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The New International, August 1941


Milton Alvin

Discussion Article:

For the Defense of the S.U.


From New International, Vol. VII No. 7 (Whole No. 56), August 1941, pp. 184–7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


I. The Significance of the Russian Question

A DISCUSSION OF THE Russian question, which with us has anything but the character of a rarity, is an opportunity not only to arrive at correct theoretical conclusions and a program of action, but also an opportunity to study the methods of the various proponents who have different points of view to present. Therefore, in the present discussion we must not lose the chance to observe not only what conclusions are reached by those who have positions to present but also to learn in the course of the discussion itself how and why various positions are reached.

At each new stage in the history of the world since the October Revolution the labor movement and especially its vanguard in the Marxist section of it has re-examined its conception of the Soviet Union and tested its former position in the light of the ever-changing conditions. This is no accident or parlor pastime because for serious revolutionists the existence of a workers’ state and the problems confronting the international proletariat regarding its defense from imperialism were and are the problems of the revolution itself. Lenin and Trotsky often stated that the fate of the SU would be decided on the international arena. They were persistent in teaching that the SU could not be looked upon as a national phenomenon but was in reality the first step in the world revolution. Because they were internationalists through and through and based their entire concept upon international developments and conditions which included the SU as a part and because they correctly viewed the proletariat as an international class, their analyses, program and policy flowed from this concept.

The Russian question, precisely because of the occurrence there of the only successful proletarian revolution in all history derives its tremendous significance as a part of our program because within it is contained how the revolution was made and is to be made in other countries, what the workers’ state will look like after the conquest of power and what the actual material results of the revolution were.

A discussion of this question, moreover, must be approached in a scientific manner: What produced the October Revolution, how was it made, what were its material results, through what changes have these passed and what remains today. Such an approach, taking into account the all-sided development of world history and its effects upon the SU, can lead to satisfactory results in theoretical conclusions and the application of scientific theory to practice. It must never be forgotten that the prime purpose of this discussion is to arrive at not only a correct appraisal of what exists but also what we must do about it. We are not discussing this question merely for the mental exercise.

Unfortunately, this is not the attitude of everyone, especially of some members of the Political Committee. Comrade Coolidge, for example, says that we have always discussed the Russian question in the past from the point of view of what we would do if we found ourselves living in Russia. This is untrue and, moreover, a reactionary, nationalistic approach. According to his view, we would let the Russians decide the Russian question, the French the French question and we would decide the American question. This is not the way internationalists look upon political problems. The proletariat is an international class and acts internationally. We must never lost sight of this fact; it is the touchstone of all we stand for. Any time we adopt a policy it is not merely for the benefit of or the sole task of any particular part of the proletariat, but for the class as a whole. And this goes double for the Russian question.

II. The October Revolution

The October Revolution was the result of the profoundest crisis in imperialism taking particular shape during the First World War. Russia and the Russian bourgeoisie were tied by countless threads to the international economic system of imperialism. It was, as Lenin described it, the weakest link in the imperialist chain.

The Russian proletariat, led by the party of Lenin and Trotsky, overthrew the rule of the imperialists, expropriated them and the landowners and consolidated the ruling power of the Soviets. The expropriated properties of the former ruling class were made state property and for the first time in the history of the world everyone could see what was and would be the most fundamental difference between property relations in the means of production under capitalism and under the rule of the now rising class of proletarians. This expropriation of the former ruling classes and the subsequent nationalization of the means of production carried out by the working class was the fundamental result of the revolution alongside of which all other results bear a less important character.

The founders of the first workers’ state knew that the solution of the many problems confronting them both at home and abroad could not be separated from the solution of all problems facing the proletariat everywhere. Consequently, their outlook was always an internationalist one, based upon world developments and not confined to events and conditions strictly within the SU. Their policies were always motivated from the international viewpoint, they knew full well that the existence of Soviet power in Russia was dependent fully and actually upon the revolutionary development of the workers in the more advanced countries. This was brilliantly confirmed in the days of the imperialist invasion when the Soviet state might have been crushed had it not been for the aid given by the international working class.

III. The Period of Reaction and the Rise of Stalinism

Beginning with the defeat of the German revolution in 1924 and following the ebb that set in among the workers of western Europe in the post-war years, the SU found its isolation growing. As the workers of one country after another failed to rise to the level of the demands of development, that is, to emulate the Russian workers, the position of the SU in the world became increasingly precarious. A backward country economically as compared to western Europe and laid waste by years of wars and invasions, the SU began in its isolation to feel the pinch of want. Its separation from world economy plus the destruction of the war years caused a limit to the productive forces and, as the inevitable concomitant, produced a bureaucratic regime. The Stalinist bureaucracy owes its birth in the first place and its development in the second exclusively to the isolation of the SU caused by the failure of the world revolution. No one has been able to find a more satisfactory scientific reason for the phenomenon of Stalinism. Unless, of course, one uses the “science” of Messrs. Burnham & Macdonald, purveyors of exclusively “Scientific Theories” for all occasions.

The reactionary Stalin regime, basing itself on the backward, ignorant and weary sections of the population, proceeded to destroy one by one the gains of the revolution. The sum total of the crimes of Stalin is so great, a single sheet of paper cannot hold it. It is sufficient for us to say now that virtually all the gains of the revolution have been wiped out save one. This, the economy produced by the proletariat, remains in substantially unaltered form. The crimes of the Stalin bureaucracy viewed from the internationalist revolutionary standpoint make it more and more difficult for the workers of the world to defend what is left to defend: the nationalized economy.

IV. The Nationalized Economy and Why We Defend It

Marxists have always determined the class character of a state by the economy which this state defended and rested upon. Thus, we characterize as imperialist any state which rests upon an economy dominated in its decisive aspects by finance-monopoly capitalism. For our epoch in history we have decided that the brake upon the further development of the productive forces is imperialism. Therefore, we support in some measure or other, in one way of another, depending upon concrete circumstances, all movements against imperialism. There is no exception to this rule. Wherever a people are waging a struggle against imperialism, we take our stand with them and against the imperialists.

The October Revolution, which broke the chain of imperialism at its Russian link, resulted in the establishment of an economy in the SU which effectively prevented imperialist exploitation. No matter what we think of the Stalin regime or of nationalized property in general, or of nationalized property by the bourgeoisie, the cold, sober fact remains that today the economy set up by the proletarian revolution remains in the SU and is not a part of world imperialist economy. It must be stressed again and again that this economy did not drop from the skies but was the result of the proletarian revolution.

This economy has a progressive character as compared to capitalist economy. The new economy demonstrated its superiority over the old, even under the handicap of Stalinist control, during the first five-year plan. Soviet economy operating under a plan, even though bureaucratically carried out, experienced an expansion the like of which has never been seen by the capitalist world. Some people say (Comrade Johnson is one of them) that Russia would have expanded its economy even if the revolution and nationalization had not taken place. They have forgotten the little item that if the revolution had not taken place, Russia, defeated in the World War, would have become, not an industrial country of any kind, but a colony of American-British-French-Japanese imperialism. It would have developed as an agricultural crosspatch of spheres of influence by the victorious imperialists. They would have done to Russia what Hitler is doing to the conquered parts of Europe today.

It is this economy we propose to defend – despite Stalin, who, in reality, does not defend it. We defend the Soviet economy against the imperialist invaders who, if victorious, will destroy it and re-establish imperialism in the SU where it has been unknown for nearly a quarter of a century. We defend the SU so as to prevent Hitler from replacing the Russian link in the chain of world imperialism.

V. How Do We Defend the Soviet Union?

Since in our most fundamental analyses of world economy and the resultant class relations we use as a starting point the international aspects of the historical development and since we have characterized the October Revolution as just the first step in the world revolution, we therefore conceive of the defense of the SU as a direct part of our struggle for the world revolution. This is an internationalist proletarian policy and excludes, in the first place, any support of any kind whatever to any imperialists, be they allied to Stalin or anyone else. The revolutionary defense of the SU demands the most intransigent and unceasing struggle against all imperialism.

We do not credit the capitalist allies of Stalin of today with the desire to defend Soviet economy any more than, it can now be established in retrospect, his allies of yesterday. Roosevelt and Churchill, in their own way and in their own time, if they are able, will prove to be not one whit better allies than Hitler. We do not mean here that they will of necessity desert Stalin in a pinch. We mean that they, just as much as Hitler, want to replace the Soviet Union into the system of world imperialism. Therefore, we are opposed to them and their war today just as we were yesterday. The role that Roosevelt-Churchill play today with regard to the SU is only that of bolstering up the Stalin regime so that Hitler should not be able to concentrate all his attention upon them. Our role i; the diametric opposite. Far from bolstering up the reactionary Stalin regime, we expose it at every opportunity. We denounce his conduct of the war within the strictly confined limits prescribed by his allies. We denounce his appeal to the tradition of the Russian war against Napoleon and remind the workers of that great tradition of the Russian Civil War and the victory over the imperialist invaders of 1919 which included both the U.S. and England. We denounce the whole policy of Stalinism which ties hand and foot and delivers over to their exploiters the workers and colonial slaves of Anglo-American imperialism.

Our defense of the SU has nothing in common with the “defense” of the capitalist allies of Stalin or of the CP and its stooge organizations. Where all these people conceive of defending the SU by a policy of class peace and the submerging of the workers struggle in the interests of fighting the war, our policy is a continuation of the class struggle. Our policy, we have said, is motivated by the interests of the world revolution. We call upon all the workers to oust their present rulers and to take power themselves and unite with the Soviet workers. This is just the opposite of the line pursued by Stalin, who fears a rising of the workers anywhere. Stalin, who holds and defends the idea of solving the problems of the SU within the confines of one country, is the bitter enemy of the revolutionary defense of the SU.

Our policy, in its international aspects, is calculated to deepen and extend the proletarian revolution by uniting with the present Soviet economy, the advanced economy of the large capitalist nations. This, naturally, excludes the further existence of Stalinism which is and was based upon the failure of world revolution. Following the extension of proletarian uprisings and subsequent expropriations of the bourgeoisie, Stalinism, based upon conjunctural circumstances, will crumble into dust. Finally, we defend the SU as Lenin and Trotsky defended it: on the international arena. We persistently and patiently explain to the workers and especially the workers under the influence of Stalinism, that our defense of the SU is the only real defense.

VI. Is the Soviet Union a Capitalist-Imperialist State?

Comrade Johnson has favored us with several articles in which he attempts to prove that the SU is a capitalist state. Naturally he is not for its defense. He reasons from the premise that there are class divisions in the SU and that the bureaucracy composed of a minority of the people arrogates to itself a major share of the country’s income which is derived from highly concentrated and centralized means of production. Johnson, by some method known only to himself, tells us that the SU ceased to be a workers’ state and became a capitalist state somewhere in the neighborhood of 1933–1936. We shall investigate his method and subject it to a comparison with the Marxist method.

It is true that the relationships in the SU resemble capitalist relationships. The bureaucracy looks like and acts like a class. But we do not accept a similarity for an accomplished reality. It looked like a class long before 1933, too. Why was it not a class then? We do not insist that Johnson supply us with the exact date on which the bureaucracy became a class, such as, for example, the 24th of June. But we do insist that he supply us with the following facts: What new role in production did the bureaucracy play after 1933 that it did not play prior to that time when it was not a class? What fundamental changes did it make in the economy that was the product of the proletarian revolution, which transformed it from what it was into capitalist economy? If we obtain this information to start with, we shall have a basis of discussion with Comrade Johnson.

Without any exception, it is possible for us, using the Marxist method, to analyze the economy of any country in history and determine from this analysis its class character. Let us take an example. The U.S. up until the Civil War was a growing capitalist country. Its economy was divided between the industrial Northeast and the agricultural South. The Civil War was a struggle for dominance between these two economic orders. The North triumphed and cleared the road to further industrial expansion. This expansion took place in the years 1865–1890, roughly, to such a point as to make the U.S. a factor of considerable importance in world economy. The structural changes which took place in American economy were all on the side of greater trustification and the increasing dominance of finance-capital over industrial capital. Great surpluses were produced and sought a market. The U.S. began to reach out to other parts of the world, Cuba, the Philippines, South America, China, in fact, everywhere. The World War of 1914–1918 and the crisis produced in Europe as a result enabled the U.S. to replace England as the foremost financial and industrial power in the world. Its interests thereafter expanded in all directions, into every country of the world, even the already established imperialist countries. These interests, like the tentacles of a giant octopus, are the indispensable characteristics of imperialism. The U.S., we can see from a solely economic analysis, is an imperialist country and dominated by an imperialist class. A similar case can be made out for any of the other imperialist nations such as England or Germany, with some differences of detail. It is worth noting that it is possible to come to scientific conclusions without taking into consideration the political forms which do not by themselves have a fundamental influence. Now, we ask Johnson, show us how pre-1933 Soviet economy which was not a part of world imperialism, became a part. We have other differences with Johnson on this question, but for the present the above will suffice.

VII. Is the Bureaucracy a New Class and Should It Be Defended?

Comrade Shachtman, at present the foremost proponent of the theory that the bureaucracy is a new and hitherto unheard-of class, takes the position that he is not for the defense of the S.U. in the present war. We will not go into his theory of whether or not it is a new class here. Interested readers may look into the many writings on this question by Leon Trotsky and an article by this writer in the February 1941 New International. What concerns us now is why Shachtman, who in his previous writings promised to defend the S.U. against the possibility of imperialist restoration, is not for its defense in this war.

Shachtman justified his promised defense of the SU on the following grounds: “Such a transformation of the Soviet Union as triumphant imperialism would undertake would have vastly and durable reactionary effect upon world social development, give capitalism and reaction a new lease on life, retard enormously the revolutionary movement, and postpone for we don’t know how long the introduction of the world socialist society” (The New International, December 1940). One would assume the dire results pictured by Shachtman in the event of an imperialist victory over the SU, yes, even in this war, would make him its stoutest defender. But no, Shachtman says that the SU is participating in an inter-imperialist war and this “war as a whole” we cannot defend. But we do not propose to defend this “war as a whole,” we propose only the defense of the SU. How this could possibly result in any possible aid to imperialism, Shachtman has not yet advised us.

And he must tell us, while he has the floor, just how our revolutionary defense of the SU can possibly be confused with the “defense” of the Stalinists and their allies.

In a recent speech Shachtman said that we do not defend the SU even though its economy, he grants, is involved in this war any more than we defended Czechoslovakia when it was attacked by Hitler, which involved an attack upon the right of self-determination and the existence of workers’ organizations. He did not bother to state in this latter case that there was a “war as a whole,” because there was none. As a matter of fact, we did not defend Czechoslovakia because it was an imperialist state itself, oppressed many national minorities and did not defend workers’ organizations. How does Shachtman equate the SU, with its progressive economy over German economy, with Czechoslovakia.

We have many other differences with Comrade Shachtman on this question, but one example will illustrate that the method of Shachtman is based not upon Marxist analysis but, like Johnson, upon a species of mysticism known only to himself. China has been at war with Japan tor four years. We have supported this war and support it today. Why? Because the Chinese, a non-imperialist nation, are fighting for national liberation against imperialism. Now during the course of this struggle the Chinese have received from the U.S. and England far more than the SU to date. In fact, it is accurate to say that an alliance exists between China and the United States, even though it may not be written down on a piece of paper. Why then does not Shachtman say that the Chinese are part of the Anglo-American imperialist camp and refuse to defend them? How is it that the aid of the U.S. to China does not come under the heading of “the war as a whole” whereas the struggle of the Soviet Union against Germany becomes a part of the defense of the British Empire obscured only by a geographical detail? Comrade Shachtman, we give you the floor for some explanations.

The position of Comrade Carter in this discussion is somewhat obscured by the fact that he is in agreement with Shachtman in everything except that he would not defend the SU under any circumstances. We will not deal with his position now in detail as Shachtman, despite his promises, does not defend the SU either and, therefore, any difference is unimportant. It is worth mentioning, in passing, that Carter says he would not defend China, if they make an alliance with the U.S. The fact that an agreement is put on a piece of paper seems to have a principled character for Carter. What to call this method stumps us for the time being.

We have seen, even in this brief examination, that the method of the PC members is a departure from Marxism. The three positions represent a scramble on how not to defend the Soviet Union. It is a ludicrous spectacle. The division among them is purely superficial and in reality terminological, as they are in complete agreement on the real question of what to do. The real division in the party is between the defensists and the defeatists. This difference on the practical tasks is a real one, and the only real one.

Theoretical differences, when there is agreement on practical tasks, fade into the background. No matter how the PC members characterize the class nature of the Soviet state, so long as they agree not to defend it, their differences are unimportant and a discussion of them can lead to no serious results.

Similarly, those who are for the revolutionary defense of the SU, no matter what their opinions on the class nature of the state, find themselves in agreement on what is really important: the practical tasks. They must solidarize themselves, chart their course and carry through the struggle to the end. Between the defensists and the defeatists a great gulf has opened and is constantly widening. The war will speed up this process. Those who stand today on the program of the revolutionary and internationalist position of the defense of the SU find themselves on the firm and principled platform of Marxism, or at the very least, heading in that direction. The hopes for the future of the party rest with them and not with those who have given up the method and the program of Marxism.

Our position, in its strongest implication, is a vote of no confidence to the Political Committee which is in rapid retreat from our method and program. The PC is so unsure of its position, so ashamed of it actually, that in a recent leaflet addressed to the Communist Party membership it did not even mention explicitly what it stood for on the question of the hour. This symptom was motivated by the fact that the PC is afraid to come out openly as defeatist because of the large, if somewhat inarticulate and groping, desire of our membership to defend the SU.

I take this opportunity to urge every comrade with all the strength I have to reconsider his position in the light of the method of the Marxist movement and not in the method of the PC. I urge you to think this question through to the end. The justifiable hatred of all revolutionaries for Stalinism must not throw us off our course. The defeat of Stalinism and the ultimate victory of the proletariat demand the revolutionary defense of the Soviet Union.

August 1, 1941

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