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The New International, January 1945



The Higher School of Polemics – I

The Russian Question


From The New International, Vol. XI No. 2, March 1945, pp. 51–58.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


We welcome the article by our German comrades as part of the international discussion which new situations, new problems and new ideas have rendered indispensable if the world Marxian movement is to be reoriented and reconsolidated. As is clear from the contents, and as the authors themselves point out, their views on one of the important aspects of the “Russian question” – the class nature of the Stalinist state – differ from those put forward by The New International and the Workers Party. We publish this contribution to the discussion all the more readily because, with all its polemical vigor, it is an earnest attempt to debate questions on a political and theoretical plane toward the end of a correct position. In this alone, it is already an instructive contrast to the sullen silence – and on the rare occasions when the silence is broken, the hollow abuse – with which our “defenders” of “official” Trotskyism deal with controversial problems of the movement.The Editor

* * *

The editorial board of the Fourth International has deemed it a good thing to reprint in the November issue (1944) an article that appeared in an Internal Bulletin of the British section. The bulletin, which contained several contributions, bore the notation: “These documents on European problems are published by the RCP as an Internal Discussion Bulletin. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the party.” The Fourth International, for its part, prefaces the article in question with an editorial note whose most important part reads:

“The article which appears below is the abridged first part of a document written in July 1944 by a group of European comrades in London in answer to the questions raised in the Three Theses and in the bulletin, Europe Under the Iron Heel recently published in England.”

The Fourth International thus does not inform its readers that it has taken its article from an Internal Discussion Bulletin, which does “not necessarily reflect the views of the (English) party.” Therewith the editorial note reflects that peculiar informational and political “scrupulousness” which is an inevitable by-product of bureaucratic stupidity.

We have of course absolutely no objection to the publication of the article in the Fourth International as such. For many years we have repeated on all suitable occasions what we think of Internal Bulletins or of bulletins in general, so far as they are anything more than an expedient for mere information or for really subordinate questions of a technical or “narrowly” organizational nature. We believe that once bulletins serve the purpose of choking off free discussion and shunting political questions to the “internal” dark-room, they are harmful and should be fought against under all circumstances. In our eyes, therefore, the editorial board of the Fourth International has done a service in violating the otherwise zealously practiced principle of “internal” bulletins. If the motives that guided it completely unmask their political stupidity and turn out badly for it, that does not diminish the service it has done. In addition, it places us in the pleasant position of having to polemize not against a small group of unknown European comrades, but against the “big” SWP, which was apparently glad to be able to get its polemical powder from abroad. Why should we hide the fact that our festive cheer mounts as we see that the ox to be eaten is right big, grown-up and juicy? Accordingly, we shall speak here not of the European comrades but only of the SWP. It has adopted the lovely child with enthusiasm and without reservation – let it also pay for it.

What the Article Seeks to Do

The article seeks to criticize us and motivates that as follows:

Our world party is faced with the obligations of reviewing its forces? – their theoretical clarity and their ability to give to the revolutionary class – the proletariat – what only the Fourth International can give: program and leadership. This is why the dispute with the group of European comrades who published the Three Theses (See December 1942 Fourth International) has become one of the most important problems of the International. It requires the attention and active intervention of all sections of the International ... [The omission indicated by the periods is not ours. – N.T.]

This group of European comrades attempts to waive aside as ridiculous the criticism of various responsible comrades in the Fourth International while continuing their false policy. For reasons not wholly comprehensible, these comrades consider their theories and conceptions as superior to those of the rest of the International. They themselves are therein their own judges – nobody else in the International has up to now confined their judgment. It is necessary to consider their theoretical venture critically.

Commentaries on Method

Wrinkle your brow as seriously as you wish over this, and you are still far from being the wiser. The truth is concrete – only a methodical investigation will show us what is hidden behind the wrinkles. Let us first go through the critical announcement sentence by sentence. We note:

a) It is correct: “Our world party is faced with the obligation of reviewing its forces – their theoretical clarity and their ability to give to the revolutionary class – the proletariat – what only the Fourth International can give: program and leadership.”

Unfortunately, in this generally correct declaration there already lies a whole series of problems. It is very nice to speak of “our world party.” It has only the one defect of not existing in the greatest part of the world. This would not be so bad in itself, and may be adequately explained by the murder of Trotsky (who by himself alone already had the weight of a world party) and the events of the last five years. Much worse is the fact that among the present remnants of the Fourth there is not the slightest international connection and even less collaboration. The International Secretariat in recent years has been a parody on everything that such an institution should mean. It is only consistent that this “body” was simply and unceremoniously buried a year ago, without the fact being communicated to anyone, without consecrating the corpse. The “international connection” consists, as formerly, in the completely one-sided and arbitrary treatment of all affairs by the SWP leadership, which employs every means of escaping any genuine control by international instances, any criticism (even the most amicable), any suggestion, etc. Nevertheless – we are no formalists and we could accommodate ourselves without difficulty even to the “dictatorship” of the SWP leadership. Its dictatorship would also not be bad if it were to display that which is involved, i.e., “theoretical clarity and the ability to give the revolutionary class program and leadership.”

But that is just where the whole misfortune of the present Fourth lies.

There is no sense in repeating certain phrases year-in-year-out out of habit without checking their content from time to time against the reality. “To review our forces” is, in our opinion, all the more necessary, because of the little that has been produced since Trotsky’s death in theoretical, political and programmatic respects. If the stupidity of a smug “criticism” compels us to take a stand on this score, then in view of the whole situation in the Fourth, the greatest candor and clarity are in place. The review of our forces begins, after long experience and painstaking checking, with the categorical declaration: Of all the legal organizations of the “official” Fourth (the illegal and emigrant organizations stand on a different plane), the SWP, both politically and theoretically, is the worst. It has nothing at its disposal that might be characterized as practical politics and rejected the proposal, for example (we are informed), to call a protest meeting on the question that has stirred up everybody, of English intervention in Greece. It has not concretized the program of the Fourth in a single point, or developed and applied the tasks of the present day accordingly. On the contrary, it has degraded it to a dead letter, ossified it and vitiated it propagandistically. [1]

Comrades who show any concern over programmatic, theoretical and political questions are immediately driven into opposition, censured, and treated with hostility. What such comrades produce or could produce is hampered or rendered practically ineffectual, squashed under a mass of hopeless nonsense and idle rigmarole. One of the very few theoretically talented comrades of the SWP (A. Roland) is not re-elected to the National Committee, where he should have been obliged to remain (in case of declination). As ersatz for politics, The Militant has nine alleged “fighting” slogans, among which there are brilliant beauties from old times. Next to the downright misleading defense of the Soviet Union, the present Slogan No. 1, in the sixth year of the war, is perfectly hilarious. It reads: “Military training of workers, financed by the government, but under control of the trade unions. Special officers’ training camps, financed by the government but controlled by the trade unions, to train workers to become officers.” The Militant shouts every week: “Join us in fighting for” – which is unfortunately as impossible with it as is a seriously meditated proposal by a newborn suckling to improve its mother’s milk. Given the absolutely incontestable fact that there has not yet been the slightest fight for the nine slogans of The Militant, the possibility of joining it “in fighting for” is also liquidated. And with the declaration that paper is unnecessarily wasted with these slogans, and minds confused, the rest is also liquidated. For a measure that is to be carried out “under control of the trade unions,” presupposes an active trade union policy of the organization that demands the measure. But everybody who knows the decisions of the SWP in this respect knows that it has expressly forbidden an active trade union policy. It has given a thoroughly opportunistic motivation for this prohibition, the net effect of which may be summarized as follows: “We cannot do anything today. But tomorrow, conditions will be favorable for us. We must preserve ourselves intact (and of course recruit members) so as to be able to take over the leadership later on.” And of course the workers in the trade unions will say “later on”: Aha, there you are – we’ve waited for you so long! All that is left is the sad fact that the SWP puts forward a slogan and calls for a fight for it which it does not take seriously itself and for which it rejects a fight. And that is the most vicious thing a party can inflict upon itself and upon the workers. Instead of theoretical clarity, bureaucratic stupidity; instead of leadership, bureaucratic dishonesty. That is what the balance sheet looks like on this score.

The other extreme is represented by the British organiza tion, which, in practical politics, is by far the best organization of the official Fourth. “By far the best organization” is of course a relative term. It is limited to a specific field of practical activity, upon which our British friends enter with courage and aggressiveness, and actually present something like a “leadership” from which all other organizations can only learn. This organization takes itself and its slogans seriously – the diplomatic game of the SWP is alien to it and it warrants the greatest hopes. The main danger for it lies in its theoretical weakness, which is also responsible for its practical mistakes, propagandistic miscues, etc. To be able to fulfill the hopes placed upon it and to give the revolution a genuine “leadership,” it must learn to free itself radically from the ideological influence of the SWP, whose confusion and provincialism it reflects in large measure. Like all the organizations of the Fourth, it needs more Leninism, both with regard to the organizational field and the system of a universal policy. “Narrow practicalism” is equally characteristic of the two extremes, the passive SWP and the active British section, and is self-understood from the formations that lie between. This “practicalism” and the low theoretical level that conditions it are the curse of all organizations that orient themselves to an overwhelming extent upon a pure “worker”-policy.

While recognizing everything that the British section in particular represents by its sound inclinations, the review of our forces concludes with a judgment that has little in common with the blithe optimism of the claim to “leadership” constantly proclaimed for fifteen years; it does, however, correctly appraise the reality. That is, so long as the present situation of the Fourth is not surmounted, it will remain incapable of giving the revolutionary class a living program and an adequate leadership. The printed programs and principles that are not developed and practically applied, serve exactly the same purpose, regardless of the imprint “Trotskyist,” as a volume of Lenin in the hands of Stalin. We hope this is unmistakable.

Commentaries on Method (Continuation)

b) “This is why the dispute with the group of European comrades who published the Three Theses (see December 1942 Fourth International) has become one of the most important problems of the International. It requires the attention and active intervention of all sections of the International.”

After all that has been set forth here, we can only acknowledge that this second sentence of the critical motivation is completely correct. To attack the evil, it will indeed be necessary to elaborate the differences sharply and bring about a decision. The more sections that actively intervene and gain clarity, the better. We would have to be the SWP leadership to be afraid of an open struggle of opinions and the threatening “intervention.”

c) “This group of European comrades attempts to waive aside as ridiculous the criticism of various responsible comrades in the Fourth International while continuing their false policy.”

How things stand with the accusation that we are pursuing a “false policy,” we shall see later on. The rest of the accusation, however, we accept without much ado. The reader will understand why we were infernally amused by this “criticism” as soon as we have examined it closer. It is the most stupid and ludicrous of all we have ever been served with.

d) “For reasons not wholly comprehensible, these comrades consider their theories and conceptions as superior to those of the rest of the International.”

This accusation is also accepted from start to finish. It is a peculiar thing, however, with such sentences, in so far as they are directed at the wrong address. “Normally,” everybody considers his own theories and conceptions “superior” – most often precisely when he knows nothing at all about what theories and conceptions are. Truly superior in every respect (not merely in its non-existent theories and conceptions) is what, for example, the SWP leadership considers itself; for this reason and no other it presents us with its “superior” criticism and has long ago planted us among the “revisionist-opportunists.” An old proverb urges the utmost prudence with regard to the proneness of people to level light-minded accusations, and recommends that no stones be thrown by those who live in glass houses. Our critics should therefore not be surprised if the walls of their glass house rattle and our feeling of superiority is thereby substantially enhanced. We will serve them artistically.

e) “They themselves are therein their own judges – nobody else in the International has up to now confirmed this judgment.”

We are not investigating whether we do not have judges outside of ourselves, and we plead entirely guilty once more to the omniscient charge. In spite of this, we certainly do not feel the slightest impulse to collapse contritely. And why should we have waited for a correct judgment by our critics, if all they have presented us with “up to now” are stupidities and intelligence tests which cannot even be judged “properly” in parliamentary expressions? How glad we would be if our critics would only leave their petty-bourgeois scandal-mongering and finally treat themselves to a critically sound judgment about themselves! However, they do not even know whether they are hitting themselves or not. We will prove this to them, and we lament only the sorry fact that in our exchanges with them all we ever get to read that is in any way palatable is what we ourselves have written.

f) “It is necessary to consider their theoretical venture critically.”

That is the task that we now undertake.

The Case of Walter Held

Although in complete solidarity in theoretical and political respects, there are four groups on our side that are independent participants in the polemic. These groups are therefore not different factions or currents within the German organization – they are separated only spatially, and at a time when there was no possibility of contact among them, each of them by itself adopted the same position with (we say proudly) “deadly sureness.”

The first group is represented by comrade Baum who introduced the debate on the “national question” back in 1940, and encountered the vehement resistance of the SWP in particular with an article on Hitler’s Victories. The second group consists only of comrade Held. He lived in Sweden and came forward in September 1940 with Europe Under the Iron Heel. The third group embraces the authors of the Three Theses. It was able, following its release from the French concentration camps in the spring of 1941, to unite with the Baum group and (in agreement with comrade O.F., who lived far away) to present its theses for discussion in October of the same year. The fourth group, finally, consists of the publishers of the bulletin: Europe Under the Iron Heel, which contains the article of the same title by Held, our Three Theses, and a contribution by comrade F. Brink. Thus, we marched against unsuspecting stupidity from four different points, and each adopted the same basic position independently of the others, with the various sides of the question that were treated complementing the others excellently. In contrast to the theoretical muddle in the SWP, such a result can be attained, naturally, only from a politically well-schooled organization free of bureaucratic considerations.

This is where the case of Walter Held comes in. His article, testifying to a rare perspicacity and farsightedness, still stands, and has fully merited translation into English even today, but Held himself is no longer among the living. In his attempt to escape from Sweden and to join us, he fell into the hands of the GPU and was added to the countless victims of Stalin, Stalin knew what he was doing in eliminating comrade Held. We had expected that SWP leadership would also be aware of this, and would aim at the uttermost scrupulousness in its polemical zeal against the murdered comrade.

That it did not do so, and preferred to proceed against one who was personally defenseless and one of the best of the dead of the Fourth with calumny and falsehood, is the reason for the sharpness with which we react today. To calumniate old, experienced, tested and devoted comrades as “revisionists” and “liquidators,” to make arbitrary assertions, to give a false picture of past differences of opinion, to besmirch the political character-portrait of an irreproachable comrade, and to seek to transmit it in this way to posterity and to our own world – all these are symptoms of that sinister malady which fill comrade Morrison, for example, with justified concern in a number of other cases. Comrade Morrison, who faces up to his hopelessly sophistical opponents with painstaking scrupulousness and well-thought-out arguments, designates these symptoms – inasmuch as they are characteristic only of Stalinism – as the symptoms (“germs”) of Stalinism. He can do this precisely because he is scrupulous and operates with real arguments, but he refrains from saying more than he can justify. In the same way, anyone may assume up to the present moment that while the procedure employed against us by the SWP was objectively calumniation, etc., nevertheless it was subjectively simply an incapacity for thinking and narrow-mindedness arising out of various causes. However, we shall make the concrete test, and we say from the very moment when we have demonstrated here the untenability of the accusations in question, and corrected them openly, we shall call the SWP leadership unscrupulous calumniators and poisoners of the Fourth if they refuse to make a public withdrawal of their statements. If it were we alone who were involved, we would be as little “irritated” as we are (as our “own judge”) also little concerned about our future. But it is Walter Held who is involved – the dead should be promptly and unconditionally rehabilitated. Held can no longer help himself – we are the only ones who can defend him at all. And that we owe him.

The “Sins” of Walter Held

It is true: in the big dispute of 1939 which led to the split into the SWP and WP in America, Walter Held was not willing to see in Stalin’s attack upon Finland anything but an infamy for which there could be no justification or toleration whatsoever. To put it more plainly: his heart was for a failure for Stalin and for rejecting his Finnish adventure. But Held limited his position to the case of Finland, and in the question of Russia he remained at the old theoretical position that had been worked out by Trotsky. We do not examine here whether Held was right or wrong in this, but merely record the pure fact.

The “criticism” against Held knows differently, however:

That comrade Held, at the time of the Russo-Finnish war, and at the time of the controversy in the Socialist Workers Party, openly advocated “revolutionary defeatism” for Russia in Unser Wort – would be of relatively small significance, viz., would be of interest only for the “record,” inasmuch as the present tendency assures us it agrees with Trotsky on this question.

So now we know that Held preached “revolutionary defeatism” not just for the case of Finland, but quite in general for Russia. The Russian question is, as is known, the bogeyman of the SWP and a writer is sufficiently suspect if he was not a one hundred percenter on it. The whole thing has nothing whatever to do with the present dispute, but what can you live on if you have no arguments? Then you live on gossip and you work out a pretty “amalgam.” That is easy to fix up, because in the first place all those are also as suspect as Held who share his views in another question. The operation begins by casting doubt on the sincerity of the “present” tendency:

Until now we thought this statement [agreement with Trotsky in the Russian question] to be sincere. But what can we think of it when these comrades now publish an article [the reference is to Held’s Europe Under the Iron Heel] which contains the following:

”After a year of war, the regime of the iron heel has subjected almost the entire European continent. Finland, Sweden and Switzerland have still a remnant of independence and democratic form of government – however, all these countries lie under the shadow of the iron heel. All signs foreshadow that Finland will also share the fate of the Baltic countries.” [Emphasis by the critics]

It was the fate of the Baltic countries to be occupied by Russia. The regime of the iron heel, is thus not only German imperialism – fascism – but also the Soviet Union.

The question is, then, if the “regime” of the iron heel (fascism) can be equated with Stalin’s regime in Russia. We answer this question in agreement with Trotsky with a flat Yes. Perhaps the critics remember that we owe the designation of “Kremlinoligarchy” to nobody but Trotsky. But that would be of “relatively small significance” if Trotsky had not written explicitly:

Stalinism and fascism, in spite of a deep difference in social foundations, are symmetrical phenomena. In many of their features they show a deadly similarity. A victorious revolutionary movement in Europe would immediately shake not only fascism, but Soviet Bonapartism. (The Revolution Betrayed, p. 278.)

Like many ultra-lefts, Bruno R. identifies in essence Stalinism with fascism. On the one side the Soviet bureaucracy has adopted the political methods of fascism: on the other side the fascist bureaucracy, which still confines itself to “partial” measures of state intervention, is heading toward and will soon reach complete statification of economy. The first assertion is absolutely correct. (In Defense of Marxism, p. 11, Our emphasis. – N.T.)

To our critics’ misfortune, the same Trotsky who characterized the Stalin regime as the “most reactionary in the world,” also emphasized with reference to the Soviet Union the correctness of the sentence: “Foreign policy is the continuation of the internal.” (In Defense of Marxism, pp. 29f.) In a word: Held made bold enough to regard the deeds of the Kremlin oligarchy and its agents (including the “Red” Army) abroad as no better than at home, and to think: in politics, counterrevolution remains counterrevolution, and Fascism – fascism. To be sure, this was a thesis that we had long ago put forward and defended, on the occasion of the “Soviet Russian delivery of arms in the Spanish civil war,” even against the then International Secretariat, which was spreading the most pernicious confusion in this question. We rejected the talk that Stalin, in the interest of his domination, is compelled very often to do things which are “objectively” progressive against his will, and declared: the Stalin bureaucracy has become exclusively reactionary and counterrevolutionary; the Russian arms deliveries are the smuggling of the armed enemy into the camp of the Spanish revolution. Let us add: L. Trotsky never contradicted us politically in this or in other questions.

Let us assume, however, purely for the sake of argument that the critics were able to read and understand “their” Trotsky only in such a way as to produce the caricature analyzed by comrade A. Roland. Let us even assume that there were serious differences among us, Trotsky and the rest of the Fourth on the appraisal of the Stalin regime. It is clear that a different appraisal of the “regime of the iron heel” does not yet touch on the questions of the program and the theory of the Fourth, and for example, gives no decision on the character of the U.S.S.R. (“workers’ state” or not). From this, you can measure the level of a “criticism” which, right on the heels of the suspicion, serves up the finished amalgam:

Shachtman thought it superfluous to distinguish between an annexation in the interest of imperialism and an annexation for the defense of the Soviet Union against imperialism. The renegade Burnham later developed on this basis his theory of the “managerial society” – he could just as well have called it the “Iron Heel.”

In other words: You see, dear reader, what dangerous rascals this Held and his friends are. They stand on the same ground as the renegade Burnham, whose “managerial society” is only a different designation for the regime of the “Iron Heel” in Held’s sense.

Are we right in calling this miserable calumny (what is more, of the dead, whose contributions to the press of the SWP lent it lustre), so long as it is not withdrawn? Are we right in saying that the consciousness of the movement is poisoned with such things, and that the same thing is done as the forger, Stalin, who is the master of “amalgams”? Isn’t it spiritual devastation and disorientation of followers when the apologetic “managerial revolution” (which is supposed to be a “higher” stage of development) is thrown into one pot, with sordid purpose, with the “Iron Heel” (which is the symbol of the deepest depravity of bourgeois society)? The SWP leadership evidently thinks that it is enough for a “leadership” to apply the yardstick of the illiterate to the whole world. And the fact is that it has “trained” its members in such a way as to render them incapable of recognizing crude theoretical and political mistakes by themselves and to reject them fittingly.

Put aside the coarse calumnies: did the 1939 debate revolve around making a distinction between two different annexations? On the contrary! Trotsky emphasized explicitly that we do not want to take on so much as the slightest responsibility for the domestic and foreign political crimes of Stalin (annexation included). The nub of the debate came to a point on the question of whether the latest crime of Stalin had finally destroyed the character of the Soviet Union as a “workers’ state” and whether in the given concrete situation this crime sufficed to give up the defense of the basic achievements of the October revolution. Shachtman held, as the discussion progressed, that the “workers’ state” was dead (whether for the preceding reason or any other is beside the point here) and – experience showed that he nevertheless remained a revolutionist. Burnham likewise said No to the “workers’ state.” He evolved in his own way, became a renegade and traitor. Held, on the other hand, believed, also in the then situation, that resistance should be offered Stalin’s crime, but in the question of the workers’ state and defense of the Soviet Union, he remained on Trotsky’s standpoint. As is known, Trotsky called upon Shachtman to remain in the SWP and, within the framework of unity of action, to propagate his contrary views undisturbed.

Again, measure the baseness of a polemic which adds directly to the amalgam:

The claim of these comrades that they base themselves on the program [!] of the Fourth International loses in our eyes much of its value when they print and solidarize themselves with statements [!] which are exactly the contrary of the position [!] of Trotsky and the Fourth International.

As we have seen, the “statements” thus far consist of one single quotation on the question of the Stalin regime, which we, along with Trotsky, consider fascist in its political essence. The rest was lies on Held’s defeatism for Russia, a despicable amalgam, a false presentation of the standpoints, and a conscienceless misleading of the public. Under such circumstances we must naturally say what it means for us when we lose much “value” or anything else in the eyes of our critics. For us it simply means that we are happy not to have them regard us as brothers in spirit.

The Trap of History

On Held’s article, it says further:

For a long time we did not pay special attention to the article of comrade [renegade-comrade?] Held – it is brimming with literary superficialities, it is bare of any scientific exactness.

The second half of this sentence is a new besmirching of Held, murdered by Stalin, and it will be understood why, with regard to him, we do not want to allow a single word to pass without reprimand. Held’s article is, in reality, a brilliant literary and political product of the kind that the SWP leadership once used to love to print when it came from the pen of the same Held. Gone are the fine days when Held’s articles still helped make the press of the SWP attractive and useful; whereas today it serves us with a “scientific exactness” from which you would turn with a shudder if it were not for the fact that dealing with it is part of the fulfilling of indispensable revolutionary duty. We have demonstrated here with a few examples with what accuracy the criticism misses its mark by about a few hundred miles. Should we therefore say that these ABC-sharpshooters are, with respect to “scientific exactness,” likewise only “their own judge”?

Certainly we should! The only point is that there is a big difference as to whether it is a fool or an untalented bureaucrat, or else a man blessed with sense, who judges himself. Where understanding, knowledge and conscience rule, the experiment will succeed – in the remaining cases, there should be no surprise if the product falls back on the head of the producer. Our critics take mighty good care not to bring any examples of where Held’s article is “brimming with literary superficialities.” They are good-natured people, and no sooner is one poisoned arrow sped on its way than the next one comes:

The above quotation is not the only blow which these European comrades aim against our position on the Soviet Union. On page 3 of this bulletin, it is said that the English Tories have understood relatively late “that the Soviet Union has ceased to constitute a danger for the European bourgeoisie” on the grounds of internal transformations within the Soviet Union.

Let us repeat patiently: “the above quotation” consisted of an appraisal of the Stalin regime in agreement with Trotsky. Worked up into an amalgam and trimmed with other ingredients it was in fact a “blow” not against our “position on the Soviet Union,” but against all the political and methodological principles of the Fourth and against elementary human decency. Now Held has committed the crime of writing that “the Soviet Union has ceased to constitute a danger for the European bourgeoisie.” And this crime is immediately avenged:

As opposed to this, the Manifesto of the Fourth International, The Imperialist War and the Proletarian Revolution quotes from the theses on War and the Fourth International as follows: “Taken on the historical scale the contradiction between world imperialism and the Soviet Union is infinitely more profound than the antagonisms which set the individual countries in opposition to each other.”

It must truly be a relief for the poor in spirit to be able to avoid the effort of thinking for themselves by using an inappropriate quotation. Yet, before we deal with the quotation, let us consider the historical trap which the critics have set here for themselves. The new, extremely terrible “blow” against the Fourth would be of interest “only for the record,” if it were not for the Fourth International of November 1944. As we already know, the SWP was forced, by intervention from an influential source, to turn back again to Trotsky’s line in the Russian question and to draw closer to the harsh reality. True: so far as our view is concerned, we have stood since 1936 on the viewpoint that the Soviet Union under Stalin represents no danger for the bourgeoisie. Since that time, we have often set this down in writing without ever encountering the criticism of Trotsky or even of the SWP. Why does it come forward in November, 1944, with its “criticism” when, in the same issue it presents “statements” which are completely identical with our standpoint? Why does it strike itself in the face when at the same time a “resolution” is submitted to the convention in which may be found the confirmation of our views?

This is to be explained, first, by the fact that the correction of the obviously false line in the policy toward the Soviet Union, which was established by the influential interventionist, was not carried through with political candor but only as a bureaucratic maneuver, The business is “arranged” in such a way, with the aid of an undated letter, as to make it appear that they reach the “stature of the times” on their own count. Yet, the “heart” does not feel just right in this turn of affairs and the letter in question is a document whose half-ness and dead phrase-mongering stands off in painful contrast to the masterfully written letter of the “interventionist.” From all this follows, second, the explanation: a bureaucracy guided by purely factional requirements is never capable of checking up on itself and freeing itself of the crudest contradictions.

The Trap of History in the Form of Quotations

We are now in a position to bring “really appropriate” quotations and we begin with the “editorial” which stands next to the “criticism” of us. On pages 325–326 (November 1944) it says:

The actual fact is that the heaviest reserves of the internal counter-revolution are now to be found among the Soviet peasantry. Prior [!] to the war the class differentiation within the collectives had already produced a strong [!] formation of “millionaire kolkhozniks” who can be scientifically [!] designated as a nascent rural bourgeoisie. The processes in wartime, especially the growing scarcity of necessities, have tended to greatly strengthen this rural bourgeoisie ...

The Soviet rural bourgeoisie possesses social support in the village in the person of another layer that has grown luxuriously in wartime – the well-to-do peasant, the speculator in the “free market,” in short, none other than the kulak whose complete extinction had been fraudulently proclaimed long ago by the Kremlin ...

The growth of individualistic tendencies in Soviet agriculture is reflected in Stalin’s own press. The collectives do not even bother to sign agreements with the Machine Tractor Stations, agreements on which a large portion of grain deliveries to the state depend. A report from a district in Northern Caucasus states that:

“In the course of the last two years the Mamlyutsky regional Soviet has not reviewed nor registered a single agreement.”

And in conclusion, it is added: “The Mamlyutsky region is, unfortunately, not an exception.” (Pravda, June 8)

The collectives do not bother to fulfill the plan. They prefer to raise and harvest those crops which are the most profitable. Hay and other fodder are apparently relatively cheap in the “free market” and are therefore neglected, with the resulting loss of horses and cattle ...

Fragmentary as the information is, the conclusion is inescapable. The war has placed a huge question mark over the fate of the entire [!] collective farm system which is now being pulled powerfully in the direction of capitalist restoration. This crisis in the collective directly involves the fate of nationalized industry and planned economy as a whole. (Our emphasis in this paragraph. – N.T.)

Meanwhile in the political sphere the Stalinist bureaucracy has already accomplished everything in its power to clear the road for capitalist restoration. The capitalist, or more correctly, the restorationist wing of the bureaucracy, has been strengthened by the ascendancy of the military caste, by the restoration of the Greek Orthodox Church, by all the injection of the poison of chauvinism into the Soviet masses, and all the other reactionary measures introduced in recent periods. The strong agricultural base of the counter-revolution reinforces and is itself reinforced by the restorationist section of the bureaucracy. The “democratic” Anglo-American imperialists provide the forces moving toward capitalist restoration within the USSR with a powerful ally. (Our emphasis – N.T.)

Finally, Soviet industry has been undermined not only by the war but also by the bureaucracy, which has remained just as rapacious, arbitrary, wasteful and inefficient in wartime as it was in peace. The war has freed the managers, engineers and specialists even of the inadequate controls previously exercised. They remain, of course, completely free from any cheek or supervision by the masses. One of the first casualties of the war was the system of cost-accounting in the plants ... (Our emphasis. – N.T.)

It is worth stopping here for a moment and noting: in the eyes of our critics, the Soviet Union at the present moment appears to be an all the greater “danger” to imperialism the more what is called “planned economy,” “workers’ state,” “foundations of the October Revolution,” etc., is being visibly demolished even for them. As a workers’ state (for we are discussing here, be it well understood, the danger that Russia is supposed to be to imperialism as a workers’ state), Russia has for a long time been about as dangerous to imperialism as the leadership of the SWP has been to the existence of world capitalism in general. Let us not be misunderstood: precisely today, when this kind of argument is pushed into the foreground, both “dangers” are equal to zero. Let us now follow briefly comrade A. Roland, who is represented in the same issue of the Fourth International with an article on Political Economy Under Stalin. Roland writes (pp. 341f.):

Deep inroads exist in the nationalized land. The peasants have now used their private plots, separated from the collectivized farms, for many years. They look upon these as private property and secure the larger part of their income from the labor devoted to these plots of land. Then too the produce thus privately raised as well as the supplies of grain, etc., received in kind as their share of the production of the collectives, are sold in the open market existing side by side with the closed government market. The economists cannot help but state that: “Between the organized market, which is in the hands of the Soviet state, and the free market element a struggle goes on.” The free market has grown at an enormous rate during the war. The government had to permit this in order to give the incentive for the greatest possible production. Where two markets exist, one for private trading, with much higher prices in the free market, there can be no doubt that speculation and middlemen spring up and grow apace ...

One can say with utmost assurance that in the tug-of-war between the socialist and the capitalist sectors of Soviet economy, the pull is all in the direction of capitalism at the present time. This despite the fact of war production on the part of the trusts. For even in this sphere, the individual factories have come more and more into touch with each other directly, instead of through central planning bodies. This trend has been encouraged by the bureaucracy. Its tendency is to atomize the economy. Taken in conjunction with the direct effects of the war, and the pressure of world imperialism, the danger of capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union grows more and more acute. The process is not one that occurs all at once. The example of “Soviet” Esthonia may be taken as an illustration of how the process may spread. There the land has not been nationalized, but has been left in the hands of the peasants. No effort is being made (nor could it be made under present conditions) to collectivize them. But in addition all enterprises employing less than ten people are permitted to continue as private ones. Only the bigger plants are being nationalized.

There is some indication of the future trend also in the Gold Conference. Stalin has undertaken to help buttress world capitalism with the aid of Soviet gold and economy. The capitalist countries, meantime, propose to seek to penetrate Soviet economy by economic pressure through this same channel. Incidentally, by these ties with world capitalism, Stalin has negated the whole theory of “socialism in one country.” For it is clear acknowledgment of the dependence of Soviet economy on world economy.

There is only one great force that can save the Soviet Union from this danger. Without a proletarian revolution in Europe, which will arouse the Soviet masses into action against the reactionary bureaucracy, capitalist restoration is inevitable sooner or later. Stalin’s victories do not at all lessen the danger. They may indeed hasten matters. These are the alternatives facing Russia. (Our emphasis throughout – N.T.)

Up to this point, the demonstration of how terribly great is the “danger” to imperialism of the existence of the “Soviet” Union, has proceeded mainly along economic lines. That is entirely in the theoretical order of things, for to be able to estimate the political threat (which is being discussed first of all), you must know to what extent, if at all, the economic data, quasi-”independent” of Stalin’s will, by their mere power, represent a danger which has the special character of the danger of “Soviet” economy. Our critics are indignant over the view that the “Soviet Union has ceased to constitute a danger for the European bourgeoisie,” by which we have struck a terrible “blow” at “our position on the Soviet Union.” In return, they plunge at the same instant into the historical trap which they have themselves set in considering the reality (we are far from saying that their consideration is exhaustive and adequate). Their own view, given with the “utmost assurance,” says: “... the pull is all in the direction of capitalism at the present time.” If we follow this line, the ensuing result is the consideration: “Without a proletarian revolution in Europe ... capitalist restoration is inevitable sooner or later.” Conclusion from the situation as a whole: even from the economic side or from the latent power, the Soviet Union is no more “dangerous” for the bourgeoisie at this moment than Stalin’s pipe can be.

We should, however, remain cautious and bear in mind, with Feuerbach: “Bottomless is human ignorance and boundless the force of human fancy; the power of nature, despoiled of its ground by ignorance, of its limits by imagination, is the divine omnipotence.” Possibly, therefore, the fetishizing of the “natural power” of the Soviet Union, provided by the boundless imagination, for example, of comrade Martin [2], will prompt our critics to the assertion: The fear and terror of the bourgeoisie before the Soviet Union have grown in the same proportion in which its economic foundations appear to us as a body which now consists only of fragments and which has already lost its whole abdomen. Everything is possible, but that is not reason not to reverse the formula and to say: the bourgeoisie has triumphed – a danger exists exclusively for the “Soviet” Union, whose internal foes are in complete solidarity with the world bourgeoisie. There is but one single danger for the bourgeoisie inside and outside the “Soviet” Union. This danger is the socialist revolution, which, for its own part, imperilled as much by the existence of the present Soviet Union as it is in general by the world bourgeoisie, with the greater danger coming out of the Soviet Union itself. To speak of other dangers, is blank metaphysics, and means depriving the revolution of the bitterly necessary orientation. Let our critics cry out, Murder! and Stop, Thief! – but the demonstration is still far from concluded.


We are still operating on the basis of the materials which the Fourth International supplies us with. Its November issue offers us a third article which the editorial board prefaces with the remark: “There are a number of loose and inexact formulations in the article, such as: ‘the workers’ state fell and was replaced by Stalinist despotism’; an improper reference to the October revolution as ‘a happy episode,’ etc. [3] We are publishing the article because in its main line it conforms with the Trotskyist position on the Soviet Union.” If we examine the “main line” of the article, we find:

The Rothschilds, Krupps, Hitlers, Churchills, etc., need the capitalist system as much as it needs them; but the Stalins, Molotovs, Vishinskys, etc., are unnecessary and harmful to the nationalized and planned economy. They have no other way out than to set the economic system in harmony with themselves; at that point they will be in no way distinguishable from the capitalist class. In other words, if they are not to perish, they will be obliged to reintroduce private property.

But a step of this sort cannot be legally effected before it has first been actually introduced into the social structure of the country. And even so, the bureaucracy will not dare to announce it openly. They will say, perhaps, that the revolution has now achieved all its objectives, that from now on it need only rejoice in its triumph and in the marvelous good-nature of the Marshal. It was precisely on the eve of the war that the material privileges of the bureaucracy had reached their zenith. To go further was impossible without an open break with planned economy. Ideologically, everything was then ready for solidifying their illegitimate usurpation of power and privileges into an ownership legitimized by law and sanctified by the gods.

This whole last paragraph is not especially clear. What does an “open break” mean, if on the other hand the bureaucracy “will not dare to announce [!] it openly” and, as always, will say something different? It is a fact that the “planned economy,” most particularly since “the eve of the war,” has been broken through and shot through on all sides. It is more of a literary specter than a living, effective reality, where, in the opinion of the writer, it was impossible to go any further along the path taken “without an open break with planned economy.” Comrade Roland is entirely correct in saying that even in the outstandingly important industrial branch “of war production on the part of the trusts,” “the individual factories have come more and more into touch with each other directly, instead of through central planned bodies. This trend has been encouraged [!] by the bureaucracy. Its tendency is to atomize the economy.” And the same view is held by the quoted editorial. It appears to us that speculations on “openly” or not only distract attention from the subject under investigation. The analysis must proceed from the fundamental fact that a definite private-economic and “unplanned” sector has always existed in the economy of the Soviet Union and has grown enormously most especially since the beginning of the war. The changes in the “social structure of the country” correspond by and large to this growth. We have a fairly reliable yardstick for what is taking place in the economic sphere when it is borne in mind that the social, ideological and political changes are taking place with startling speed in the Soviet Union. The problem is to ascertain the point where the growth of the private sector, fed from numerous channels, has progressed far enough to be able to vanquish the whole, openly or not. On this score, it is not only national, but also international factors of economy and politics, that decide.

Furthermore, we should not stand hypnotized before the word “planned economy.” In the sense of the economic development of the totalitarian states, a certain part of “nationalized” and “planned” economy can remain in existence undisturbed, without contradicting the restoration of capitalism. That would only help hide the whole process, instead of making it “openly” necessary, while the civil war rages for years and appears to be carried on “under cover” only because it is permanent. And finally, the return to capitalism in the Soviet Union must yield the same results economically as in the other imperialist countries which push ahead the capitalist decomposition. Looked at historically, the October Revolution would then have served to make possible the bourgeois development, which was blocked by the Czarist system with the aid of a proletarian revolution, and to place Russia, at the peak of the whole process, which assumes economically and politically the forms of capitalism in decay, before a new proletarian revolution. That is precisely why the Russian development, once the foundations of the October Revolution have been eliminated, necessarily leaves behind only the fascist system, and, as Trotsky argued against Bruno R., not “state capitalism” or the “managerial society.” How far the thing, “legitimized by law and sanctified by the gods,” had developed as early as the outbreak of the war, is shown by the writer with examples that are very interesting for us:

The decisive solution – either toward capitalism or toward socialism – coincides with the social convulsions brought about by the war, to the discomfiture of Stalinism and the bourgeois counterrevolution throughout the world. In 1939 an English economic society, wishing to reassure its government about a possible alliance with the “Bolshevik” Stalin, offered evidence [!] from a study of Soviet economy [!] that the bureaucracy constituted a newly-forming bourgeoisie interested solely in the status quo throughout the world. Independently, a French society of the same sort arrived at the same conclusion ...

The war, pushing to their extremes the contradictions existing in the USSR, chiefly the separation between the people and the bureaucracy, has impelled the latter to the very edge [!] of capitalist restoration. Hardly has the external danger been conquered than the internal danger reappears, in gigantic forms. Because the military victories have been achieved under the leadership of the bureaucracy, they have succeeded only in postponing the solution of the dilemma: capitalist restoration or continuance of the revolution – with the term bureaucracy now replacing the term imperialism.

Held, “brimming with literary superficialities,” was therefore well-informed when he declared “that the English Tories have understood relatively late that the Soviet Union has ceased to constitute a danger for the European bourgeoisie on the grounds of internal transformations within the Soviet Union.” The two economic societies, however, offered evidence of Stalin’s harmlessness not out of the air, but “from a study of Soviet economy.” Our critics seem to assume that the English Tories shook with fear when they were given the calming reassurance: everything is in the finest order! For us, on the contrary, it is important once more to hold firmly: you cannot be driven “to the very edge of capitalist restoration” if the economic premises ad hoc have not themselves reached “to the very edge.” If these premises had not matured, then the problem of the capitalist restoration could naturally not even be posed. If you follow the presentation of the writer, its inner logic reads: on the economic field, the private-economic factors (premises of the restoration) and the Soviet factors (achievements of the October Revolution) must be confronting each other in a strength of about 50–50, and be driving toward a final decision. Evidence of this state of affairs is provided us not only by the writer, but also by the editorial and by comrade Roland. Politically, the writer of the third article, right at the outset, draws the same conclusion as all of us who hold Trotsky’s position:

The path of capitalist restoration and the timing of its realization differs from what was forecast by the old leaders of the revolution. But the essence of their prediction cannot fail of fulfillment: failing new revolutions, capitalism will be restored in the USSR. (Our emphasis – N.T.)

The tendency of the development is thus unambiguously ascertained and is being driven forward, precisely today, by distantly visible and weighty facts. On the tempo of the development, comrade Roland says correctly: “Stalin’s victories do not at all lessen the danger. They may indeed hasten matters.” The so-called Soviet factors are being assailed on all sides

(most particularly in consequence of the constantly growing dependence of Soviet economy on world economy) and find themselves in impotent isolation from which they can be liberated only by revolutions outside of Russia. Let us note one thing further: “Capitalist restoration or continuance of the revolution” is the dilemma – “with the term bureaucracy now replacing the term imperialism.” From this whole situation follow certain peculiar consequences, even if our critics believe that the only consequence is the one that makes the bourgeoisie drip blood from the nose out of fear of the colossal “danger.” [4]

(To be continued)


Committee Abroad of the
International Communists of Germany
by N.T.


1. We cannot present here a rounded criticism of the SWP policy, and must confine ourselves, at least for the most part, to substantiating our thesis by the example of the presented “criticism,” whose malicious stupidity is naturally an organic part of the catastrophic decline of the SWP. But we already have no lack of detailed presentations which offer a thoroughly clear picture of the real situation. First in line is the document that Comrade A. Roland wrote for the recent convention under the title: We Arrive at a Line. Even among politically interested comrades there is a fatal inclination to underrate the theoretical import of documents of this sort. Yet Comrade Roland has done an excellent job which merits the greatest consideration (even though we cannot by far subscribe to every word he has written). Roland demonstrates, with striking material, how, particularly in the question of Russia, even the position of 1939 (that is, the position as it was, without the adaptation to the present situation that has become so necessary) has developed away from Trotsky to the injury of the movement and has been transformed into a rearguard cover for Stalinism. The perversity of the SWP position was obvious, but it required the intervention from an influential source to force a change here. Whereupon the by-now nauseating slogan of The Militant, “Defense of the Soviet Union against imperialist attack,” slid from first place down to ninth, without gaining anything in value. And, above all, the magnificent editorial box of The Militant has been kept intact; it is part of the standing inventory and contains a quotation from Trotsky which announces that the USSR still remains “the main fortress of the world proletariat.” That is how a phrase, correct in its historical position, is robbed of all its sense, and the memory of a great teacher is defiled by the reactionary harping on formulae which state the very opposite of what exists today. The situation has changed fundamentally, and the USSR does not float in the air. Stalin has finally made it the “main fortress” of world reaction, and the workers have no more vicious, cruel and perfidious enemy than It, and the “Red” Army that acts as its agent. Notions about “theoretical clarity” are surely as different as the tastes of the individual. At any rate, the SWP had to deny its taste of yesterday and to correct itself. That would have been good had not the procedure followed in this correction ruined all its usefulness. You can read in the document of Comrade Roland how this was manipulated. The “new line” is, so to say, smuggled in. Not an open word on the revision itself. Certain letters are kept unpublished under all kinds of pretexts; others are handed out without a date in order to smear over the actual situation. Read this and all the rest of it and rest assured; the sun, the moon and the stars will perish before clarity, program or “leadership” grow out of such things.

2. See his letter in the material for the SWP convention, where the “divine omnipotence” of the Soviet Union is trotted out before us in exemplary fashion.

3. The “improper reference” refers to the sentences: “The triumph of the Russian proletariat was no more than a happy episode in the world struggle of the proletariat against capitalism. A triumph of the greatest importance, yea, but incapable of consolidating and completing itself without the aid of other revolutions.” We have emphasized the essential passages in order to show once again the type of criticism the Fourth International editors pursue. It is miserable quibbling – a malady which befalls especially those comrades who feel themselves politically unsure. The afflicted do not concern themselves with the spirit of a formulation or of entire works, but they run around the paper like flies and cling to individual letters of a word. As a result of their somewhat thin-flowing digestive droppings, they leave behind certain dots on the I. These dots are then given “bad” marks and attributed to the brain of the author. And thereupon the “improper” criticism gets under way.

4. That the bourgeoisie does not worry a damn over the “danger” that comes to them out of the Soviet Union as such and is united with Stalin in its fear of a revolution outside of Russia (with Stalin carrying off the prize), is very nicely shown by the writer of the third article:

“Its (the Kremlin’s) proposition to the Dumbarton Oaks conference (the creation of an international air corps capable of quickly attacking any regions where disturbances threaten), shows a panicky fear of the revolution greater even than that of the bourgeoisie Itself.”

It would not be necessary to repeat such by-now banal wisdom if we were not dealing with big critics. Pursuing their “polemical requirements” which lie on the other side of the question, they find it easy to make themselves ridiculous and to ignore their own assertions.

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Last updated on 22 April 2016