Christopher Pallis 1944
Source: Left, No. 95, September 1944.
Transcribed: by Christian Hogsbjerg for Marxists.org 2007.
Today only the blissfully naive still equate the war with the ideological struggle against Fascism. For Socialists, the class-content of the contending factions is the only relevant criterion in analysing wars. But few still discern unpleasant reality through the smoke-screens of irrelevant sophistry arising Right and Left. And still fewer proclaim what they perceive: the cynical renunciation of those ideals for which, allegedly, the United Nations stood. Atlantic Charterism has served its purpose: it is now being discarded
Political issues, in this stage of the war, are increasingly coming to the fore-front. The approach of the Anglo-American ruling classes to them is a priori reactionary, but the continued postponement of effective Socialist alternatives is the tragic factor in this Rightward excursion. And all in the name of a purely formal and theoretical “National Unity"! Incidentally, it may well be found that “when the working class gets its promised breathing spell it will be found to have quietly suffocated from having held its breath too long!”
I used to smile at the somewhat naïve Government posters informing me that “my courage, my cheerfulness,” etc., would bring them victory. Today, the dichotomy is even more apparent. The struggle for dominance of the imperialist elements is developing unopposed. They struggle to ensure that victory is their victory, that its fruits are raw materials, cheap labour, vast new markets, and a Europe to be “reconstructed” with their capital and at their rate of interest. Yet today, these forces of the future counter-revolution are being objectively assisted by the hopeless blindness of most of the British and American Left!
The mass hypnosis created by the military glamour of the Soviet Union in her “great patriotic war” is leading to unnecessary and harmful stagnation for the forces of the Anglo-American Socialist “vanguards.” Never were their tasks so important since the great wave of Revolution threatened to overrun Europe twenty-five years ago. The power the Left will be able to exert over their own ruling classes will determine both the extent and duration of Anglo-American Imperialist perambulations over Europe.
Most agree that the military defeat of German Fascists is the “conditio sine qua non” for the advance of the European working-class movement towards Socialism. But is it not fallacious to proceed from this belief to the belief that an Allied victory such as the unopposed gentlemen of Wall Street and the City are preparing will automatically create favourable circumstances for the onward march? It must be ensured now that the potentialities of victory are commensurate with the price the working classes have paid for its realisation.
And yet what is happening? The underlying revolutionary content of the war is being forgotten in an orgy of resurrected chauvinism. Lord Vansittart quotes Ilya Ehrenburg with ill -concealed delight. Never were wider the oceans that separate the port towards which the world proletariat is steering, and its ultimate haven, its Socialist objective. The most reactionary sections in Britain and America, crusading under the time-soiled banner of “law and order in Europe,” are scheming and plotting, and their designs are pregnant with danger for the European Socialist Movement. It is my contention that their activities are being assisted, objectively, by the Left’s unconditional support of the war!
Only by the completest subordination (alleged temporary) of ultimate Socialist objectives to the immediate requirements of Soviet foreign policy can Communists justify their latest moves in relation to Germany and in the U.S.A. Only by the most misguiding rationalisations can these policies he claimed as immediate means towards the ultimate Socialist end. They have very little to do with Socialism – considerably more, however, with the diplomacy of the Kremlin, euphemistically denoted as “changing circumstances.”
The logical consequences of this trend are now being revealed. It is essential that they be examined if the catastrophe they are leading to is to be avoided.
I fail to see the rosy aureola around the magic word “Teheran” that is visible through the King St. telescope. Are the “Ten Commandments” issued in the Persian capital to be the prelude to a long period of class collaboration in America, to the most vicious anti-working class legislation in Britain forbidding the linking of political to industrial strife, to the prolonged occupation of solidly working-class areas of Germany, like the Ruhr, by extensively British and American forces, to a new lease of life for the patriotic military castes and other outmoded social groupings?
Are they the prelude to a reversion to talk of reparations, frontiers, power politics and all the superannuated jargon of a very old and tired world? Are they to herald for after the war a return to the dismal tactics of Popular Frontism instead of the fight for working-class power? Is there no sane mean between the Communists’ sterile political virginity of the 1930s and their new promiscuity? Do we have to await the first shocks of disillusion to realize the difference between “Teheran,” triumph of a brilliant Soviet foreign policy, and “Teheran,” somewhat more nebulous victory for the Socialist proletariat of the world? After all, we are not all equipped with blinkers “made in Moscow.” Is the basis of Socialist planning and reconstruction to be an unstable mixture of compromise and concession with collaboration between workers’ and employers’ organizations on the best Fascist model? Such is the modern trend, one of the more unpalatable fruits of “national unity.” The framework for future international peace does not lie, pace brother Stalin, in joint official declarations, pious aspirations and a general atmosphere of “peace on earth among men of good will” but in the more concrete laws of Marxist economics, which I still accept. One cannot hope to build on the capitalists’ volcano, however convincing the sales-talk of their new estate agents.
I remember speaking to Fernand Grenier last summer about the Soviet Union. His words “c’est ma patrie” have remained in my mind. It is tragic that those who today should be the most conscious of the duties of an international Socialist should have their minds distorted by irrelevant allegiances. The dissolution of the Comintern is the formal culmination of Stalin’s interpretation and formulation of modern Marxism. The Soviet Union has renounced during the intoxication of her “great patriotic war” and probably until the hangover has cleared, whatever leadership it had over the international working-class movement. This some will deny. They will attempt to confuse the issue by claiming the example of peace and war-time achievements, which have been immense, with positive ideological leadership.
But the road to Socialism is no more via Moscow than it is via “Teheran.” Red flags for Europe are not on the agenda for the next five-year plan. They will have to be “local produce,” “made in Birmingham” or “made in Germany,” as the case may be. The Russian steam-roller thunders triumphantly on...but the International is no longer on tow. Their paths are no longer a priori parallel. There is nothing either new or surprising in the situation. It is what “Socialism in One Country” should always have meant. After all, Moscow established connections with the German industrialists in 1923...the Comintern meanwhile talked much of proletarian Revolution! Bela Kun dared to disagree with Lenin and Karl Liebknecht or Rosa Luxemburg would not have taken orders from Zinoviev, Radek, Trotsky or Bukharin! To them, the Bolsheviki were useful allies, but the Russian Marxists had not yet the monopoly of infallibility in international affairs.
The proletarian Revolution of November, 1917, is not for export. That, for good or evil, has been amply demonstrated. The necessity, therefore, of constantly subordinating working-class tactics to Soviet foreign policy cannot be justified. It is a question of erroneous relative emphasis. When situations arise where the two are incompatible there is nothing either tragic or inconsistent in the incompatibility. Only these émigré Soviet citizens masquerading as “local Marxists” need dread impending schizophrenia.
The reasoning that any sacrifice is justifiable if it conforms with Soviet requirements is valid only if it be accepted as axiomatic that, in the long run, the U.S.S.R. is the one and only hope of International Socialism. This view can be opposed on two grounds: either that the premiss is totally or partially untrue, the degree of justifiable sacrifice varying accordingly. Or that human nature is not yet that conscious of the inevitable historical process. Marx castigates religion as “opiate of the people” not because it was logically unsound, but because it blurred the issues of the class struggle. And today, the ills of this our world are but little alleviated by hopes, or even by “scientific Marxist” convictions of better days for future generations of mankind.
In the past the emotional appeal of the Soviet Union has been of immense value to Socialists over the rest of the world. In the coming phase of historical development, however, it may prove more a liability than an asset. It is difficult to alter a “Weltanschauung,” particularly one so deeply rooted (but is not flexibility always justly claimed a Marxist asset?). The sacrifice, personally difficult though it may be, will, in the long run, prove correct.
But who so blind as he who will not see?