Max Shachtman


Notes on Russia in the War

The ‘Enigma’ of Stalinist Policy

(October 1943)

From The New International, Vol. IX No. 9, October 1943, pp. 267–273.
An abridged version copied with thanks from the Workers’ Liberty book The Fate of the Russian Revolution: Lost Texts of Critical Marxism, vol. 1.
Additional transcription by Einde O’Callaghan – [indicated by square brackets].
Marked up by A. Forse & Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

As the war goes from one stage to another, the role of Russia seems to become more enigmatic. Neither the friendly press nor the unfriendly shows a clear understanding of Stalinist policy. More than one political writer freely admits his perplexity over the matter in its fundamental aspect.

“It all comes down to an issue of whether Stalin is out to make the strongest Russia he can make on national lines or whether Moscow still nurses dreams of international communism.” This is the way the plainly baffled foreign editor of the New York Times states the problem, without being able, for all his wisdom and authoritative connections, to supply the answer. The formation of a London counterpart of the Moscow “Free German National Committee,” with identical objectives, leads a London correspondent to the gloomy but not very enlightening comment, “What those objectives are is anybody’s guess.” Raymond Clapper acknowledges that “We do not know what Mr. Stalin wants to do about Germany.” Mrs. Anne O’Hare McCormick writes that “Washington is puzzled” by the publication of the Moscow Committee’s manifesto, and “nobody in our government pretends to know” what it means. Even such an old hand at European politics as Friedrich Stampfer, the former editor of the social-democratic Berlin Vorwärts, finds that “Russia’s real intentions toward Germany are still very obscure.” These are only sample comments; they all read alike.

Whatever else is not known or understood, this much is: there is a breach between Russia and her Anglo-American allies, and as the war progresses the breach widens in spite of the daily prognostications of an impending common understanding.

Stalin’s Conflicts with His Allies

First and foremost there is the question of the “second front.” Especially since the defeat of the Germans at Stalingrad, which marked the turning point for the war in Russia, Moscow has persistently and with increasing bluntness demanded that the United States and England open up a large-scale land front in Western Europe. No explanation for the delay in opening this front, good or poor, valid or invalid, has met with the slightest sympathy from the Kremlin. Rather, it has set in motion an active pressure movement of all its supporters in the Allied countries to back its demand.

Secondly, there is the question of the territories “acquired” by Russia between the birth and death of the Hitler-Stalin pact. The Kremlin not only demands that its Western allies acknowledge its sovereignty over these territories, but makes it as plain as words can do that it is in no way disposed to negotiate or even discuss the matter on any grounds but its own.

Thirdly, there is the question of the post-war organization of Europe. The differences here boil down to this: Russia wants a continent cut into as many more or less weak parts as possible, all friendly to her, none under exclusive British or American domination, and as many of them as possible under her domination. The United States, to the extent that its policy has been worked out – and it is not definitive, given the unsettled political disputes of the ruling class, its uncertainty about the future action of the European masses, and uncertainty about British policy, on the one side, and Russian on the other – wants the destruction of Germany as a potential economic and military rival, the establishment of “order” all over Europe, and the financial-economic, if not the physical, domination of the continent by itself, with England as junior partner. England’s policy is identical save in one most important respect: she proposes to substitute herself as master of Europe in place of the American claimant, and hopes to achieve this aim by balancing off one power or group of powers on the continent against another, including the balancing off of Russia and the U.S.A.

Flowing from these differences or connected with them is a series of others which make up Russia’s complaints and grievances.

The Polish and Yugoslav governments in exile are execrated by the Kremlin but supported by Washington and London. Russia is at war with Finland but her allies are not. Franco’s “Blue Division” is at war with Russia, but Washington and London maintain friendly relations with Madrid. Washington, in particular, has flirted openly with all sorts of European reactionary, clerical and semi-fascist elements – like Otto Habsburg, Tibor Eckhardt of Hungary, and others – who represent anti-Russian encirclement to the Kremlin and are decidedly unacceptable to it. Toward de Gaulle, on the other hand, Moscow has displayed a warmth that contrasts with her allies’ coolness and even hostility. There are other points of friction and conflict, but these will suffice.

During the period when the war was going badly for Russia, the complaints of the Kremlin were subdued or retired to the obscure background, and the differences presented in the most moderated form, if at all. Only the call for a second front was heard, and far more as an anguished appeal than as a truculent demand.

Now, however, the accent and tone are different. The moment of greatest peril from the Reichswehr seems to have passed for Russia. She has displayed recuperative powers that no one foresaw or expected. Hitler suffered a terrible defeat at Stalingrad and has certainly had nothing to boast about in Russia since. The Russian armies keep pressing him backward on one front after another, regardless of cost.

Russia’s “moral” position, so to speak, or more accurately, her military and political position, is stronger by far than it ever was. “Backward” Russia, after losing millions of her population, tens of thousands of square miles of her territory and no one knows how many millions of her soldiers, is not only continuing her fight upon the longest front in the war, but is engaging the great bulk of the Axis military forces, something around two hundred divisions, and carrying the fight to them at a mounting pitch of intensity. In contrast, her “advanced” Anglo-American allies make the most sensational parade of the fact that they have managed, after weeks or even months of fighting, to throw back the three or four Axis divisions they engaged in Africa, the four or five in Sicily, or the five or six in Italy. The world-wide total casualties of the United States since it entered the war hardly compare with what Russia loses in a few weeks.

These comparisons are not unnoticed in Russia. Now that her position is so greatly improved, and her dependence upon her allies not so acute, the appeal for a second front is present as a brusk demand, not just a front anywhere, but precisely at the point nominated by the Kremlin. Looming behind the demand is the implied threat: If you do not open such a front, be warned and watch out!

Watch Out for What?

Watch out for what? That is precisely what Stalin does not tell his allies in the great war for freedom and democracy. Or rather, what he does tell them, directly or indirectly, is so ambiguous, or so incomplete, or so seemingly contradictory, as to drive them frantic with conjecture and bafflement. No calm, and certainly no clarity, prevails nowadays when Russian aims and policy are discussed in the chancelleries of Washington, London, the various governments in exile and, for that matter, of the Axis countries. It is alarm that prevails, and it is heightened by every Russian advance. Among the various dissociated liberals, the alarm has reached the point of hysteria characteristic of this gender in every crisis.

If only the three great statesmen (sometimes the fourth great statesman, Chiang Kai-shek, is included) would sit down in a room and talk over their differences “frankly and sincerely,” the whole problem (and they are now quite sure there IS a problem, whatever it may be) could be solved, or pretty nearly. At least, such a meeting of minds might reveal just what the devil the problem it.

But it is just such a meeting with Stalin that Roosevelt and Churchill have sought to arrange, up to now without spectacular success. Churchill’s first meeting with Stalin in Moscow was a notorious fiasco. Since then, Stalin has been not too politely deaf to the urgent invitations sent him; he has as much as said:

People who are only fighting three or four German divisions and a handful of Japanese regiments at the periphery of the world may have plenty of time for conferences. We, however, are not in such a fortunate position. Open the western front, take a few dozen Axis division off our backs, and we will have more time for talking. As for discussing the fate of the Baltic countries, for that we have no time at all, now or later.

It is therefore quite certain that the forthcoming meeting of the second-rank minds (not the great statesmen themselves, but only their foreign secretaries) will produce nothing worth serious mention so far as solving the fundamental question of Anglo-American-Russian relations is concerned. They may some clay get near to a patched-up solution, but much time must yet elapse, many events take place, and many, many more meetings be held before that it accomplished.

Meanwhile, what is to be watched out for? There is the enigma! Let us try to make it less enigmatic.]

Russia’s Rulers and Their Aims

The ruling class in Russia is the Stalinist bureaucracy. It is composed of the leaders of all economic and political (including military) life in the country. They are organized, led and controlled by the political machine of the bureaucracy, the so-called Communist Party. This bureaucracy came to power in one of the bloodiest counter-revolutions in history. To achieve its unchecked totalitarian mastery of the country, it not only wiped out all the great achievements of the socialist revolution of 1917 but physically exterminated a whole generation of revolutionists with a thoroughness and cold-blooded cynicism unmatched by any reactionary power in the world, and reduced both worker and peasant to a new kind of state-serf.

This bureaucracy came to power under exceptionally favorable circumstances. Its domain was one-sixth of the world’s surface, endowed with tremendous, barely-exploited resources and a population greater than that of any modern power. It was able to traduce the sympathy of toilers throughout the world by adopting as a guise some of the outward trappings of the great working class revolution of the Bolsheviks which it was itself destroying. Its consolidation was favored by the fact that the surrounding capitalist world was gripped for years by the most paralyzing economic crisis in history, and by the fact that there was relative peace in the world.

The causes and circumstances of the rise of this new class have been detailed by us elsewhere. Here it is enough to point out that the Stalinist bureaucracy came to power not only by overturning the power of the proletariat and reducing that class to its subject, but also by just as ruthlessly crushing the elements of capitalism in Russia and the classes representing it. Under Stalin, forced labor went hand in hand with the “extermination of the kulak as a class” and the wiping out of the NEP and the Nepmen. This point is of special importance in understanding Stalinist policy in and after the war. The collectivist bureaucracy does not tolerate sharing power with capitalism (to say nothing of the working class!) wherever it has the strength to take power exclusively for itself.

What is the economic basis of the Russian bureaucracy’s power? The state-owned, state-centralized, state-managed, state-exploited property which belongs to it collectively and to it alone. From it, it derives its strength, its power, its privilege, its rule. Unless faced with a superior force (and none has yet presented itself), it will not divide this power with any other class, be it capitalist or proletarian.

To defend its rule and privilege, it must defend the economic basis upon which it rests, and repel all social forces that covet it. Throughout her history, Russia has been defeated by one power after another because she was weak – the master of platitudes and the bureaucracy once said in a speech – and that is why we must become strong. “To become strong” meant, for the bureaucracy as well as for any other modern class, to industrialize the country, to modernize it, to “catch up with and outstrip” the advanced countries. The bureaucracy proceeded to do just that and, as the war has shown, on a titanic scale and with unexpected success. A socialist success? In no way! For the successes of Russian economy were accomplished at the drastic expense of the social position of the working class and to the benefit of its exploiters and rulers. At the same time, however, the successes were accomplished without benefit to the capitalistic elements or classes in Russia, but rather to their detriment; more simply, to the point of their destruction. The bureaucracy will not share its power with any other class.

The Stalinist bureaucracy, at least as well educated politically as the other ruling classes of the world, understood all along that war is inevitable in the modern, capitalist world. In order to strengthen itself, it required time, and if possible, a time of peace. Its foreign policy was therefore directed to postponing the outbreak of the war as long as possible, but also to making such alliances with sections of the capitalist world, or maintaining such divisions and antagonisms within that world, as would reduce the magnitude of a possible attack upon Russia or, inasmuch as war must come sooner or later, to have it occur as an inter-capitalist conflict. Hence, Stalin’s famous “pacifism,” the Litvinoviad, the “collective security” policy, coupled with less publicized attempts to ally Russia with one bloc of capitalist nations against another.

That kind of “pacifism,” however, is related to war as reactionary nationalism is related to expansion and conquest – it precedes it and prepares for it. The inevitable Second World War, as the rulers of the world, Stalin included, knew and know, would have for its aim the redivision of the world in favor of the victors. More clearly than any of the other powers, perhaps, the Stalinist bureaucracy understood that the war meant redrawing the map of Europe, of Asia and all the other continents. Hitler was a pacifist for years – in preparation for the war, a nationalist for years – in preparation for conquest. Similarly (though not identically) with American imperialism. Likewise, Russia.

The Basis of Russian Expansion

Russia? Russia expand? Is that possible? What about Stalin’s theory of “socialism in one country”? And his protestations that he does not covet an inch of foreign soil, any more than he will yield an inch of his own? He did yield; and he did covet. Now he intends to yield nothing, and to acquire as much of what he covets as possible.

To think of the Stalinist bureaucracy as guided strictly by some abstract formula (“socialism in one country”), is itself the sheerest abstractionism. It does not sit down before a meticulously drawn map of the Soviet Union and say: “We go as far as these frontiers and not an inch farther. Within them we shall always sit tight because our theory of socialism in one country will not let us go beyond them.”

The Russian bureaucracy is inhibited by nothing but superior force – not by theoretical considerations or any other abstractions. And it is a ruling class whose rapacity has few equals in the world. In none of the democratic capitalist countries, at least, is labor so intensely exploited as in Russia. In none of them are the rights of the masses so shamelessly ignored. In none of them is the disparity between the social position of the aristocracy and that of the masses so great. But it is not mere desire, “free will,” that impels the bureaucracy to expand wherever its strength makes expansion possible. There is a stronger, more compelling force.

No country in the world today, whatever its social character, can stand still and remain independent, at any rate, not for long. The present world tends more and more to be divided into a few of the advanced and powerful economic countries who enjoy independence, and the others that stagnate or retrogress economically and inevitably fall into economic and then political dependency upon the few. For a country (and the ruling class in it) to survive as an independent entity, in our time especially, requires an extension of its economic (and therefore its political) power. That holds for the capitalist countries. That holds for Stalinist Russia, which is not capitalist. (That would hold for a working class republic, even if in a different sense.)

The idea that Russia can expand its economic power indefinitely within the frontiers of what was the Soviet Union on August 22, 1939, and in disregard of the expansion of the big countries outside those frontiers, is a first-class illusion which is not, however, shared by the Stalinist bureaucracy. It understands the world situation; it realizes the problem; it knows better, even if some of its apologists do not.

Living amidst a hundred countries of more or less equal strength which would themselves be living a static existence within their own respective frontiers, Stalinist Russia would, or at least might, also continue a static existence within its former frontiers; that is, it would continue to “reproduce” itself or to expand only “internally.” But this is of course a fantasy of fantasies. In actuality, Russia, like all other countries, lives in a world partitioned by a declining number of great powers, each of which can survive only at the expense of the others. That is what “expand or die” means for the old capitalist powers like Germany, the United States, England and Japan. Russia must keep pace with their expansion. In a physically limited world, this also means: resist, or confine, their expansion. Otherwise, Russia would eventually be overwhelmed by one or another of the powers that had succeeded in becoming the single, or one of two, super-giants in the world.

In other words, for all the social (not socialist!) differences that mark her off from the capitalist world, Russia is nevertheless confronted with the same problem and driven by the same impulsion as every other country in the world. The important difference between country and country (other considerations – like geographical position, for example – being equal) lies in comparative physical strength, backed, of course, by economic strength. Norway cannot dream of aspiring to the ambitions of Yugoslavia, or Italy to those of France, or France to those of Russia, or Russia to those of the United States.

Russia’s “Defensive” Expansion

It may be, and has been, said: Is it not a fact, however, that Russia’s occupation of border countries is merely a defensive measure, aimed at acquiring strategical outposts that would discourage or blunt attacks from aggressor nations? And is it not a fact that these border countries were not really sovereign in the first place, or that, in any case, their occupation for defensive purposes by Russia saved their tenuous sovereignty from being overturned by aggressor nations? Is it better for Lithuania to be under Hitler’s domination, or Stalin’s? Does Bessarabia really belong to Russia, not to Rumania?

Implicit in these questions are the arguments made by really innocent people, but above all by the Stalinists, by their apologists, by the liberals who trail them and, alas, by some “Trotskyists.” But the arguments are replete with confusion, chauvinism, cynicism and downright mendacity.

IF it could be shown that the seizure of these countries brought freedom to the peoples of the occupied territories, and thereby advanced the cause of freedom in other subject or semi-subject countries, it would be the right and duty of every real socialist, and even of every consistent democrat, to defend the action. But nobody in the world can show that.

Let us take the case of Poland. The incorporation of its eastern section into Russia reduced the inhabitants to slaves of the bureaucracy, or, as Trotsky put it with an incomprehensible modification, to “semi-slaves” of Stalin. What is more, it was accomplished as a by-product, or a joint product, of the reduction of Western Poland to “full-fledged slaves” of Hitler. The same holds true for the other seizures. The same will hold true for the other “defensive” conquests made by Russia in collaboration with its present imperialist allies.

Given the above consideration, the second argument stands out in its hoary reactionary nakedness. The United States occupied the Philippines to “protect” them from Spain and continued to occupy them to “protect” them from Japan. Japan now occupies them to “protect” them from the United States. Similarly, England protects India from other aggressors and, just incidentally, exploits and oppresses the Indians. Germany’s “protectorate” over Czechoslovakia and the rest of Europe is equally notorious and instructive. In every such case, the imperialist apologists will say, informally, to be sure, “Granted, we are not ideal overlords. But the others who would take over if we withdrew are so much worse!” The more blatant imperialists say, “This is our mission.” The language is classic. But we still believe that the Philippines belong to the Filipinos, who must have the right to rule themselves, and Bessarabia belongs to the Bessarabians, and not to a “Russia” which actually means a counter-revolutionary bureaucracy.

It is sometimes lamely argued by the more radical apologists: “But under Lenin, too, Russia crossed borders, conquered territories – in the Far East, in Tannu Tuva, in Georgia, in Poland. Where is your internationalism?” The similarity is only superficial. Under Lenin, the conquests of the Red Army brought freedom, or at least the beginnings of freedom, and extended the realm of socialism. Under the Stalinist bureaucracy, the conquests of the Russian army bring the end of all freedom for the working class. The difference, as Lenin used to say curtly, is enough for us.

The third argument is also classic and no less mendacious. Washington on the Potomac has to be defended by occupying the Gulf of Panama under the first Roosevelt, and by occupying Iceland under the second. To defend London on the Thames, England established a world empire, each part of which was occupied to defend the part preceding it in the series. To defend Berlin, Hitler first took the Rhine, then the Danube, then Danzig and found that he required for the defense of all of them – Cairo on the Nile. If the defense of Leningrad on the Neva and Odessa on the Black Sea requires the seizure of Kaunas on the Niemen and Ia¸si on the Pruth, why does not the defense of Kaunas require the occupation at least of Königsberg, if not of Warsaw on the Vistula, and so on and on and on?

If, as Stalin said in his 1942 May First order of the day, “We want to free our brother Ukrainians, Moldavians, White Russians, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians and Karelians from the insults to which they have been subjected by the German fascist beasts” – why not “free” in the same way the other peoples who have been subject to insults no less gross? What is the criterion? The 1939 frontiers of the Soviet Union? But that would exempt at least the Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians from the blessed freedom. The frontiers of old Czarist Russia? But that would mean a “gay, prosperous and happy” life not only for the Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians, but also for the Poles and Manchurians, and a virtual protectorate over Serbia and Bulgaria. “Blood brotherhood?” But the “racial” criterion would bring under Stalinist “freedom” half the populations of Europe and Asia. Are the Poles and Slovenes less racially akin to the Great Russians than the Lithuanians; the Hungarians and Finns less than the Karelians; the Chinese and Tibetans less than the Kirghiz and Buriats; the Turks and Iranians and Afghans less than the Turkmen, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Tadjiks and Beluchistanians? (To mention the Volga Germans would be indelicate.)

The incorporation of any or all such countries and peoples into the USSR would be fitting, desirable and greatly contributive to progress and freedom, IF it was a free Union, IF it was Soviet, IF it was Socialist, IF it was a Republic. But it is none of these. It is as much a republic as Germany; it is the land where socialists are most fiercely hounded in the world; the soviets have been abolished in it; and the “Union” is an empire of the Great-Russian bureaucrats who have deprived the people of the peripheral “republics” of their most elementary rights, including autonomy and self-rule.

That the Russian ruling class wants the “border” countries for defense, is true, but not in the sense of its apologists. It aims to conquer and keep them for the defense and extension of the bases of its power, its privilege, its rule. It seeks their natural resources, their industrial plants and their populations – control, exploitation and militarization of which would enhance its wealth, its powers, its resistivity to attack, and the weight of its voice in world affairs. This should not be so hard to understand after the events of recent years.

Naturally, there are limitations to the imperialist ambitions of the Stalinist bureaucracy. But these are not limitations set by some fundamental principle, or an abstract theory or formula. They are determined concretely, at every given stage, by the relationship of forces. Specifically: by the relationship of forces between Russia and both its capitalist allies and opponents, on the one hand, and by the relationship of forces between Russia and the working class and revolutionary socialist movements, on the other.

The Duality of Foreign Policy

This dual relationship expresses itself in an apparent duality of foreign policy. It is this duality that creates the dilemma in the mind of the bourgeois politicians and analysts as to just what Russian aims are. The famous enigma is revealed when the duality is analyzed, separated into its parts. In doing so, we get a clearer idea of the radical difference between the policy of Stalinist imperialism and the policy of capitalist imperialism.

First part: Where the Stalinist bureaucracy does not dominate the working class and the labor movement, be it by persuasion or by violence; and where an attempt to overturn capitalism (we are assuming conditions when such an attempt is possible) would promptly bring reprisals against Russia by strong capitalist powers in a position to execute them; and especially where geographical remoteness makes the physical control of the country by Moscow extremely difficult – in such countries the Russia bureaucracy works to prop up capitalist rule, and to maintain a capitalist government. It prefers a democratic government, so that its agents, above all the Communist Party, may be free to work and exert pressure in its behalf, and a “strong” democratic government which will hold in check or suppress anti-Russian extremists from the right or working-class and revolutionary anti-Stalinists from the left. In any case, the government must be friendly to Russia, if not outrightly pro-Russian.

Thus, the Russian ruling class is interested in preserving capitalism only if a genuinely socialist revolution threatens. Against such a revolution, it always has and always will unite with the capitalist class. In this respect, as in all others, it shows that it is a thousand times closer to capitalism in its social type, its social inclinations, interests and instincts, than it is to socialism. The most striking example of how this policy worked out was the role played by Russia and its henchmen in the Spanish Revolution and the Spanish Civil War. It is playing the same role today in the revolutionary situation in France and Italy, and may (we shall soon see why the word “may” is used) follow the same role tomorrow in the revolutionary situation in Germany.

Second part: Where the Stalinists do dominate the mass movement; and where the world bourgeoisie is not in a very good position to prevent an overturn of capitalism by the bureaucracy; and where geographical conditions facilitate not only such an overthrow but also physical control by the Kremlin and its police - in such countries the bureaucracy tolerates neither the rule nor the existence of the capitalist class, democrats and fascists included. Such countries, under such conditions, it seeks to annex and subjugate. The well known examples are the three Baltic countries, Bessarabia, etc. It will be remembered that they were seized and, unlike Spain, capitalist property in them was wiped out, at a favorable moment, that is, when neither the Axis nor the Allies could do anything to prevent it.

Once this is understood, the heart of the enigma has been reached, the mystery is unveiled. Then, retracing our steps to the differences between Russia and her capitalist allies, we can see that they all pertain not so much to the “conduct of the war” as to the post-war period or, more specifically, to the repartitioning of the world after the war, to the division of the spoils. This applies as much to the difference over the “second front” as to the others.

Russia’s imperialist program for the post-war world is not too difficult to ascertain. To describe it is to see how reactionary it is in every respect.

Russia’s Imperialist Program

In Eastern Europe: The annexation of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Southern Finland, the Western Ukraine and White Russia, Bessarabia and Bukovina is openly demanded and declared to be beyond debate. [1]

But these annexations are not the limit. Always remembering the indispensable prerequisite of a favorable relationship of forces, Russia aims at having, as a minimum, vassal governments in Poland proper, in Finland, in Bulgaria and if not in all of Yugoslavia, then at least in Serbia. As a maximum, the complete occupation, domination and annexation of all these countries, including the expropriation of the native capitalist class (as well as, remember, the working class and peasantry) and the seizure of all property by the bureaucracy. Success in such an audacious program means also, as the map will immediately show, the finish of Rumania as well.

In the Near East: As a minimum, “free passage” through the Dardanelles and down to the Persian Gulf. As a maximum, return of the territory lost to Turkey through the Brest-Litovsk Treaty (Kars region), the occupation of bases on the Dardanelles and Bosphorus, and either a protectorate over or occupation of Iran, in whole or in part. The Russian demands on Turkey were revealed to Hitler and von Ribbentrop (according to these gentlemen) in the famous meeting they had with Molotov just before June 22, 1941. There is no particular reason, in the given case, for granting greater credence to Molotov’s subsequent denials than to Hitler’s and Ribbentrop’s asseverations.

In Asia: A minimum of the northwestern provinces of China, including most of Sinkiang, Shensi, Suiyuan, Kansu, Chinghai, Ninghsia and Sinkiang, with a population of over 20,000,000. A maximum – provided there is a collapse and defeat of Japan – of most or all of Manchuria.

Is the realization of so breath-taking a program guaranteed? Let us underscore right here that we believe no such thing. Is it the program of the Stalinist bureaucracy? This we most decidedly believe. Is its realization possible? Yes, entirely possible, in our opinion – provided the Kremlin finds the circumstances favorable for it. The circumstances are of two kinds: one, the weakness of the revolutionary socialist and nationalist movements; two, inability, for any reason, of Russia’s allies to stop her expansion.

What indications are there that this is the Stalinist program and that steps have been taken in the direction of realizing it?

How the Kremlin Is Preparing

1. Stalin has successfully maneuvered a break with the Polish “government in exile” in London. In Moscow, he has set up a completely servile Polish National Committee, with a full-sized apparatus, including a radio station and, what is more important, a now highly-trained, highly-mechanized Stalinist division of Poles, the Kosciuszko Division. How successful the agitation and organization work carried on among Polish prisoners and deportees in Russia has been, we do not know. But undoubtedly it has been intensive. Stalin can appear in Poland tomorrow with a well-integrated force, not only Polish, but backed by the vast apparatus (to say nothing of the “Red” Army of the Kremlin). How much resistance will the “government in exile” be able to offer? In any case, much more will be offered by the rank and file revolutionary underground movement. Just how much, remains to be seen.

2. Finland seems to be just about at the end of her rope. The fact that Stalin has remained ice-cold and silent to the recent all-but-public appeal by the Finns for a “decent” peace, is significant. Stalin is in no mood for a “decent” peace with the Finns. If the military situation continues to improve for him, tomorrow will find the Kremlin even more peremptory and exigent in its demands on Finland. For Germany, it does not ask “unconditional surrender.” For Finland, it may very well ask just that. Meanwhile, somewhere in the Kremlin files lies the easily-dusted-off “Finnish People’s Government” of O.W. Kuusinen.

3. In Yugoslavia, from all reports, the Stalinists have been steadily gaining strength at the expense of the Greater Serbian imperialist force of Mikhailovich. The “Partisans” do not seem to be a Stalinist army, but the fact of Stalinist control (or at the very least, Stalinist decisive influence) in it seems to be well established. In one respect, the situation is more favorable in Yugoslavia for the Stalinists than in Poland – in the former country they have a substantial armed force right on the spot, with the only other armed native claimant for power, Mikhailovich, increasingly discredited, even though by no means a negligible force for that.

4. In Bulgaria, in spite of the savage persecutions to which it has been subjected for more than twenty years, the Communist Party, whose strength is difficult to judge, nevertheless seems to be the only organized force among the masses, apart from the army. Among the population in general, and even in higher circles, including the military, a pro-Russian orientation has not only been maintained but, it seems, strengthened. Bulgaria is not yet officially at war with Russia and very likely will not be. A collapse in that country, originating there or following a general European collapse, would undoubtedly create conditions favorable to Stalinist control or, at least, to decisive Russian political influence.

5. In Iran, something like half the country is already occupied by Russian troops and the “Iranian government” is just about as independent as the Slovakian government of Father Tiso. Although the other half is formally occupied by the British, there are indications that it is American influence and control that are growing in the country. Oil has an attractive smell. Nevertheless, Stalin is there and is fairly well entrenched. It is hard to believe that “after the emergency is over,” the Russian troops and commissars will simply walk out of the country of their own accord and with a brief “Goodbye and thank-you.”

6. The Stalinists – Russian, not Chinese – have been dominant in Sinkiang for several years now. Russian “advisers,” who are to be found everywhere in this Chinese province, pretty much dictate all policy. Not only has the provincial army been built and trained by Russian officers and equipped with Russian armaments, but Russia has long maintained garrisons of her own troops in a number of strategic Sinkiang cities. Freedom of speech is generously allowed if you say nothing anti-Russian. How closely controlled Sinkiang’s political life is may be judged from the fact that the “purges” in Russia are paralleled in the province. When the GPU head, Yagoda, was shot in Moscow, his man, head of the Bureau of Public Safety in Tihua, Sinkiang’s capital, was shot immediately afterward! You can get into Sinkiang only with the approval of Moscow or the Russian diplomatic agent in Lanchow, and if any foreigner has succeeded in entering in the last few years, the fact is certainly not widely known.

The whole of Northwest China could be dominated without too much difficulty from a series of very well equipped Russian air bases, centering in Alma-Ata (where Trotsky was once exiled!), which is just inside the Russian border from Sinkiang, and directly related to the large air bases built by the Russians, with Chinese aid, at Lanchow, Ansi, Hami, Tihua and Ili, and largely manned by Russians. It is hardly necessary to mention the independent and powerful Stalinist Eighth Route Army, which dominates Yenan with reputedly 100,000 regulars and many times that number of cošperating partisans. For all its self-transformations and avowals of loyalty, it has remained what it was, an arm of the Stalinist regime, successfully exploiting the peasant discontent, and therefore a permanent thorn in the side of the Chinese bourgeoisie. It is noteworthy that just recently the Russian Stalinist press made a special point of its critical attitude toward the Chungking regime of Chiang and his circle, as if to go out of its way to emphasize that in China too, Russia is intent on playing an independent role, by no means confined to altruistic gifts of aid and best wishes to the Chungking government.

* * *

Even if all this is granted, it does not yet take up the question that has arisen recently to the top of people’s thoughts, namely, what are Russia’s intentions toward Germany? No matter how much importance is attached to such countries as Russia’s border states, they are not of world-deciding significance. A country like Germany is.

Germany is the key to Europe. Will Russia be the key to Germany? Does Stalin aim to “communize” Germany, as the bourgeois press would say? Can he? Or does he merely want a good, strong, friendly, democratic neighbor in Germany? Just what is the meaning of the mystery-creating “Free German National Committee” set up in Moscow? Are Russia’s differences with the Allies over the question of Germany’s post-war fate irreconcilable? If not, along what lines may they be reconciled? What role may the German workers be expected to play in all this?

Obviously, these are vital questions. For Europe, they are becoming THE vital questions, because at bottom Germany remains what she always was – the key to the European (and therefore to the world) situation. But to pursue our analysis along this line requires another article.


1. We will no more allow a discussion of whether Lithuania belongs to us than the United States would discuss the frontiers of California or New Mexico, argue the Stalinists. The comparison is revealing. The southwestern states referred to by the Stalinists were acquired by the classic methods of imperialist rapine! Do the Kremlin and the Daily Worker mean to say that the Baltic states were acquired in the same way? Moreover, states like California, New Mexico and Texas, whatever their origin, have been an integral part of the U.S.A. for almost a hundred years. They enjoy equal rights with all other states, and differ from them in no important cultural, linguistic or political respect. In none of them is there any movement or desire for “national independence.” To compare them with the three Baltic states is at once odious and stupid, i.e., Stalinistic. One might wonder why the Stalinists do not make a really appropriate comparison, namely, with the countries forming the colonial empire of France, England or the United States, countries like Morocco, India, Hawaii and Panama. The answer is, They do! See, for example, Alter Brody, in the New Masses, June 15, 1943. His article is a magnificent example of the Stalino-imperiallst mentality and argumentation. We hope this footnote rescues it from undeserved oblivion.

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Last updated on 8 March 2015