or two in his paper, and then the “series” came to an abrupt and unexplained stop. Cannon never answered our criticism. Above all, he never again said a single word – not to this day – about what was, in his own words, the “new” element in the policy, namely, the “telescoping” theory of national defense.

The “New Military Policy”

Two years later, out of a clear sky, The Militant prints an article by Morrison, which is a veiled reply to our original criticism of Cannon’s “new military policy.” We attack Cannon; Cannon is silent for almost two years, and then gets himself an attorney to defend him. But does even Morrison come back to the “telescoping” theory? Read his article on Trotsky’s Military Policy and Its Critics (critics, by the way, who are: a, unnamed; b, unquoted; c, misrepresented) in The Militant of August 15, 1942, and you get the answer: Not by a syllable or a hint! It is as though Cannon never mentioned it, much less made it the central point in his “new” military policy; it is as though the “critics” had not made it the central object of their criticism.

How can people act this way unless they are imbued with a cynical contempt for Marxian theory, loyalty in political dispute, and the scrupulous training of their membership? Nobody asks that they agree with every criticism made, good or bad. But at least answer criticism, if not for the benefit of the critic then for the benefit of those he may “affect.” Above all, drop this disgusting pretense that the criticism was never made or that an entirely different one was made!

Our most recent dispute with the Cannonites is over working-class policy in China and other colonial and semi-colonial countries in the war. In the April 1942 issue of the Fourth International, John G. Wright, with the crystalline lucidity that is peculiarly his own, attacked the resolution on China made public by the Workers Party in Labor Action of March 16, 1942. We declared in our resolution that because of the integration and subordination of China’s just war for national independence to the general imperialist World War, it was no longer possible for revolutionists to support China. Wright argued contrariwise. To justify the defensist position of the SWP on China, he put forward the fundamentally Stalinist thesis that Lenin had distinguished the national struggles in Europe from the colonial and semi-colonial countries of Asia “not only in degree but in kind”; that the latter, unlike the former, “can play and are playing an independent role not only in isolated struggles, but also in the very midst of an an imperialist war.” Still invoking a defenseless Lenin, he argued that while Servia, in the last war, could not be supported by revolutionists when she was allied to one of the two imperialist camps, the fact that China is allied to one of the imperialist camps in the present war does not make any difference to revolutionists so far as their support of China’s war is concerned.

In a special supplement to the June 1942 issue of The New International, we took up Wright’s criticism and his point of view and subjected them to a detailed refutation, particularly his central argument, namely, the alleged difference in principle between a small European nation and a colonial country in the East. We proved to the hilt – we repeat, to the hilt – that this was in fundamental opposition to the constantly reiterated view of Lenin and Trotsky. As the reader of Wright’s polemic knows, this difference in principle constituted his basic argument against us, and was set forth as the theoretical premise for the conclusion that China’s war must still be supported. We permit ourselves to say that we completely shattered this theoretical premise, above all the claim that it was also the premise of Lenin and Trotsky.

Cannonites Liquidate John G. Wright

In the August 1942 issue of the Fourth International, our answer to Wright is answered in turn. Who answers? The not unfamiliar Morrow. Now, there’s no law that says Morrow can’t answer an article which criticized Wright. But why Morrow? He was mentioned in our article only in passing, where we pointed out that in the same issue of the Fourth-International he had based his defensist position in China today on a flagrant mistranslation of a Lenin article that appeared in a Stalinist paper. Why not Wright? Is he ill? Has he lost his limpid pen? Has he stopped contributing to the Cannonite press? Has he quit the SWP? No, none of these. He is hale and hearty, thank heaven, and he continues to pour an endless stream into the press. In fact, he proves his continued corporeal existence by publishing an article in the very same issue that contains Morrow’s reply to us. But Wright’s article deals with something altogether different.

The mystery become more baffling when we read Morrow’s answer, for there are several strange things about it. One, Morrow does not mention Wright’s article or Wright’s name; he doesn’t even hint that there is such a thinker as Wright or that he ever had anything to say on the Chinese question in the magazine Morrow edits. Two, he does not refer either directly or indirectly to the central thesis, the basic theoretical premise, put forward in Wright’s article, namely, Lenin’s alleged distinction in principle between the “two types” of countries. Three, he does not refer by one single word to the fact that our article was directed at Wright and at Wright’s basic theory. Four, for all his usual fondness of piling one quotation from Lenin on top of another, he does not so much as mention Lenin’s name or refer once to the series of damning quotations we cited from Lenin’s works.

Let us undo the mystery of the strange disappearance of Wright from the field of polemics on China. It was only after our article was written that we learned, from the tree-tops of the bureaucratic jungle, that Wright’s central argument, including his reference to Lenin, was not accepted by the SWP leadership. When Morrow learned this, we do not know, but surely he was not aware of anything wrong with Wright’s article when it was written, for as editor of the magazine he passed it and printed it without comment of any kind.

How do the Cannonites handle a “problem” like this? From the standpoint of the interests of theoretical clarity? Nonsense! From the standpoint of the interests of picayune bureaucratic prestige! When “one of our boys” is under criticism-it doesn’t matter if he’s wrong – we must stick by him and protect him if only by our silence. We mustn’t repudiate his erroneous views publicly, for that will reflect on the infallibility of our spokesmen. Therefore, we will gag Wright, prohibit him from answering The New International and from trying to defend views which have proved utterly indefensible, and turn the job over to Morrow, whose political motto is taken from the coat-of-arms of the Prince of Wales, What about the average reader, the “innocent reader,” and the average party member with whose theoretical education we have been entrusted? Will he think that Wright’s theory of the colonial question is correct, or Morrow’s? Or, if he is not yet sufficiently educated to see the difference, will he think that the two positions are identical, or at least compatible?

To judge from the way they have handled the situation, the Cannonite clique obviously doesn’t give a hang about what the readers and members think. At any rate, what they think or don’t think, whether they are to be confused or clarified – all this must be subordinated to bureaucratic considerations.

A polemic with such people therefore starts with a handicap. We will try to surmount it by continuing to contrast our theoretical position with theirs.

Trotsky on the Colonies in the World War

The background of Morrow’s reply to us has already been painted. Read it, we repeat, from beginning to end and you find no reference whatsoever to the original article by Wright, to the famous distinction in principle Lenin is supposed to have drawn between national struggles in Europe and colonial struggles in the East, or for that matter to the fundamental question of the Marxian position on the subject, all of which were dealt with at sufficient length in our criticism of Wright. Morrow disposes of the voluminous compilation of evidence that the SWP position is in direct conflict with the traditional Marxian standpoint by the most effective, in fact, the only, means at his disposal: silence. He literally ignores every single theoretical argument put forth by us on the basis of the easily available teachings of Lenin and Trotsky.

But out of all the vast literature on the subject from which germane quotations could be adduced, Morrow finds one, just exactly one, which he quotes in the hope that it will justify his position. It is from the resolution of the Founding Conference of the Fourth International in September 1938 and since it is the only “authority” Morrow cites, we go right to the heart of it.

The workers of imperialist countries, however, cannot help an anti-imperialist country through their own government, no matter what might be the diplomatic and military relations between the two countries at a given moment. If the governments find themselves in temporary, and by the very essence of the matter, unreliable alliance, then the proletariat of the imperialist country continues to remain in class opposition to its own government and supports the non-imperialist “ally” through its own methods ...

Let us bear in mind, in reading this one and only reference, what is in dispute. We never did and do not now raise the question of the right of a colonial or semi-colonial country, or an oppressed nation, to count upon the independent support of the working class when such a country is carrying on a fight for national independence against an imperialist power. We never did and do not now question the right of such a country, engaged in such a war, to utilize antagonisms and conflicts between imperialist powers, or even to take material aid from one of them against another. What we do question is the policy of supporting a colonial or semi-colonial country when it is an integral part of one big imperialist camp at war with another imperialist camp, as is the case with China now but was not a year ago.

Morrow’s quotation from the document which, as is known, was written by Trotsky, is calculated to show that it is correct to continue supporting China even though she is now in full alliance with the Anglo-American imperialist camp at war with the Japanese-Axis camp. But it should be perfectly clear from a conscientious reading of the quotation, that it must not be construed literally, and above all it must not be construed in the sense in which Morrow puts it forward. Let us see.

If this quotation is to be taken literally – and above all if it is to be torn, as Morrow tears it, out of the known context of all that Lenin and Trotsky taught on this subject – it would say that we support a non-imperialist country regardless of the (temporary and unreliable) alliance it makes with an imperialist, country. From the same resolution, Morrow quotes a preceding passage which says that “some of the colonial or semi-colonial countries will undoubtedly attempt to utilize the war in order to cast off the yoke of slavery. Their war will not be imperialist but liberating.” Correct, above all as a general proposition contained in a forecast, such as the 1938 resolution was. Wrong, as a concrete proposition today, in 1942, in China.

Thus, for an Asiatic colony or semi-colony to “utilize” the World War, and the preoccupation of England in the West, to free itself from English domination, would be perfectly proper and worthy of international revolutionary support. If, in order to conduct its war for national emancipation, it accepted arms or money from a second imperialist power, or even one which was at war with England and offered the aid for its own imperialist reasons, that act in itself would not invalidate the worthiness of the colonial war.

What Is New in China

When China utilized the antagonism between America and Japan in order to get the paltry material aid it obtained from the former in its struggle against the latter, that was perfectly proper and legitimate. But when the antagonisms between America and Japan reach the point of armed conflict between them; when this war reaches right into the Western Pacific, into China’s coastal regions, on to China’s own soil; when China becomes a military ally of American imperialism and fights under its command; when China becomes the actual battleground between the two major imperialist forces – that creates a situation in which continued support of “China” means in actuality support of one of the imperialist camps. To compare such a situation with the one that existed prior to the war between Japan and America, to compare this alliance with the Sino-American “alliance” of yesterday, in which Washington sent good wishes to China and oil and scrap iron to Japan, is either an attempt to outstare realities, or else to seek a plausible cover for a fundamentally social-patriotic position.

The attempt to use the isolated quotation from Trotsky will not work. It is not hard to establish his position on this question because, in the first place, his solidarity with Lenin in this field is as well known as is Lenin’s position, and in the second place, his own independent writings on the question are available and pretty clear-cut.

In a discussion with a Chinese comrade back in August 1937 Trotsky said:

It is necessary to say that all imperialists are brigands; they differ merely in their proceedings. We don’t deny the right to oppose one imperialism against the other and to utilize the antagonisms between them. But only a revolutionary people’s government is capable to do so without becoming an instrument of one imperialism against the other. The present government [of Chiang Kai-shek] can’t oppose Japanese imperialism without becoming a servile tool of British imperialism. They will answer: the Bolsheviks also used one imperialism against the other and why do you criticize us for our bloc with Great Britain? A bloc depends on the relationship of forces; if I am the stronger, I can use it for my purposes; if I am the weaker, I become a tool. Only a revolutionary government could be the stronger. (Internal Bulletin, December 1937, p. 34 – My emphasis – M.S.)

To support China now, when Britain and America are at war with Japan on Chinese soil, and when this war completely and in every respect dominates the former more or less isolated war between China and Japan, is simply to give objective support to Anglo-British imperialism in the form of its “servile tool.”

Views of Trotsky and Li Fu-jen

Like Lenin in the First World War, Trotsky understood that the Second World War would absorb and dominate all other bourgeois struggles, including even such progressive bourgeois-democratic struggles as are carried on by colonial countries. That, among other reasons, is why he incessantly stressed the significance of revolutionary proletarian leadership as the indispensable prerequisite for any progressive movement, in any country and in any struggle.

“The world war which is approaching with irresistible force,” he wrote in 1938 in his introduction to Isaac’s book on China, “will review the Chinese problem together with all other problems of colonial domination.” But not with Morrow’s consent, for he will stand for no review of the Chinese problem! The answers were set down years ago and that’s all that’s necessary for him and for all future generations unto the seventh of them.

“The war in Eastern Asia,” Trotsky wrote two years later, in the manifesto of the Fourth International on the world war that had just broken out, “will become more and more interlocked with the Imperialist World War. The Chinese people will be able to reach independence only under the leadership of the youthful and self-sacrificing proletariat.” (Manifesto, Etc., p. 25.)

Further evidence is offered us by the same Chinese comrade with whom Trotsky in 1937 had the discussion quoted from above. Writing in Morrow’s magazine of February 1941, Li Fu-jen declared:

Trotsky pointed out that Chiang Kai-shek fights against Japan, not with the intention of freeing China from imperialist domination, but with a view to passing into the service of another, more magnanimous power. And there can be no doubt that when American intervention against Japan gets under way, and increases in range, Chiang Kai-shek under Washington’s pressure will tend to subordinate the present Sino-Japanese war to the completely reactionary war aims of American imperialism in the Far East. If this is to be prevented, the Chinese masses will have to intervene, for they have no interest in substituting the American taskmaster for the Japanese slave-driver. The intervention of the masses can take place only on a revolutionary basis. Their struggle will have to be directed not only against the imperialists, but also against the native exploiters and their government. (Fourth International, February 1941, p. 49)

Compare these views with Morrow’s sneering comments, saturated with the Stalinist evaluation of the colonial bourgeoisie: “During the war Shachtman will support only that colonial country in which the leadership of the proletariat has been established – of course a proletariat already under revolutionary and not reformist leadership. This revelation has nothing in common with Lenin and Trotsky’s reiterated position that revolutionists should support a colonial struggle against imperialism even if the colonial bourgeoisie leads it.”

Just what is the “reiterated position” of Lenin, which Trotsky could not but share? We cited it a dozen times over from well known texts in our reply to Wright. Morrow does not dream of commenting on them. Didn’t he notice them? Let us call his attention to them once more. It is worth while, because Lenin’s criteria are exceptionally clear, which is why Morrow has such an advanced case of rigor mortis when it comes to speaking of these criteria.

Lenin, like Marx and Engels, was a firm supporter of every nation’s right to self-determination, as he was of every genuine democratic right. Even though both are bourgeois nations, he taught, an imperialist nation stands on a different footing than does an oppressed nation or national minority. The big powers are not on the same footing with the colonial and semi-colonial countries they oppress and exploit. Any struggle conducted by a national minority, by a small, oppressed nation, or by a colonial country, to emancipate itself from the foreign oppressor’s yoke, is a progressive struggle and, provided it does not conflict with internationalist and socialist interests, it demands the support of the working class. Such struggles, and the wars engendered by them, are progressive struggles. They are just struggles. The proletariat, without giving up its independent class position, should support them, should be for national defense in the countries which are conducting these struggles or wars against imperialist domination.

That is simple and clear enough. But in addition to just wars for national emancipation, there are also imperialist wars. What is the relation between them? Lenin’s answer to this question is also clear-cut.

Wars of Small Colonial Countries

The war of a small nation or a colonial country against imperialism must be supported even though it may be converted into a general imperialist war, that is, a war dominated by the struggle for domination between imperialist powers and their allies. Lenin polemized against Rosa Luxemburg because she

... says that in the imperialist epoch every national war against one of the imperialist Great Powers leads to the intervention of another imperialist Great Power, which competes with the former, and thus every national war is converted into an imperialist war. But this argument is also wrong. This may happen, but it does not always happen. Many colonial wars in the period between 1900 and 1914 did not follow this road. And it would be simply ridiculous if we declared, for instance, that after the present war, if it ends in the complete exhaustion of the belligerents, “there can be no” national progressive, revolutionary wars “whatever,” waged, say, by China in alliance with India, Persia, Siam, etc., against the Great Powers. (Works, Vol. XIX, p. 563)

Isn’t this quotation really enough to give any objective person the clear content of Lenin’s views on the matter.

Isn’t it clear what Lenin means? A national war is possible by countries like China against imperialist powers; it should be supported by us. Will not such a war lead to an imperialist war? It may and, under certain circumstances, it may not. Of course, if it is overtaken, so to speak, by an imperialistic war, then the “national element” in the war becomes subordinated to the dominant imperialist element, and all talk of national defense in any country is nothing but service to imperialism.

If the war, said Lenin from 1914 onward, were confined to a struggle between Germany and Belgium, we would be for the defense of Belgium, even though Belgium is a bourgeois and an imperialist country, because we are for Belgian national independence from Germany’s attack. But in the general imperialist war that is actually going on, Belgian national independence is completely subordinated to the conflict between the major imperialisms, and Belgium is merely an ally of one imperialist camp.

Or again: The struggle of Servia against Austro-Hungary is a just national struggle against an oppressor. If the war was confined to a duel between these two countries, Lenin repeated a dozen times, we would be for the victory of Servia, even of the Servian bourgeoisie. But in the real situation, we are not for the defense of Servia because “the Austro-Servian war is of no great importance compared with the all-determining imperialist rivalry” (op. cit., p. 404. My emphasis – M.S.) To make doubly sure that he would not be misinterpreted, Lenin declared categorically:

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 a war is the war of 1914–1916; the plea of “defense of the fatherland” in this war is deception; it is used to justify the war. (Op. cit., p. 220. Emphasis by Lenin)

The categorical nature of the statement is all the more significant because it occurs in the course of a polemic against a comrade, Pyatakov, who denied altogether the possibility of progressive national wars in the imperialist epoch. A war in alliance with the imperialist powers is also an imperialist war. Does Morrow understand this unmistakable sentence? Or, doesn’t he want to understand it?

Why was it possible for Lenin to be so “dogmatic”? Because this keenest of all analysts of capitalist imperialism was too well aware of the relations between the powerful imperialist metropolis and the bourgeoisie of the oppressed nation, or the bourgeoisie and feudal elements of the colonial and semi-colonial countries, to come to any other conclusion. He understood what Morrow refuses to get into his head, that the colonial bourgeoisie, when allied with the imperialist ruling classes in a war, cannot pretend to an independent rôle, cannot be anything but providers of cannon-fodder for imperialism; that the one is not and cannot hope to be the equal of the other in the alliance; that one dominates and the other is dominated.

On the Stalinist Road

The Stalinists failed to understand this, and from their failure followed the betrayal of the Chinese Revolution. Against Trotsky they argued that the Chinese national bourgeoisie is struggling against imperialism. In vain Trotsky patiently replied that it was fighting one imperialist power and serving another; that the colonial bourgeoisie is incapable of conducting a struggle against imperialism but on the contrary always maintains connections with it because it requires its support in the struggle against the class it fears more than anything else, the proletariat. The Stalinists turned a deaf ear; they glorified the bourgeoisie, apologized for it, exaggerated and embroidered its every action “against imperialism” and helped bring about one disaster after another.

And Morrow? And his colleague Wright? They are not Stalinists, to be sure, but they are moving along the same theoretical road; Wright went so far as to commit to paper the statement that colonial countries differ from all others because “the oppression strikes at all classes in the colonies and semi-colonies with the exception of a tiny minority of native agents and partners of the imperialist rulers,” forgetting to give credit for this idea to its Stalinist author, the late Martynov, who had it as the basis of his policy of “the bloc of four classes” in China. The same Wright declared, right in the face of what Trotsky wrote repeatedly, to say nothing of the facts of life, that under Chiang Kai-shek, “China is freer today to play an independent rôle vis-à-vis Anglo-American imperialism than at any other time since 1937.” What does it matter if Wright, like Morrow, satisfies his emotional needs by calling Chiang a “counter-revolutionary scoundrel,” if he can write the above political statement, which differs in no essential from some of the worst to be found in Stalinist literature?

The same Wright, lest it be forgotten, condoned the reactionary alliance of Chiang with American and British imperialism by telling the Chinese masses to “shoot with anybody who shoots in the same direction,” at a time when a revolutionist should be pounding out of the heads of the Chinese people the sinister illusions they are being filled with about the imperialist alliance.

Is Morrow any different? Does he separate himself from Wright’s mockery of Marxism? Of course not. “We must stick together.” He improves on Wright. The Chinese bourgeoisie was denounced by Trotsky years ago as the servile tool of British imperialism. In paragraph after paragraph, Morrow paints it up. When he quotes our statement that the colonial bourgeoisie is “serving one imperialist camp against the other,” he accompanies it with a skeptical sneer worthy of a “political writer” in the New Republic. He repeatedly attacks us for stating that the Chinese bourgeoisie has capitulated completely to Anglo-American imperialism (he demands “proof” of this – demands it in a Trotskyist paper!), denies this violently and declares that the contrary is true – the imperialists “fear” the Chinese bourgeoisie! No doubt of it, no doubt of it. He gives us a long and erudite picture of China in the last war, shows how conditions have changed in that country in the past quarter of a century, and leaves the impression that somehow – just how is not stated – there is some qualitative, or principled, difference that must be introduced into the Marxist attitude toward colonial struggles and imperialist wars (similarly Wright sought to establish a principled difference between national and colonial struggles, and with just as much warrant). And his attitude toward the colonial bourgeoisie, specifically in India, is a monstrous disgrace even to a journal that calls itself Marxist, as we shall show later on.

All of this comes from what? From the point of view, obviously shared by Wright and Morrow, that the colonial bourgeoisie can play an independent rôle in the struggle against imperialism, and therefore can play an independent role in the midst of an imperialist war ia which it is a subordinate ally. Lenin and Trotsky differed from this viewpoint in only one way: they believed exactly the opposite. “The dialectics of history is such,” wrote Lenin during the war, “that small nations, powerless as an independent factor in the struggle against imperialism, play a part as one of the ferments, one of the bacilli, which help the real power against imperialism to come on the scene, namely the socialist proletariat.” (Works, Vol. XIX, p. 303)

Do We Always Support Every Just War?

China’s war for national independence is undoubtedly a just war, unlike wars between imperialist bandit-powers. That is why we, for our part, supported it in the past. But if it is just, why not support it now, too? This is essentially the question put by the Cannonite masters-of-the-dialectic-beyond-time-space-and-circumstance. Because we do not always support every just war. That is one of the lessons in Marxism that we learned long ago from Lenin.

Lenin, we have pointed out, considered Servia’s war against Austro-Hungary a just war, meriting the support of the proletariat. Had the conflict between the two countries remained isolated, he said, we would support Servia. But the conflict did not remain isolated; it spread until it became a general imperialist world war. Even the Servian socialists understood that their country’s struggle was subordinate to – not independent of – the imperialist war as a whole and, to their honor, they refused to vote war credits in the Skuptschini or to support the war.

But there is a more illuminating example: Poland. The veriest tyro in Marxism knows the support given the struggle for Polish independence by every revolutionary socialist as far back as Marx and Engels. Without having any illusions at all about the revolutionary qualities of the Polish bourgeoisie, petty bourgeoisie and social-democrats, Lenin was all his life for the freedom of Poland from czarist domination. He felt so strongly on the question that some of his sharpest polemics were directed at Rosa Luxemburg – to whom he was otherwise politically very close – who rejected the struggle for Polish national independence.

In the period of the Russo-Japanese war, the weakening of the iron hoops of czarist rule encouraged the Polish nationalists, the semi socialist variety included, to believe that the time to strike the emancipating blow was nigh. One of them – if I am not mistaken, it was the late Pilsudski himself – event went to Japan in order to get financial and other material aid for the promotion of the Polish national struggle. This fact was fairly common knowledge, certainly in the socialist circles of Poland and Russia. Did it cause Lenin to abandon the slogan of Polish independence? No, there is no record of any such thing having happened. For Pilsudski to have asked and obtained material aid from one imperialist power to struggle against another was a case of “utilizing imperialist antagonisms” which did not invalidate the worthiness of the Polish struggle.

The Experience of Poland

In the period of the World War, however, things were different, at least from Lenin’s point of view. Again, Pilsudski “utilized imperialist antagonisms.” With Austrian and then German permission and assistance, he established the Polish Legion. Right after the outbreak of the war he promulgated in Cracow the “Polish People’s Government of Warsaw.” His troops were separately organized, formally speaking, but the “Polish high command” was of course connected with and subordinated to the Austrian high command and, at times, to the German. The troops and commands fought side by side against the armed forces of the czar. Was Pilsudski “merely” a tool? the then Morrows probably asked. Of course not; not any more than Chiang is “merely” a tool of imperialism. Like the Chinese bourgeoisie, the Pilsudskyites had more than one conflict with the arrogantly stupid Prussian command and the simply stupid Austrian command. The latter looked down upon their inferior Polish “sow-ally” with the same arrogance and disdain that the British command so often reveals in its dealings with its inferior Chinese ally. And sometimes this would have the same ravaging results that the British commander’s failure to use all the Chinese troops available in the Burma campaign had last April. But this did not change the fact: Pilsudski and “Poland’s struggle” were an integral and subordinate part of the Imperialist World War, just as China is right now under the Chinese bourgeoisie.

Lenin therefore rejected the Polish national struggle “at the present time,” as he put it. He even went so far as to state that the Polish revolutionary socialists should not even advance “in the present epoch, or present period, the slogan of independence of Poland.” Imagine the apoplectic convulsions into which this must have thrown the Wrights and Morrows of that time!

To advance the slogan of Polish Independence at the present time [wrote Lenin in 1916], bearing in mind the relationships at present existing between the neighboring imperialist nations, really means chasing after a utopia, sinking into narrow-minded nationalism, forgetting the prerequisites for a general European, or at least a Russian and German revolution ...

The Polish Social Democrats 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” [social-chauvinists], sinking into mean servility to one of the imperialist monarchies. (Works, Vol. XIX, pp. 296f.)

Did this mean that Poland’s aspirations for independence were no longer just? No, for as Lenin continued:

To the Russian and German workers, however, it is not a matter of indifference whether they participate in the annexation of Poland (which would mean educating the German and Russian workers and peasants in the spirit of most despicable servility, of reconciliation with the rôle of hangman of other peoples), or whether Poland is independent ...

The Russian and the German Social-Democrats must demand unconditional “freedom of secession” for Poland ... (Ibid., p. 397)

As we showed in our reply to Wright, the Leninist viewpoint was applied with equal force over national struggles in Europe and the national struggles of the colonies in the East. We noted the significant comments made during the last war by Lenin’s closest collaborator, Zinoviev, on the Persian uprising against Anglo-Russian domination in 1916. Was the struggle of the Persians, of the revolutionary committees formed in various parts of the country and finally suppressed by czarist troops, a just struggle? Of course, replies Zinoviev. “What attitude should be taken toward such a state of things in Persia?” he asks. Zinoviev knows the leanings of the insurrectionary Persians toward an alliance with Germany for the purpose of ridding themselves of Anglo-Persian domination, and he therefore points out:

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 have 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 1914–16. (Lenin and Zinoviev, Gegen den Strom, The Second International and the War Problem, by G. Zinoviev, pp. 499f. My emphasis. – M.S.)

The Marxian position toward a bourgeois-democratic national struggle which becomes a subordinate part of an imperialist camp in war, is stated with exceptional clarity and absence of the slightest ambiguity. How does Morrow refute the passages from Lenin and Zinoviev to which we so pointedly called attention, and which we repeat here? By a time-worn but not time-honored device: Brazenly ignore what your critic writes, coolly pretend he hasn’t written it, and pray to God that your reader will never learn the facts.

The just war for national liberation must be supported by the revolutionary proletariat even if the bourgeoisie stands at the head of the war. The just war cannot be supported by us if it is sucked into the black stream of a general imperialist war, if the warring country in question becomes an ally (and therefore, given the inherent relationships between the imperialist great power and the small nation or colony, a subordinate ally) of one of the big imperialist camps. To support it under such conditions means “sinking into mean servility to one of the imperialist monarchies,” said Lenin; or, as we must say it now, “imperialist camps.” The struggle for national freedom is then tied up inseparably with the struggle against the imperialist war and for the proletarian revolution. Which is another way of stating what we wrote in The New International, the words that aroused so much philistine mockery from Morrow, namely, “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.”

Not so fast! Wait! Is China today the same as China in the last war? The analogy, splutters Morrow, is “preposterous, false.”

“Shachtman perverts Trotsky’s conception to mean that the Second World War is a continuation of the first on the part of all the countries participating in it ... There is no analogy between China’s rôle in the two wars, as we shall easily establish by facts.”

Pretentious Erudition in Place of Marxism

Thereupon Morrow proceeds for a full page, one-fourth of his article, to demonstrate that there is no analogy, no sir, none whatsoever. And it is a typical piece of Morrow-journalism if ever you saw one. Everything is there, including the kitchen sink, everything, that is, except what is essential. How erudite it is! How impressive! How filled with facts and figures, and Chinese names, to boot! Yuan Shih-kai is paraded before us, so is Sun Yat-sen, and the Manchu dynasty and the Chinese delegation at the Versailles Conference, and what Powers had spheres of influence in what provinces, and lots more of the same. And right down to, and over, and past the hilt he proves that not less than twenty-five years have elapsed since 1917, and even more than that since 1911. What else he proves remains an Eleusinian mystery which was not given to us plain people to fathom. We do know, however, that he set out to prove that any attempt to draw an analogy between China in the last war and China in this war is “preposterous” and even “false.”

Good, good! We are convinced. Now the only one you have to convince is Trotsky. For the idea of the analogy, even of China in the last war, originates with him. It is true that Trotsky did not mention Yuan Shih-kai, but he made up for it with a fundamental Marxian analysis. Here is what he wrote against the Stalinists who were trying to glorify the Chinese bourgeoisie by spurious “fundamental” and “historical” distinctions, which were no less spurious, however, than the fundamental distinction that Morrow draws between China in 1914 and China in 1942 for the purpose of justifying his opportunist position.

The “February” revolution in China took place in 1911. That revolution was a great and progressive event, although it was accomplished with the direct participation of the imperialists. Sun Yat-sen, in his memoirs, relates how his organization relied in all its work on the “support” of the imperialist states – either Japan, France or America. If Kerensky in 1917 continued to take part in the imperialist war, then the Chinese bourgeoisie, the one that is so “national,” so “revolutionary,” etc., supported “Wilson’s intervention in the war with the hope that the Entente would help to emancipate China. In 1918 Sun Yat-sen addressed to the governments of the Entente his plans for the economic development and political emancipation of China. There is no foundation whatever for the assertion that the Chinese bourgeoisie, in its struggle against the Manchu dynasty, displayed any higher revolutionary qualities than the Russian bourgeoisie in the struggle against czarism; or that there is a principled difference between Chiang Kai-shek’s and Kerensky’s attitude toward imperialism.

But, says the ECCI, Chiang Kai-shek nevertheless did wage war against imperialism. To present the situation in this manner is to put too crude a face upon reality. Chiang Kai-shek waged war against certain Chinese militarists, the agents of one of the imperialist powers. This is not at all the same as to wage a war against imperialism. (Trotsky, The Third International After Lenin, p. 173)

As we see, Trotsky is “preposterous” enough to make an analogy not only between China today and China in the First World War, but between the Chinese colonial bourgeoisie and the Russian democratic-imperialist bourgeoisie (i.e., between Chiang and Kerensky). We drew an analogy, nothing more than an humble, unpretentious little analogy, between China in the last war and China in the present war. Trotsky draws an analogy between China in the last war and democratic Russia in the same war. He states emphatically that there is no difference in principle between Chiang and Kerensky in their attitude toward imperialism, and therefore toward imperialist war. Then why, in heaven’s name, should there be a difference in principle in the Marxist’s attitude toward the Chinese bourgeoisie when it joins completely in the war of Kerenskyite (and worse than Kerenskyite) imperialism, and in alliance with it? Does everything that Lenin and Trotsky insistently taught on this subject have to be thrown out of the window just because Wright is a self-starting muddlehead and Morrow an obedient but deplorably ignorant journalist?

* * *

The second half of this article, which will deal with aspects of the uprising in India which are not developed in the excellent article Henry Judd has in the current issue, as well as with the national question in Europe, must be left for next month for want of further space here.

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Last updated on 12 January 2015