A Comment on the ‘Cannonite’ Position

What Are the Russian Workers
Fighting for?

(September 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 39, 28 September 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Now we really know why the Russian workers are fighting in the war. It is all explained to us in a few succinct sentences and nobody can pretend ignorance after reading them. The man who throws all the necessary light on the subject is named George Collins, and this is what he writes:

“But the workers and Red soldiers of the Soviet Union fight with a ‘bitterness unmatched in this war’ because they are defending the socialist achievements of a workers’ revolution. Factories, mines, mills, railroads, workshops belong to those who work them. The soil belongs to those who till it. A man who will not defend such treasures is either a coward or a traitor; a man who fights to the death for them is more than a hero – he is a socialist worker.”

Where do you think this gem appeared? In the Daily Worker? In the New Masses? In the Moscow Pravda? In some other Stalinist Sheet?

It appeared in the Cannonite weekly paper, The Militant, for September 12, prominently displayed right on the front page.

Who Owns the Factories?

That it could have appeared in the Stalinist press does not permit of the slightest doubt. In fact, you can read the same bureaucratic deception in almost any issue of a Communist Party periodical. The question is: What wag such a statement doing in a paper that calls itself Trotskyist? Because if this statement of Collins has anything in common with what Leon Trotsky tried for years to teach the vanguard of the working class movement, we do not know what it is.

Let us see just what Trotsky did gay about who owns the “factories, mines, mills, railroads and workshops” in Russia today – not everything he said, for that would take too much space, but some of the essential things. All our quotations are from Trotsky’s latest, and best, study of the Soviet Union, The Revolution Betrayed, and the page references are given in parentheses:

“The new constitution – wholly founded, as we shall see, upon an identification of the bureaucracy with the state and the state with the people says: ‘... the state property – that is, the possessions of the whole people.’ This identification is the fundamental sophism of the official doctrine.” (236)

This quotation should suffice – Collins is trying to inculcate into his readers Sot just one of the sophisms of the Stalinist bureaucracy but, as Trotsky so rightly says, its fundamental sophism. But there is mere.

“State property becomes the property of the whole people only to the degree that social privilege and differentiation disappear, and therewith the necessity of the state. In other words: state property is converted into socialist property in proportion as it ceases to be state property. And the contrary is true: the higher the Soviet state rises above the people and the more fiercely it opposes itself the more fiercely it imposes itself as the guardian of property to the people as its squanderer, the more obviously does it testify against the socialist character of this state property.” (237)

We must correct Trotsky: It SHOULD be “more obvious” to everyone, particularly to one who calls himself a follower of Trotsky. But to Collins, it is not obvious at all. He thinks the state property, which is actually entirely in the hands of a counter-revolutionary oppressor, belongs ... to the workers and peasants.


“From the point of view of property in the means of production, the differences between a marshal and a servant girl, the head of a trust and a day laborer, the son of a people’s commissar and a homeless child, seems not to exist at all. Nevertheless the former enjoy lordly apartments, enjoy several summer homes in various parts of the country, have the best automobiles at their disposal and have long ago forgotten how to shine their own shoes. The latter live in wooden barracks often without partitions, lead a half-hungry existence and do not shine their own shoes only because they go barefoot. To the bureaucrat this difference does not seem worthy of attention. To the day laborer however it seems, not without reason, very essential.” (238–9)

From whose point of view does Collins repeat the reactionary falsehood that the property in Russia belongs to the workers and peasants? If what has already been quoted from Trotsky is enough for an answer, the reader can, profitably read a dozen other passages from the chapter entitled Social Relations in the Soviet Union, where Trotsky is at his most effective in smashing Stalinist myths. Better yet, the whole book should be read.

Not a Workers’ State

Now, lest it be thought that we are too harsh with Brother Collins, we want to add that there is something fundamentally sound abouf his remarks – something. Collins and his friends are “for defense of the Soviet Union” in the present war. Why? Because, like Trotsky, they consider the Soviet Union a workers’ state. Simple, honest Collins thinks Russia is a workers’ state because, as he writes, “the factories, mines, mills, railroads, workshops belong to those who work them.” And he is absolutely right in this sense: IF the means of production belonged to the workers, Russia WOULD BE a workers’ state – and not otherwise. Collins is absolutely right in assuming that and in following it with his dramatic conclusions.

Collins is, however, absolutely WRONG in assuming that in present-day Stalinist Russia the workers do own the means of production and exchange. Even though Trotsky concluded that Russia was a “degenerated” or “counter-revolutionary” workers’ state, he knew perfectly well that the workers DO NOT own the means of production. They are STATE property; but the state is completely in the hands of the bureaucracy, which enjoys absolute totalitarian rule in Russia, and is the only beneficiary of the state property.

That is why we consider Stalinist Russia to be a bureaucratic collectivist state, and in no wise a workers’ state.

In a lucid moment, one of the Cannonites, John G. Wright, writing in their magazine a year and a half ago, put the whole thing fairly well:

“... the mass of the Russian Workers are being held by force in the factories. They have already served six mouths of their life-term imprisonment ... the wasteful, arrogant, ruthless vampire-bureaucracy unveils itself before the masses as their oppressor-jailer. The most advanced capitalist countries have as yet to devise a jail from which men have not planned escape and – succeeded.” (Fourth International, January 1941, p. 20)

That’s not a workers’ state. It’s a workers’ prison! Collins wants us to believe that the prison “belongs” to; those who are incarcerated in it, that it is a “treasure” (no less!) and should be defended. Everyone to his taste.

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