Max Shachtman


From the Bureaucratic Jungle – II

The SWP Changes the Line

(March 1945)

From The New International, Vol. XI No. 2, March 1945, pp. 46–50.
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 from Einde O’Callaghan.
Marked up by A. Forse & Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

(Continued from the November issue)

The criticism which the opposition, represented by Morrison, Morrow, Bennett, and others, makes of the leadership of the Socialist Workers Party confirms our first main criticism made in the fight five years ago which led to the split in the Trotskyist movement. So we wrote in the first part of this article. The party and its political life are directed, we said [in 1939/40], by a clique led by Cannon which we characterized as bureaucratically conservative. The only amendment the new opposition [Morrison, Morrow, Bennett] was obliged to introduce into this characterization is that the party leadership is the carrier of the ”germs of Stalinist degeneration.” This is the latest balance-sheet that the new opposition casts up after five years in which the leadership of the SWP operated with a maximum of party unity, a maximum of collaboration from all the party leadership, and a minimum of inner-party opposition, that is, none at all.

Our second main criticism in the 1939 dispute may be paraphrased as follows:

“You have converted the theory that Russia is a workers’ state, and the slogan of the unconditional defense of Russia in the war, into abstractions which make it impossible for you to deal correctly with the concrete political problems of the class struggle. When you do deal with them, they bring you to a reactionary position. You base your central strategy on the defense of the Stalinist regime which is an integral part of the imperialist coalition in the war. We base ours on assembling, building and leading to victory the ‘third camp,’ the independent forces of the workers, peasants and colonial peoples fighting for freedom against both imperialist camps. Our policy will make it possible for the revolutionary Marxists to come to the leadership of the inevitably upsurging movement of rebellion. Yours will make you the apologist of Stalinism, the tail to its kite.”

The Cannonites answered, as is their custom in such disputes, with a minimum of argument and a maximum of imprecation:

“We reiterate our fundamental principles. We cling to our fundamental principles. We are for unconditional defense of the Soviet Union. You have capitulated, in the war, to the pressure of bourgeois democracy. You are petty-bourgeois opponents of Marxism.”

Let us see how these “fundamental principles” have stood up in practice (and this is the only decisive test) in the past few years, not in the light of our criticism, so much as in the light of the criticism of the new oppositionists who joined, alas, in the condemnation of us in 1939 and later. For this purpose, we have an invaluable document by A. Roland, significantly entitled We Arrive at a Line. Roland is an old party member, and unlike Cannon and the court clique, knows something about Marxism. He was a stout defender of Trotsky’s position in 1939. His criticism is all the more enlightening because of that.

Roland’s Indictment of the SWP Regime

In the very first place, Roland shows again that, all sophistry, muddle-headed argument and “theory” to the contrary notwithstanding, it is impossible, in the Cannonite party, to engage in a serious political dispute without coming into head-on conflict with the party regime which always defends its prestige and position by the methods it knows best, the methods of bureaucratism. His indictment of this regime is more damning than anything we wrote and said about it five years ago. Let us quote Roland's own words, with our own emphasis:

Here, one would suppose, is an ideal convention for the fundamental education of the party. Unfortunately, this is far from the case. Actually, the Committee is trying to avoid any kind of real education of the membership, due to its unusual hypersensitivity to criticism. The very resolutions adopted should have been the occasion for some open self-criticism, as I propose to show ...

What concerns me is not how we arrived at a line through discussions of the [Political] Committee itself. No. I am concerned with a line arrived at without discussion at all (except on my part), without any motions made in the committee “officially”; a line that appeared in the press of the party on the initiative of the editors with the consent of a committee within the committee, as a “fait accompli.” I am concerned with a line that was wrong not in the committee alone, but in the public press, one that has since been “corrected” after the lapse of months of incorrectness without so much as informing the party. I am concerned with the attempt to hide· this patent fact from the convention and to place, not organizational criticism, but political oriticism, in a virtual strait-jacket under the guise of “discipline.”

A leadership that “is trying to avoid any kind of real education of the membership”; that is “unusually hypersensitive to criticism”; that follows a line, changes it into a new one or changes it back to the old without acknowledgment and even without official party decision; that operates on the basis of “the consent of a committee within the committee” – what is that but the Cannonite bureaucracy which runs the party like a clique, the clique about which we spoke so pointedly in 1939? Further material on the clique is provided us by Roland in connection with his criticism of some of the monumental, that is, typical, political blunders made by Cannon’s “;Russian expert,” Wright. We read:

The truth is that Wright had been “hauled over the coals” for his whole line when events had broken over the head of the committee and showed how disastrous that line was. M. Stein [acting party secretary] informed me concerning this fact and was himself taken aback when I expressed astonishment that this should be done in hidden form among a group of “friends,” not even in the P.C.! Naturally in that case there could be no question of criticizing Wright openly in the party or in the convention. But what becomes then of the political education of the party membership? Are they permitted to know what is correct and what is incorrect? Or ds it sufficient in a centralized party for the leadership to be educated?

For the leadership alone to be educated would not be sufficient, but even in that limited sphere education would at least be a great step forward. It must, however, be admitted that the SWP leadership is educated to the point where it understands what the Workers Party, upon its foundation in 1940, wrote in its Statement of Principles: An ignorant membership is a bureaucrat’s paradise.

A Picture of the Cannonite Leadership

We are told that the party must, if anything, be more centralized [continues Roland]. Why? In order that the committee may become even more separated from the membership than it already is? In order that the P.C. may make its decisions (some of which we see here) completely behind the scenes, only to have them changed abruptly and then covered from the view of the party? In order to create the kind of discipline in which the editors are allowed to put over a line by “accomplished facts”? In order to build up a theory of an infallible leadership? In order to make it impossible to exercise criticism, the only form of control?

... Are we striving to emulate Lenin and the party in his time, or some more centralized party? It does not do to make a parade of democratic centralism just before and even, perhaps, during a convention, only to violate its real spirit all the year round. The attitude of the committee toward critics (and I include here those who are right in their criticisms as well as those who are wrong) is a completely apparatus attitude. It simply will not brook the slightest criticism. Isn’t there an “anxiety complex” involved here? Instead of infinite patience in order to educate members, there is utter impatience, a real “baiting” of critios, a split spirit.

... And I say categorically that the effort of the committee to “put something over on the party” completely violates every concept of loyalty to principle and Bolshevik discipline. Had the committee been willing to enter into a wee bit of self-criticism, the outcome would have been entirely different and far more beneficial. The party would have experienced a real impetus in its education.

There is the picture of the SWP five years after it purged the “petty bourgeois opposition” and received the full, undiluted and unobstructed benefits, for the first time in the history of Trotskyism in America, of a more or less exclusively Cannonite leadership and regime. The net result is adequately stated by Roland and Morrison. Why should it be surprising? After all, the party boss received his basic training under the ægis of Zinovivist bureaucratism in the Comintern; was himself one of the “Bolshevizers” of those sorry days; and, in his “Trotskyist” period, improved on what he had learned with lessons drawn from the “successes” of Stalinism.

Now let us see what policy it is that this regime had to defend, and see it the way it worked out in practice. It cannot be over-emphasized that this is the decisive test. With the evidence assembled by Roland, let us apply the test to the “Russian policy” of the SWP.

Roland’s indictment on this score charges the leadership with hopeless confusion; hopeless inconsistency; inability to orient itself correctly or at all toward important events; painting up, apologizing for and tail-ending Stalinism; and in general, woodenness of thought, unthinking paraphrasing of Trotsky, perversion of political line for considerations of bureaucratic prestige. For every charge, he adduces more than enough of the necessary proof.

The SWP line, boiled down to essentials, was simply this, repeated week-in and week-out: Russia is a workers’ state because the property in it is nationalized. In the war, the Stalinist bureaucracy is pursuing a role which is objectively revolutionary. Between Stalinist Russia and the capitalist world there are antagonisms which are irreconcilable. It is the primary duty of every worker to defend Russia – unconditionally.

The lengths to which these absurd and reactionary dogmas were carried, are given by Roland in some detail. Here is one example from the pen of one of the principal official spokesmen of the party, Wright, as set down in the April 1943 Fourth International:

But the same fundamental forces arising out of the irreconcilable clash between Soviet economy and world imperialism are driving the bureaucratic caste to measures which are revolutionary in their objective consequences ... The Stalinist bureaucracy depends for its existence upon the maintenance of the workers’ state created by the October Revolution. In desperation and as a last resort this bureaucracy has proved itself capable of acting in self-defense as to stimulate revolutionary developments.

What Has Never Been Explained

What has never been explained is this: If the clash between “Soviet economy” (What is “Soviet” about it? The thoughtless repetition of this adjective to describe the economy of Stalinist Russia, in which every element of Sovietism was long ago destroyed with unparalleled thoroughness and brutality, shows how far Wright et al. must still travel to break from Stalinism) and world imperialism is “irreconcilable,” how did the Second World War take place as it did? We are assuming that the Cannonites acknowledge that the Second World War is being fought, that one capitalist country is attacking Russia and that most of the capitalist world is united with Russia to demolish Germany. If the “clash” is “irreconcilable” and, as the Cannonites also say, this “irreconcilability” remains “undiminished,” we must conclude either that the present World War is not taking place at all – the Marlen fantasmagoria – or that it is nothing but a trifling episode, a mere curtain-raiser to the “coming” war between “Soviet economy and world imperialism.”

In the second place, if Stalinism is objectively revolutionary and “has proved itself” able to stimulate revolutionary developments, the Marxian criticism of it ought to be reduced to fairly modest proportions. What else could a reader, who has not been immunized against such reactionary nonsense, conclude if he continued to read the SWP press? He would learn there that the Stalinist bureaucracy is not only taking measures that are revolutionary in their objective consequences, but that at one time “Stalin took preparatory steps for the Sovietization of Finland.” (This pitiable muddlehead of a Wright does not even know the difference between nationalization of industry and Sovietization, i.e., the means by which the proletariat establishes and consolidates its class power. To him, the appointment of slave-drivers over industry by the GPU equals – Sovietization, the proletarian revolution.) And not only of Finland. Poland, too. In The Militant of January 29, 1944, the same Wright had these unbelievable things to say about the program of Stalin’s Quislings in Poland:

... the realization of this program would signify the complete destruction of Polish capitalism and a giant step in the inevitable extension of Soviet [again: Soviet!] property forms far beyond the frontiers of 1939. In its turn, this carries a two-fold threat to capitalism: first, in addition to strengthening the USSR immeasurably, it would greatly hamper further attempts to isolate it. Second, the revolutionary wave in Europe, especially in Germany, would receive so mighty an impulsion from such developments in the territories of former Poland, let alone Silesia, East Prussia, etc., that the attempt to drown the coming European Revolution in blood would be rendered well-nigh impossible.

After this, nothing remains of the revolutionary struggle against Stalinism except a demand that itÉ carry out its program! Nothing more than this is required to destroy capitalism in Poland and Eastern Germany – that as a mere beginning! – by extending “Soviet” property to these lands, and then to give the proletarian revolution all over Europe such an impulsion as would practically guarantee its victory.

The Stalinist bureaucracy, the GPU factory bosses, and Osubka-Morawski are not the only guarantees of the victory of the European proletariat. There is also the Stalinist army. Trotsky called it the military arm of the Bonapartist counterrevolution. Wright, however, uninhibited by Trotsky’s modesty and other qualities, has a different name for it. In a 1941 article, he wrote:

“Trotsky’s Red Army”

It is not Stalin’s Red Army that has successfully resisted the first two Nazi offensives. It is the Red Army of the October Revolution. It is Trotsky’s Red Army, which was built in the fire of the Civil War, built not from the wreckage of the old Czarist armies but completely anew – unlike any other army in history ...

The Kremlin is of course trying to usurp credit for the heroic resistance of the Red Army, but Stalin will not succeed in this. We Trotskyists [Wright, it seems, calls himself a Trotskyist after all this!] link up the present heroic resistance of the Red soldiers directly with the Russian October and the Civil War ... Terrible as were the blows dealt by Stalin to the Red Army, it remains the one institution least affected [!!!!] by his degenerated regime.

From this political delirium should follow, should it not, a clarion call to the workers throughout Europe: “Proletarians, welcome Trotsky’s Red Army. Welcome the liberators of the toiling peoples! Welcome the Heroic Storm-Troop Divisions of the GPU, who are directly linked with the Red October!”

What has been quoted is not an individual aberration, although that is a contributing element in this case. It is the product of a political line. We have in addition, also quoted by Roland, the case of E.R. Frank. Frank is another of the party bureaucrats who has recently decided to turn a deft hand to “theoretical questions,” under the impression that a snarl, pugnacious ignorance and phrasemongering are ample qualification. How, he demands in an article on December 4, 1943 –

How is anybody going to explain today that amazing unity of Soviet peoples, that unprecedented vitality and morale which exists throughout the Red Army and the peoples of the Soviet Union, except on the theory that the October Revolution, though stifled and degraded, still lives ...

Roland’s comment on this panegyric to Stalinism is to the point:

The complete unity of the Soviet peoples – under the totalitarian regime of Stalin! How could one possibly call for political revolution in that case? The unity of the Soviet peoples amidst the growth of inequality and an almost complete indifference of the bureaucracy to the lot and fate of the people during the war. The unity of the Soviet peoples – and the imprisonment even during the war not of tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, but of millions in the concentration camps of the Kremlin! Could Stalin have wished for better propaganda in his favor? Stalin could have pointed to our press and asked what further proof was necessary that his killing off of all the oppositionists had united and strengthened the USSR.

We thereby get a very accurate definition of an “official Trotskyist,” i.e., a Cannonite: He is a miserable epigone of Trotsky who cannot speak on Russia without carrying on, among revolutionary workers, better propaganda for Stalin than Stalin himself could hope for.

And by combining Wright and Frank, we get the following definition of Stalinist Russia: It is a country which is despotically oppressed by a totalitarian, counter-revolutionary Bonapartist autocracy that has converted the country as a whole into a prison for the people and is based upon Soviet property, an amazing unity of the Soviet peoples, and Trotsky’s Red Army, all of which it employs to take objectively revolutionary measures that stimulate the world revolution – thus making Russia a workers’ state, which is in irreconcilable antagonism to the imperialist world that is allied with it, gives it aid and comfort, and material and even political support, in return for material and political support received.

For the length of this definition, we are ready to take our share of responsibility; for its insanity, we share no responsibility and accept none.

The reader may think: After all, it is only Wright, or only Frank, who is involved. If he is an informed reader, he may add: And after all, who is forced to take them seriously as the spokesmen of the SWP? There is some validity to such reflections. What is wrong and misleading about them is shown by three facts: One, that their statements appear as the official view of the SWP. Two, that they are not rebuked or repudiated in any way by the party leadership, but were and are still being defended by the latter. And three, that the boss of the party himself is of a piece with them.

To prove the last assertion, we refer once more to Roland’s precious document. Following page after page of evidence on the reactionary character of the official party policy on Russia, coupled with as much evidence on the preposterous vacillation and somersaults of the party press from week to week and month to month, he arrives at the period of the Warsaw uprising of last August. [1] Under pressure of the stirring event, and of Roland himself, the SWP committee made another somersault in policy. It came out in favor of the Warsaw uprising, ranged itself with the revolutionists, warned them against Stalinist perfidy and counter-revolution, and called among other things for fraternization with the Russian army so as to help the Russian people “settle accounts with the bloody Bonapartist dictatorship of Stalin.” Those of us who read the editorial in The Militant of August 19, 1944, recall with some satisfaction the policy presented in it. We recall also that it followed from the inspiring action of the Warsaw proletariat, and in no way whatsoever from anything in the analysis and policies defended up to then by the Cannonites.

The party boss, who was not at hand when the editorial appeared, reacted promptly, for a change. His letter of protest against the editorial is a monstrosity, but such a revealing one that we reprint it in its entirety, thanks to Roland, who did likewise in order to thwart the party bureaucracy’s attempt to conceal it from the membership:

The August 19 Militant editorial, Warsaw Betrayed, goes even further afield than the previous editorial we wrote about in muddling up our line of “Unconditional Defense of the Soviet Union” in the struggle against the Nazi-imperialist invaders. To call upon the revolutionary Polish workers to “organise fraternization” with the Red Army soldiers, as the editorial does, is to think in terms of establishing contact with the rank and file of a hostile military force. But the Polish workers must be the allies of the Red Army in its war against Hitler’s armies, no matter how reactionary Stalin’s policy is. Therefore, the task for the Polish revolutionaries is to organize revolutionary propaganda in the ranks of the Red Army, with which they will be in contact as allies, not to “organize fraternisation.” Secondly, the editorial adds that through this “fraternization” the Polish workers will help the Soviet masses to “settle accounts with the bloody Bonapartist dictatorship of Stalin.” Our program recognizes the vital necessity of overthrowing Stalinism in the Soviet Union and has always placed this task in order of importance second only to the defense of the Soviet Union against imperialist attacks. However, it is precisely the latter consideration that the editorial slurs over. Finally, the editorial again fails to put explicitly and unmistakably our slogan “Unconditional defense of the Soviet Union” against all imperialists. The editorial also takes for granted a version of the Warsaw events about which there is little information, none of it reliable and many uncertainties. A full-scale battle against the Nazis by the Warsaw proletariat is assumed, as is the ‘order of Stalin’s generals’ in halting the Red Army attack on the city. The Moscow charge that the London “Polish government in exile” ordered the uprising without consulting the Red Army command is brushed aside without being clearly stated, much less analyzed in the light of the current Soviet-Polish negotiations. No consideration is given to the question of whether or not the Red Army was able at the moment to launch an all-out attack on Warsaw in view of its long-sustained offensive, the Nazi defensive preparations along the Vistula, the necessity to regroup forces and mass for new attacks after the not inconsiderable expenditure of men and material in reaching the outskirts of Warsaw, the fact that there was a lull along virtually the entire Eastern front concurrent with the halt before Warsaw, etc. Nor does the editorial take up the question of the duty of guerrilla forces – and in the circumstances that is what the Warsaw detachments are – to subordinate themselves to the high command of the main army, the Red Army, in timing such an important battle as the siege of Warsaw. On the contrary, the editorial appears to take as its point of departure the assumption that a full-scale proletarian uprising occurred in Warsaw and that Stalin deliberately maneuvered to permit Hitler to crush the revolt. A hasty, sketchy commentary on events, including the badly-limping Badoglio analogy, is then fitted into this arbitrary framework. We agree, indeed, as to Stalin’s counter-revolutionary intentions. Moreover, one has the right to suspect or believe personally that the Warsaw events are just as the editorial pictures them. But we have no right to put in writing in our press, and in an editorial to boot, such sweeping assertions for which we have no proof and to draw conclusions based on such flimsy information. That is not the tradition of The Militant. We are deeply concerned about this carelessness in writing about such a crucial question and are anxious to hear the comments on our criticism.

Let us not dwell on the style – it is as unnecessary as it is disagreeable. In any case, the political line is infinitely more important. The Warsaw proletariat was climaxing five years of unremitting struggle against its national and class oppressor with an epic effort. The Stalin regime was preparing its stab in the back not only with cynicism and cold-bloodedness, but above all with such obviousness as to move even the editors of The Militant away from this false line and toward a correct one. By defending the antithesis of what they had defended, they leaped over their own heads and – did their revolutionary duty. If, as the party boss said, they went “further afield ... in muddling up our line of ‘unconditional defense of the Soviet Union’,” it was because the line was radically false; but in “muddling” it further, they at least made one progressive contribution amidst the hundred reactionary ones they had made in the past.

What did the party boss contribute? Instructions to the effect that The Militant should advise the Warsaw proletariat (contemptuously referred to as guerrilla forces! Stalin’s army of counter-revolution is Trotsky’s Red Army, but the insurrectionary Warsaw workers are ... mere guerrillas) to “subordinate themselves to the high command of the main army, the Red Army.” Or, to translate this pompous pseudo-military wisdom: the Warsaw workers must submit to the executioners of the GPU! In what name? In the name of “unconditional defense of the Soviet Union”!

Not even the Stalinists dared to carry out the crushing of the Polish proletariat under such a banner. The boss of the SWP deserves to be remembered if only for the fact that he was the one person in the whole wide world who called upon the Warsaw workers to “subordinate themselves” to their hangman, Stalin (“the high command of the main army”). There is the fruit, in practice, of the “defense of the Soviet Union”!

A Letter of a Different Kind

The sequel to this letter is as revealing as the letter itself. At about the same time that it was written, another letter was being written and, unknown to the party boss, transmitted to the SWP leadership. It came from a comrade with great prestige in the Fourth International, a comrade whose opinions cannot be so easily dismissed by the Cannonites with personal aspersions, dirty gossip or imprecations (be it noted that we write, “cannot be so easily dismissed”). It, too, is worth reprinting in its entirety:

I do not consider myself competent in political questions to the extent of condemning this or that line of your conduct. But in the given instance your mistaken course is all too clear to me.

Permit me a few words in this connection.

You seem to be hypnotized by the slogan of the “defense of the USSR” and in the meantime profound changes, political as well as moral-psychological, have taken place in its social structure. In his articles, especially the last ones, L.D. [Trotsky] wrote of the USSR as a degenerating workers’ state and in view of this outlined two possible paths of further social evolution of the first workers’ state: revolutionary and reactionary. The last four years have shown us that the reactionary landslide has assumed monstrous proportions within the USSR. I shall not recount the facts, they are known to you – they bespeak of the complete moving away of the USSR from the principles of October. Soviet literature for the war years (Moscow magazines which I am receiving) confirm these facts; in current Moscow literature there is not the slightest echo of socialistic ideology; dominant in it are petty bourgeois, middle class tendencies; the cult of the family and its welfare. The Red Army, at the basis of whose organization were lodged the principles of the October overturn, and whose (the Red Army’s) goal was the struggle for the world revolution, has become transformed into a nationalist-patriotic organization, defending the fatherland, and not against its bureaucratic regime but together with its regime as it has taken shape in the last decade. Do you recall the answer of L.D. to the question put to him in the Politburo in 1927: whether the Opposition would defend the USSR in case of war? “The socialist fatherland – yes; Stalin’s regime – no.”

The “socialist” has fallen away; the “regime” has remained. A degenerating “workers’ state” presupposes that it is moving along the path of degeneration, still preserving its basic principle – the nationalization of private property. But just as it is impossible to build socialism in one country, so it is impossible to preserve inviolate this basic principle, if one pursues the reactionary road, destroying all the other conquests of 1917. It is necessary to explain this tirelessly day by day. It is impermissible to repeat an antiquated slogan by rote.

At the present time there is only one danger threatening the Soviet Union – that is the further development of black reaction, the further betrayal of the international proletariat. This is precisely the direction in which it is necessary to sound the alarm. To defend the Soviet Union against the regime of its “master,” mercilessly laying bare the policy of the master who comes to the fore on the international arena in the capacity of a conciliator with bourgeois capitalism and as a counter-revolutionist in the European countries liberated from Hitler. (As far back as 1937 L.D. wrote in the Bulletin of the Russian Opposition that not a single serious person believes any longer in the revolutionary role of Stalin.)

You are correctly criticizing the foreign policy of the Marshal, but after all, foreign policy is the continuation of the domestic policy; it is impermissible to separate the one from the other. In your position there is a crying contradiction. It is necessary to hammer away at one point: to warn against the consequences of Russian victories; to warn, to sound the alarm on the basis of the elements that have already been disclosed with complete clarity, as well as to lay bare those elements which are about to be disclosed, and at the same time to point the way out.

This letter, which is blow upon blow at point after point of the SWP position, as Roland points out, caused a sensation and complete consternation among the SWP leadership. Their first reaction: how to conceal it from the membership! And not only from the membership, but even from those leading members, like Morrow and Morrison, who were in opposition! Their second reaction: how to maintain the prestige of the party leadership, and above all, of the party boss, who had just written in the directly opposite sense! Thanks in large measure to Roland, the leadership succeeded in neither case. It was not for want of trying.

How and Why the Line Is “Changed”

The letter just quoted was promptly communicated to the party boss. With an agility nowhere revealed in his first letter, he prepared a retreat. He wrote a new letter to the committee which proposed, in effect, a change of policy on Russia, accompanied by all kinds of transparent “subtleties” to prove that it was not, after all, a change in policy. Like his previous letter, which said the opposite, it was couched in his customary Statesman-Tone, and intended for proclamation to the entire party membership. It prudently omitted (a) any reference whatsoever to his original letter, with which it did not jibe, and (b) any reference whatsoever to the letter we have quoted, which criticized the SWP line and urged a change in it. If any change is to be made in the party line, only One Man may initiate it – at least so far as the membership knows!

What had changed in the world situation? What had changed in the situation in Russia? For the boss, nothing. All that had changed was that someone with prestige and authority that cannot easily be torn down in the movement had proposed a change. In the SWP leadership, where, as Roland says, a “completely hierarchic attitude” reigns, it is not freely-expressed critical thought, not the unhampered exchange of views, not objective considerations, but “authority” and prestige-considerations that decide policy.

There, and there alone, lies the secret of the recent (essentially meaningless) “change” in the SWP policy on Russia. To the complete surprise and dumbfoundment of the membership, without their having been prepared for it in the slightest degree – just the opposite! – the party leadership solemnly announced that the slogan of “unconditional defense of the Soviet Union” has been subjected to “a shift in emphasis.”

How delicately put! What refinement! Now, you see, due to “the shift in objective conditions” (translation: the shift in emphasis recommended by the influential comrade and the need of preserving bureaucratic prestige), the old slogan is no longer “in the fore.” It is “retired” to a secondary place. Nothing wrong with it, mind you, only it doesn’t have the very, very first place now. In its place “We therefore push to the fore and emphasize today that section of our program embodied in the slogan: Defense of the European Revolution Against All Its Enemies! The Defense of the European Revolution coincides with the genuine revolutionary defense of the USSR.” (SWP Convention Resolution) Apparently, before today the defense of the European revolution did not coincide with the “genuine revolutionary defense of the USSR”; but from today onward it does. That is, now that the Cannonites have contributed their tiny mite to helping Stalinist Russia grow stronger against the European revolution (Warsaw worker, subordinate yourselves to the Marshal!), it is obviously high time to defend that revolution.

“You Have Strangled the Party”

No open correction of errors; no honest explanation of changes and turns; politics as an instrument of organization instead of organization as an instrument of politics’that is how the Cannonites rule and ruin the SWP. It is not necessary to emphasize that the political education of the membership is utterly impossible under such conditions. This is not to say, necessarily, that it is also impossible to increase the membership of such a party. It is possible. But it will not be a revolutionary party that deserves the name of Trotsky. It is not by accident that Roland tells of what the “authoritative” comrade wrote in another letter to the SWP. The letter, says Roland,

... reminded them (please tell us in what connection, Comrade Stein) of an incident way back in 1927 in which the Old Man and a Stalinist bureaucrat were involved. The Old Man was criticizing the Stalinists in the Executive Committee. One of them asked: “Where is the party?” and Trotsky replied: “You have strangled the party!”

Idle reminiscence? No, the comrade is making a timely, pointed – and, in its nature, a deadly – reference to what is happening to the SWP under the Cannonite regime, which Morrison rightly called the bearer of the virus of Stalinism.

The future of the SWP as a revolutionary organization is, at best, a dubious one. We recognized that five years ago. What has happened since has only made this fact plainer and caused many others to realize it. The number of those who understand this can only increase.


1. It should be noted that we do not share Roland’s own views either on the “Russian question” or on the “national question” in Europe. On the former he is attempting to break through the dilemma into which Trotsky was forced with his theory of Russia as a “degenerated workers’ state.” But because he is attempting the breakthrough along Trotsky’s line he is doomed to the same failure. Like so many others – including, since the convention, the editors of the Fourth International – he is looking high and low for the imminent conversion of Russia into a capitalist state based on capitalist private property. He is looking in vain. It is fitting for a Wright to discover the “rising tide of capitalist restoration” in a clipping from Pravda which admits that a “kulak” has been discovered in some Azerbaidjanian village who has two hogs and a cow. It hardly befits a Roland. Like all others of his views, he must show us, with concrete facts, where Stalinist state property, the basis of bureaucratic collectivism, is being converted into capitalist private property. Nothing less will do, and that by Trotsky’s own theory. We are convinced that, like Trotsky in the past, Roland will not be able to show any such thing. (There are many other things Roland will have to do, but for the moment we confine ourselves to one.) As to the national question, Roland is right only in so far as he rips apart the helplessness and inconsistency of the Cannonites in this question and that he does thoroughly. As for his own analysis, the best that can be said about it is that he has succeeded in furnishing E.R. Frank with a “theoretical” argument. To identify the national revolutionary movements in Europe with the old People’s Fronts, as Roland does, is at least ninety-nine per cent wrong. In a word: the latter were bureaucratically-confined parliamentary comedies to prevent action by the masses in favor of the status quo; the former are revolutionary struggles of the masses, with arms in hand, against the ruling state power. To identify the two is to reduce politics to mumbo-jumbo. The two subjects merit further and more detailed discussion, and we hope to return to them on another occasion. It is to be hoped that the discussion will no longer be so one-sided, that is, that the comrades who debate with those whom they label “propagandists for Stalin,” will not shun discussion with those whom they still call – jokingly, we will assume – the “petty bourgeois opposition.”

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Max Shachtman
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Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 20 April 2016