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The New International, April 1945

International Communists of Germany

The Higher School of Polemics – II

On the Russian Question


From The New International, Vol. XI No. 3, April 1945, pp. 82–90.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Continued from the last issue

Inasmuch as the development cannot stand still and is admittedly moving alone the line toward restoration, there only remains to pursue the “path” and the “timing of its realization” on the basis of available data. On the other hand, we have seen that speculations on an “open” or concealed restoration can, at most, only distract us from the concrete investigation. Thirdly, we have said that the civil war has been raging for years and appears to be conducted “under cover” only because it is permanent. [5] One of the most important questions therefore, is this: Is the civil war continuing? In this respect, the author of the third article provides a valuable indication:

For a long time the bureaucracy has been bending its efforts toward the preparation, in accord with its interests, of a way out from the insupportable contradiction between itself and the planned economy. During the war itself the abyss which separates its privileges from the people has deepened, its system of permanent repression intensified, and new armed instruments created for the purpose of crushing every resistance or attack of the people. The most striking among these is a kind of Stalinist SS, a privileged section within the army which already had a large degree of privileges in peacetime. For these Janizaries the normal army pay is doubled or trebled; they are better clothed, better fed, and relieved of the dirty and dangerous work. What object can there be in the formation of this corps except to set up around the regime an armed instrument completely tied, by its own material interests, to the bureaucracy? Like every reactionary social layer, the bureaucracy, under the cover [!] of war against the imperialist enemy, is carrying on a second civil war against the defenseless and starving people.

Hence, the first consequence that results: “there is nowhere a moment in the Russian or international development which is not a proof of the growth and the progress of the restoration. Everything, every single thing, indicates that it is impossible without an open break ...” On the contrary: the war against the imperialist enemy serves as a “cover” for the endeavors of the restoration. In considering the possible forms that the final restoration might assume, the author himself puts the question: “Will the Marshal continue to be the supreme leader in the stage of reintroduction of capitalism?” He comes finally (for the word “stage” does not in reality have much meaning here) to the conclusion: “But it is of very minor importance whether the Marshal continues as leader or falls victim to his own methods.” This is all the more correct, in our view, inasmuch as the Fourth always left open the possibility of a section of the bureaucracy becoming merged into the new bourgeoisie. And again, everything, nationally and internationally, speaks for the idea that the world reaction is highly interested in settling the affair with Stalin at the head. Nobody is a better “cover” than he, if it is a matter of deceiving the masses of the world and of bloodily suppressing revolutions. Yet, this is only the beginning of all the consequences.

In the first place, the Fourth has been saying, not just since today but for a long time: The impulsion for a rising of the Soviet masses against the Stalin regime cannot come out of Russia, it must rather be sought in the European revolutions. Taken on the whole, this is only a modification of the old formula: Without the aid of the international proletariat and its revolutions, the Russian revolution is doomed to perish. But as a modification (in its specific form) it signifies: Russia itself has already ceased to be an independent impetus of the revolution (revolutionary influence upon the world movement) and a “danger” to the bourgeoisie. Since Stalin’s murder of the Spanish Revolution, it was demonstrated even to the “blind” that Russia and its revolutionary achievements can no longer be separated, in their isolated helplessness, from the counterrevolutionary Stalinist bureaucracy, and this bureaucracy is the most reliable and zealous servant of the world bourgeoisie. In this sense, we wrote, as did Walter Held in his article:

Originally endowed with the dynamic idea of world revolution [our emphasis], the Soviet Union is transformed into a bureaucratic-conservative aim-in-itself, and finally into a totalitarian police state, a stifling parasite on the foundation of October, without any historical perspective. (Emphasis of the critics)

Before we enter into the grandiose “criticism” which is hereupon meted out to Held, we would like to call attention to another consequence which, again, was drawn by the entire Fourth. At a certain point, the Fourth gave up its hopes in a “reform” of the Soviet Union and put in its place the necessity of a political revolution in Russia. For people endowed with understanding, this means precisely that the Soviet Union has become identical with the system of Stalin and that it must first regain its historical perspective with the aid of a political revolution. In any case, this was the spirit in which Held wrote his entire article, in which he naturally presupposed readers whose loyalty would preserve them from malicious plucking-at-commas. However, inasmuch as we are discussing on the basis of facts which the Fourth International has now furnished us, we regret that we must drive the consequences a little further. We have learned that we have come, economically and politically, “to the very edge of capitalist restoration,” and we possess a (“scientifically designated”) rural bourgeoisie, a free market that has grown enormously, a thoroughly sick “planned economy,” and more of the same. We must therefore present the criticism with the sad communication that it can now throw onto the scrap-pile also the “purely” political revolution in Russia. No revolution is any longer possible in Russia which does not have to settle anew the question of the “foundations” or the property relations. And because we immediately run into nothing more and nothing less than the “dialectic” (which has always given us much pleasure), we should like to note carefully: a very simple proceeding, which we call the transformation of quantity into quality, has brought it about that today, after the “reform” and the “political revolution,” the social revolution has become necessary for Russia.

On the Trail of the Dialectic

We must certainly acknowledge that with respect to our last assertion, “serious” differences of opinion may arise. Up to now these differences of opinion existed exclusively in the imagination of the stupid critics who nonchalantly palmed off their incompetence, their confusion and their “polemical requirements” as the “position of Trotsky” and the Fourth. Here the situation is different, at last, for there is no doubt that the “official” Fourth has not yet arrived at the recognition of a revolution also with regard to the property relations, in brief: a social revolution in the sense of the proletariat. And it is only from this moment on that they may “accuse” us (but not Walter Held) of being “defeatists” for Russia, too, i.e., of rejecting the famous “defense of the Soviet Union.”

You see: we are giving our critics a course here in the art of tidy and clear, thinking which is interested in the truth, for thinking is an extremely difficult thing, especially for people who have no head and must feel the results of thinking on the whole body, so to speak. If the criticism presented itself simply as a football that can be kicked around as you please, then that is the way it will be dealt with. That is why it will surely be surprised at flying in an “unexpected” direction when we declare: Yes, we have a different estimation than you with regard to the stage of development attained in Russia – and nevertheless we remain theoretically entirely on the standpoint of Trotsky. To convince the ball of this, we must first turn it around a little, that is, dampen its anger over Held, to whom Stalin’s Soviet Union appeared to be “without any historical perspective.” The criticism finishes off Held in this wise:

Let us consider the “dynamics” of the sentence in order the better to see its senselessness. The Soviet Union is here transformed into a bureaucratic conservative “aim-in-itself,” “a totalitarian police state,” “a stifling parasite on the foundations of October” ... “without any historical perspective.”

Actually, it is the Stalinist bureaucracy which has no historical perspective – the parasite on the foundation of October, the abscess on the body of the Soviet Union which does not base itself on and does not serve that class to which the future belongs – the proletariat – but becomes the agent of the world bourgeoisie and will perish with it ...

Well jumped, little ball, only – senseless! What is called “considered,” is a play with empty words. The “Soviet” Union is unfortunately what the Stalinist reaction has made out of it, whereas the “dynamics” of the development force the bureaucracy to become “the agent of the world bourgeoisie” [6] and bring the Soviet “to the very edge of capitalist restoration.” In a progressive respect, the Soviet Union has only the revolutionary perspective which is first to make it – the Soviet Union again. As soon as the necessity of a revolution, even if only “political,” is admitted, and in addition it is made dependent upon the revolution outside of Russia, it ceases to be “dangerous” for the bourgeoisie. Entirely dependent upon itself, it no longer has any other “perspective” than the completed restoration.

In this result lies the “dialectic” of the process, and that is what Held meant with the “S.U.” without historical perspective. It is necessary to be loyal also toward an opponent and to quote him scrupulously according to the sense – otherwise the criticism hurts itself. If it is suddenly of a different opinion with regard to perspective, it should say so and report it to its friends: on this score we wrote a lot of sheer nonsense. And even then it would have to guard itself, in “refuting” Held’s perspective, from inserting the light-minded remark: “Not a trace of dialectic! Any bourgeois writer could have said this.”

So we find ourselves on the trail of the dialectic. As a much-extolled cryptic science the dialectic has always given us great pleasure because in the hands of certain “critics” it is a picture-puzzle. The critic, who does not discover a trace of it (and how could he with his narrow-mindedness?), acts like Doctor Know-It-All in the fairy tale, who could not find the rooster in his Fiebel and cried out in his search: But he must be in there and he must comeout! Whereupon the thief sprang out of the fireplace and confessed: Lord, I was in there all the time – he (the doctor) knows everything! While no thief appears in reply to the outcry of our critics, there appears, just as surprisingly, a – metaphysical distinction between the Soviet Union and the Stalin bureaucracy, which we have already resolved in the dialectic. But now we must turn around the picture-puzzle and stand it on its head in order to find the whole rooster. He is hidden in the “annihilating” assertion: “Any bourgeois writer could have said this.”

If this remark (which is supposed to be an “argument”) is stood on its head, it says: Any bourgeois writer can say the opposite.” Only in this form is the whole – dialectic of the situation disclosed. In case the criticism should still be unable to grasp it: the bourgeois writing world is split with respect to the “perspectives” of the S.U. (as it is on all other questions). We do not want to speak here of Earl Browder and kindred creatures, who are not only bourgeois writers but also bourgeois con-men. But infinitely great is the gang of those scribblers who (often enough with starkly deceptive intent) rattle off in a thousand keys, entirely in the spirit of our critics: “The Stalin bureaucracy may be what it will – the Soviet Union, on the other hand, has great historical perspectives.” It may be that the SWP leadership considers itself and these people (who know how to “separate” metaphysically) to be revolutionists, and us, on the other hand (for whom the quality of the phenomenon is decisive), to be “revisionists,” Everyone has the right to seek out the company to which he belongs. But inasmuch as it is a question of clear thinking: the “bourgeois writer” is no proof so long as he is also a proof of the opposite.


In his introduction to Marx’s Class Struggles in France, Engels makes the following important statements:

In an attempt to judge events and series of events taken from current history, one will never be able to go back to the very last economic causes. Even in these days, when ,the professional press furnishes material so copiously, it will be impossible even in England to trace the course of industry and commerce in the world’s market, or to follow the changes in production methods day after day in such manner as to be able to draw at any given moment a general conclusion from these highly complicated and ever-changing factors, factors of which the most important often work for a long time under cover before they suddenly and forcibly come to the surface. A clear survey of the economic history of a given period can never be gained at the time; it is possible only later, after the subsequent collection and assortment of material. Here statistics are an indispensable aid, but they always limp behind the event. When dealing with current contemporary history one will often be forced to treat this, the most decisive factor, as constant and to consider the economic situation found at the beginning of a given period as governing the entire period without variation, or to consider only such changes of the situation as emanate from events plainly visible and therefore also quite manifest. The materialist method must here too often confine itself to a tracing back of political conflicts to the conflicts of interests among the social classes and class factions of a given economic development, and to prove that the different political parties are to more or less adequate political expression of these same classes and class factions.

It goes without saying that the inevitable neglect of the simultaneous changes of the economic situation, the real basis of all the events to be investigated, is bound to be a source of error. But all the conditions of a comprehensive presentation of the history of the day inevitably include sources of error – which deters no one from writing current history.

The significance of this exposition by Engels can hardly be overrated. If the Russian question in particular is considered in the light of it, it should become as plain as day why, especially here, the source of error must be particularly great. For example, statistics under Stalin was not only a discipline that always limped behind, but also a well arranged deception. Under such circumstances, neither the genius, Trotsky, nor anyone else, was in a position to draw the general balance-sheet for any given period out of the manifold complicated and constantly changing factors which formed the Russian reality. Whoever has followed the working out of the theory by Trotsky knows that the theory was forced to run behind the statistics, the “symptoms,” the changing factors (expressed in the famous “zig-zags” of Stalinist policy), etc., just as the statistics and everything else ran behind the reality (and, in addition, falsified it). Hence: from the New Course past Bonapartism to the Thermidor and the political revolution, an unbroken chain of appendices, corrections, re-evaluations or – elimination of sources of error. What is involved here, however, is this: who could imagine that since the outbreak of the war (which has still more substantially reduced the information about Russia) the source of error has not grown once more? It must be said, on the contrary: the errors have grown gigantically, because the constantly vigilant, constantly critical (and therefore revolutionary) spirit of Trotsky has been transformed into a catechism of dead articles of faith and then passed off as the present reality. But with that we have absolutely no way of knowing by what criteria we are to judge the present reality.

The question then is whether we know of factors that have been at work “for a long time in concealment,” before they have become operative “suddenly and forcibly come to the surface.” Or: are we today able “to consider the economic situation found at the beginning of a given period as governing the entire period without variation, or to consider only such changes of the situation as emanate from events plainly visible and therefore also quite manifest.”

If the situation is considered from this angle, we learn first of all what we already know. In the first place, our critics (like ourselves, in agreement with Trotsky) count the factors of restoration among those forces that have been at work for a long time, if not in a hidden then in thousandfold concealed way, and which could never be grasped “statistically.” Second, they acknowledge that the war has pushed these forces “powerfully” to the surface. Third, the second imperialist war is thus among the openly present events out of which further changes originate, which shows them openly and – makes them accessible to consideration. (In passing: with this enumeration we are naturally doing our critics too much honor. In actuality, we are enumerating and putting in order for them only those elements which have accumulated in their hands chaotically and without consequences as purely empirical material. According to Hegel, those people are also “eclectics” who assemble “all the good things,” but who do not have the consistency of thought and therewith thought itself.)

For the theoretical treatment, it is now of special importance to hold firmly to this: If we have subsequently succeeded, after the assembling and sifting of the material, in gaining a general view of the economic history of a given period (including the changes), the political conflicts must be traced back to the struggles of interests on the basis of the social classes and class fractions given by the new economic development. In such a case it is clear that the political conflicts and measures must give expression to the existing economic interests all the more crassly and directly the more suddenly – violently the most important factors, secretly at work for a long time, push to the surface. No theoretical investigation can, therefore, pass over the political events which reflect the crass reversal in the economy of the S.U. The S.U. long ago ceased to be a danger to the bourgeoisie, but the contradiction (taken on the historical scale, honored critics!)) between the Soviet Union and world imperialism could continue to exist so long as the restoration had not fully triumphed. If it is assumed, as we assume, on the basis of the new facts that the decision has meanwhile taken place, then this “contradiction” is also dissolved and gives way to other contradictions. As the author of the third article says: the term imperialism takes the place of the term bureaucratism. And as we add: the social revolution replaces – the “political.” The question then is, what disclosure do the political events give us?

The Trap of History on the Political Side

This time we take as the crown witness the resolution on the European Revolution and the Tasks of the Revolutionary Party, which has meantime appeared also in the Fourth International (Dec. 1944). The Lord has nothing to forgive the writers of this document, which is so pitiable in every respect, for they know not what they do when they speak to us about Russia:

Stalin’s program, both internal and external, is reactionary through and through. It represents a terrible danger for the European revolution, and to the further existence of the Soviet Union itself.

[Which is why we once more emphatically warn the bourgeoisie against the deadly “danger”!]

This program only [!] plays into the hands of world capitalism and, if successful, would help convert Europe into the vassal of Anglo-American imperialism. If the dastardly conspiracy which Stalin hatched with Roosevelt and Churchill at Teheran to crush the European revolution were to succeed, it would simply open the road to capitalist restoration inside the Soviet Union itself, by internal counterrevolution or military intervention or both.

[These are the usual phrases and speculations which “simply” open the road to restoration which, at the same time, according to previous evidence, is already wide open. For it should not be forgotten that for twenty years Stalin has been extremely “successful” in playing into the hands of world capitalism.]

The Anglo-American imperialists cannot – any more than could the Nazis – reconcile themselves to the existence of nationalized property for any extended period in the territory comprising one-sixth of the earth’s surface.

[Whether for a short or an “extended period,” this is extended nonsense. If the nationalized property were still involved, and if it were the main thing, Anglo-American imperialism would be able, precisely after the end of the war, to reconcile itself with it for a long time and do a tremendous business with it. But the fetish of “nationalized property” will play the very smallest role in the coming conflicts. They will be determined much more far-reachingly by a phenomenon which has made its way with astonishing “dynamic” and in consequence of which “antagonisms” arise which are certainly unbearable for “any extended period.” It is neo-Russian imperialism, whose violence can be explained all the less by the “nationalized property” the more it renounces the “nationalization” of this property in the subjugated countries. From the standpoint of the nationalized property in the Soviet Union, its “new acquisitions” are foreign bodies with which Stalin, in the same way as Hitler, has stuffed his throat with a national question that he will not be able to digest. Stalin’s policy of conquest may be far better explained from the standpoint of the actual economic development. It is then the result of a constantly growing dependence upon the capitalist environment and an increasingly extensive adaptation to its property laws. In the first Russo-Finnish war, it could at least still appear to be different – today the conquered countries link Russia directly with the capitalist property forms and show openly what is taking place in concealment inside Russia. The resolution itself will soon offer us the occasion to say more on this score.]

As for the “friendly” coalition capitalist [!] governments, which the Kremlin bureaucracy is propping up with the Red Army bayonets, they will prove no more trustworthy than the alliance with Anglo-American imperialism.

[This playing around with the word “trustworthy” is one of the hobbies with which organized stupidity whiles away its time. The robber Hitler gives loans to the robber Stalin and concludes a pact of friendship with him, while the robber Molotov assures Hitler “of the strength of the blood ties between Germany and Russia.” The robber Stalin said in 1936 and it was repeated a million times throughout the world; “We want not one foot of foreign soil but we will not give up an inch of our own soil.” Thereupon, in agreement with the robber Hitler he steals for himself half of Poland and is later attacked by Hitler himself. Thereupon he allies himself with Anglo-American imperialism, whom he denounced during the friendship pact with Hitler as the “disturbers of the peace” and treated in exactly the same way as he did “fascism” the day before the pact with Hitler. Thereupon, based upon the “trust” of the democracies, he steals back for himself the Poland stolen by Hitler and all of Eastern Europe to boot. This is the usual game among imperialist robbers, regardless of their color. These gentlemen treat with each other only on the assumption that they are not “trustworthy.” And now comes the resolution and makes the magnificent discovery: the friendly capitalist governments are not “trustworthy.” But dear resolution: neither is Stalin, neither is Stalin! Which does not prevent both sides from finding each other absolutely “trustworthy” with regard to the contemplated reaction. And with great success.]

In the event of future conflict, these spurious “friends” of the Soviet Union [My God, my God, the resolution is completely mad – it is talking about friends of Stalin and not of the S.U.!] representing the capitalists and landlords of Eastern Europe, will act in accordance with their class interests and needs: they will join with the Anglo-American imperialists in the assault against the Soviet Union. Stalin’s elaborate structure will collapse like a house of cards. The alliance of the Soviet proletariat with the insurgent masses of Europe is thus indispensable for the preservation of the Soviet Union.

May the reader excuse our copious quotation, but the movement will gain substantially in clarity if we make an example of at least a part of this resolution ( a bungled-up job which is wholly like the resolution of the sub-district committees of the days of the lowest state of the German C.P.). The most important thing we have learned up to now consists in the “friendly” coalition capitalist governments, which the Kremlin bureaucracy is popping up with the Red Army bayonets. Capitalist governments can of course be only such governments which (representing the capitalists and landlords of Eastern Europe) act in accordance with their class interests and needs. It does not matter at all to us here whether, and to what extent, they are impeded or restricted in looking after their interests. We are interested only in the fact that capitalist governments are precisely – capitalist governments, which are propped up, in the case before us, by the bayonets of the Red Army. The resolution, on the other hand, pursues a certain line (that of organized stupidity) and seeks to talk us into how little “trustworthy” the wicked capitalists are: in the event of future conflict these ... capitalists will act in accordance with their class interests and needs. In this way, the bureaucrat saves his “line,” i.e., the “defense of the Soviet Union”: the alliance of the Soviet proletariat with the insurgent masses of Europe for the preservation of the Soviet Union, instead of the alliance of both for ending the Stalinist robberies and restoring the S.U. In reality, in a future conflict, imperialist Russia alone or together with others, will stand against another imperialist grouping, and it is a matter of complete indifference to us who fights in this conflict on the side of Anglo-American imperialism and who does not. The resolution may very well get ready for “surprises” in this respect, too, however much we may wish that Stalin’s elaborate structure, in accordance with its assurances, collapses like “a house of cards.” In any case, the madness of the resolution mounts as we learn further:

Stalin is betraying the European revolution through his agents from within [by which the friendly capitalists only show that they know how to place their class interests above their national and particular interests] and has given clear warning that he will if necessary attempt to drown it in blood from without. The decisions of the Teheran Conference as well as the actions of Stalin’s agents in Yugoslavia, Greece, Rumania, Poland, Italy, etc., constitute unmistakable danger signals that Stalin is prepared to repeat his hangman’s work in Spain on a continental scale.

To be forewarned is to be forearmed. The advanced workers of Europe must sound the alarm! They have the clear duty of warning the working class against the counter - revolutionary schemes of Stalin and his native henchmen. The working class must be prepared to combat Stalinist treachery and sellouts. The Fourth Internationalists will work unceasingly to destroy the Stalinist influence in the labor movement. This is an indispensable prerequisite for healthy growth and all future successes.

We sound the alarm and take cognizance of the solemn oath that we “will” destroy the Stalinist influence, etc. We are overjoyed at the “timely” decision of the SWP, especially in view of the fact that on the other side the capitalist governments are already basing themselves on the bayonets of the Red Army. It might be supposed that with this we have at least reached a useful propagandistic or agitational line with regard to the “Red” Army as one of the agents of Stalin. A resolution on the question of the European revolution would have the task, in the first place, of defining exactly and concretely the attitude toward the Red Army in every single case, even if it was written in the spirit of the unconditional defense of the S.U. Unfortunately, its authors do not live at the level of the times and of the tasks posed – they live on the abstract “defense of the S.U.” even when this part of the task has been carried through “victoriously,” in their opinion, and the “emphasis” upon the slogan has been shifted: “Defense of the European Revolution Against All (!) Its Enemies.” They live in the deepest depths on the memory of the great “danger” that the S.U. is supposed to be to the bourgeoisie, and they must leap into the trap no matter what it costs. As soon, therefore, as it is a problem of taking a position concretely on the actions of the “Red” Army and as “a correct guide to action,” we get nothing but empty chatter which has nothing to do with the matter (just as in general the whole resolution is nothing but fearfully lumped-together babbling, not on the Tasks of the Revolutionary Party, but right past them.) As soon as it is a problem of putting an end to the bayonets of the “Red” Army and of rightly employing the material gained, we get from the resolution – and under the “promising” title of The Task Ahead (get this straight: the task ahead), at that – the world-redeeming intelligence of the bureaucrat richly provided with space-filling formulas:

The Trotskyists stand for the unconditional defense of the Soviet Union against imperialist attack. Despite Stalin’s crimes and betrayals, the Trotskyists everywhere urge the masses to work and fight for the victory of the Red Army against the military forces of imperialism, for the preservation of the nationalized property relations of the Soviet Union against all imperialist assaults from without or counter-revolution from within.

This then is what a bureaucrat poses for himself as the task “ahead”! But, it may be asked, why shouldn’t the bureaucrat be able to put forth the formula he has learned by rote, especially when for the sake of argument we have assumed that he can stand on the basis of “unconditional defense” to his heart’s content?

Right! we answer: he could cheerfully tell all his beads and besprinkle himself with holy water, if only he would tell us what he thinks of doing with the Red “bayonets,” the friendly capitalist governments, all of the economic and political material he has gathered and – with the European revolution. He does not, however, have the slightest idea of coming to grips with the material, and expects to send us home “well fed” with a few more phrases and stupidities. That is What hurts: his resolutions only makes us hungrier; it is as useless and harmful as his whole rosary. All in all, what we have here are critics who confound danger for the bourgeoisie with contradiction, and who point out to us: the Soviet Union is as good as dead – only the revolution is in danger. If this confusion was already pernicious enough for the past eight years, the criticism (in view of the new economic and political facts and the simultaneous maintenance of the defense of the S. U. as the task “ahead”) does not emerge from the historical trap. It is no accident that the resolution exhausts itself in more or less one-sided declamations about the revolution (in a vacuum) and, for the rest, is evidence of complete passivity. And it is inevitable that its attitude must work out in favor of the bloodiest enemy of the all-sidedly threatened European revolution, in favor of Stalin. For this, the political passivity alone is already decisive, while the only task “ahead” provides auxiliary assistance propagandistically, and the rest of the confusion muddles up the masses politically – again in favor of Stalin and consorts.

Thinking people (in so far as they still believe in the existence of the “Soviet” Union and seriously want to save it) would have taken the situation into account and applied all their energies to the revolution itself. They speak about it being possible to set the Russian masses into motion against the Stalin regime only as a result of a European revolution. If this is to be taken as an article of faith, then the masses must rise against Stalin, too, if the restoration in Russia has already triumphed. We share this view with Trotsky, who rightly believed that the memory of the great historical achievement of the proletarian revolution could never perish and would have to rise again as a deed. The revolution, learned critics, has the peculiarity of summoning once more on to the historical plane both the still living and the already “dead” Soviet Union. In accordance with this understanding, the task must be formulated at a time when Stalin is once more assiduously active as the butcher of the revolution, and is systematically extirpating everything in the conquered countries that offers resistance or that might offer resistance. The all-sided organization of the direct resistance, the fanning of the revolutionary (the national, included) struggle against. Stalin and his tools (the Red Army and the GPU) is the most urgent command of the hour in all countries. This struggle will in no wise (even if we remain entirely within the logical framework of our critics) imperil the “Soviet” Union, although it certainly will imperil the entire counter-revolution which can bear up under anything but revolutionary struggle. The dialectic of the present situation may be expressed in the seemingly paradoxical formula: The driving out of the Red Army by the masses of the people of the nations enslaved by Stalin will signify the deliverance of the Soviet Union and the victory of the world revolution.

Concluding Political Proof

Let us now consider the butcher’s work of Stalin, so far as the resolution deigns to take cognizance of it:

In Yugoslavia, the Stalinists, headed by Tito, took the leadership of the revolutionary [!] mass movement under the guise of aiding and organizing it and then proceeded to bend it to their own reactionary purposes. They were able to do this because they are still able to cloak their reactionary designs with the moral authority of the October Revolution. The Yugoslav Partisan movement originated as an indubitable movement of the masses, whose worker-peasant sections aspired not only to drive the Nazi conquerors out of their country, but to abolish the rule of the rapacious and reactionary landlord and capitalist cliques represented by King Peter and his Government-in-Exile. The determination of the masses to drive out the imperialist invaders and to win national freedom was fused with the social struggle against the native exploiters. The Stalinists have betrayed the aspirations of the masses; they have already united with the hated regime of King Peter, set up a class-collaborationist government, and have proclaimed their intention of preserving the capitalist set-up, dominated by the same old crew of monarchists, landlords and capitalists. Utilizing the slogan of national liberation, the Stalinists are working to deliver the Yugoslav masses into the hands of their oppressors.

The Stalinist program of betrayal is not, however, proceeding unchallenged. Already in Greece active opposition and resistance has appeared in the ranks of the Greek Partisan movement to the Stalinist leaders who have conspired to perpetrate a betrayal similar to Tito’s and to unite with the Greek Government-in-Exile, representative of the Greek capitalists and landlords. Undoubtedly, similar developments, to one degree or another, are taking place in all the movements of struggle which the Stalinists head in order to behead.

In Rumania, the Stalinists are carrying through the program proclaimed by Molotov in April 1944, when the Red Army first entered Rumanian territory. Molotov assured the capitalists that the Stalin bureaucracy will not alter “the existing social structure of Rumania.” Stalin is keeping this promise. The Stalinist military authority is preserving the totalitarian filth of the semi-fascist regime of the Rumanian landlords and capitalists. The Stalinists are pursuing similar reactionary aims in Poland and are pledged to the same policy in Czechoslovakia and elsewhere. Stalin thus assures the Allies that under his rule the Red Army [!] will be used in Europe as a gendarme of capitalist property.

Inadequate and merely phrasemongerish though this description is, it is economically as well as politically impressive enough to awaken the expectation: Now it must come, now we will be told what is to be done! But the only thing we learn is:

In the countries under Red Army occupation, the advanced workers will [!] have to organize workers and peasants councils, factory committees, trade-union bodies, etc., in a spirit of deepest distrust of the Stalinist agents. They will [!] warn that Stalinist promises of fundamental reforms are lies. They will [!] urge the masses to organize their independent actions to confiscate the landlords’ estates, to place factories under workers’ control, to arm the masses. In this independent activity of the masses lies the only guarantee for the success of the European revolution and its protection from the Stalinist hangman.

This lamentable babbling goes to the point of grammatical absurdity: “They will urge the masses ... to arm the masses.” And they will, and “they” will, and they “will.” The SWP leadership also “wills” – Or better: It has already wanted, many times, and never been able, and that in an exceptionally favorable situation, with neither a “Red” Army nor a GPU hanging around its throat. We recognize, of course, that it is a difficult thing (even “in a spirit of deepest distrust of the Stalinist agents”) to create in America merely a Labor Party, for example. But that is truly child’s play in comparison with the task of creating under the eyes of the GPU and the “Red” Army, workers’ and peasants’ councils, factory committees, trade union bodies (etc.!) while the “advanced workers” are slaughtered by the thousands, dragged off to Siberia, stuck in the concentration camps and prisons (etc.!). The question of how the masses are to be mobilized nationally and internationally “to drive out the [Red] imperialist invaders and to win national freedom” for the revolution, is carefully evaded and replaced by cheap commonplaces. These commonplaces are then followed by an assurance which, in view of the hollow babbling, is nothing but a mockery of the masses:

Through these measures [?] and in no other way, will the European masses be able to approach the Red Army soldiers and organize fraternization with them in order to protect the European revolution. Only in this way, and in no other, will the European proletariat be able to forge bonds of solidarity with the Red Army soldiers and the Soviet masses and help the latter settle accounts with the murderous Stalinist bureaucracy.

How to start digging into this rubbish? Only in this way, and in no other: If ever a revolution triumphs “in this way,” we will voluntarily surrender to it as “counter-revolutionists,” so that it has somebody whom it is at least worth the effort to shoot. But the authors of the resolution themselves don’t believe in their victory, which is why they promptly pose the profound question:

And what if Stalin nevertheless succeeds in using Red Army troops to suppress workers’ revolts?

We are as tense as can be: aha, what’s coming now? Will this, in accordance with previous assurances, “simply open the road to capitalist restoration inside the Soviet Union itself, by internal counter-revolution or military intervention or both?” And what will be our work then?

A complete fool can wait for an answer – the resolution has other worries. It answers its question with another question, which serves to be distinguished with the Nobel Prize for the “greatest worry” and its “most peaceful solution”:

How will we reconcile our position on the defense of the Soviet Union with support of the European revolution? [7]

This question seems to introduce directly the “independent activity of the masses” and Mr. Eisenstein ought to be summoned speedily to take a faithful picture of it. For the great worry og the bureaucrat rushing hither and yon comes all the more surprisingly because of what the resolution thereupon tells us:

Throughout the period when the Nazi military machine threatened the destruction of the Soviet Union [what is this: threatened the “destruction”?], we pushed to the fore the slogan: Unconditional Defense of the Soviet Union Against Imperialist Attack. Today the fight for the defense of the Soviet Union against the military forces of Nazi Germany has essentially been won. Hitler’s “New Order in Europe” has already collapsed.

The authors of the resolution seem to imagine that the workers have won “the fight for the defense of the Soviet Union,” when it was the bourgeoisie and Stalin who were the only victors. In any case, the influential interventionist reminded them a little about the reality, and so we hear:

The present [!] reality is the beginning of the European revolution, the military occupation of the continent by the Anglo-American and Red Army troops, and the conspiracy of the imperialists and the Kremlin bureaucracy to strangle the revolution. We therefore push ot the fore [!] and emphasize [!] today that section of our program embodied in the slogan. Defense of the European Revolution Against All Its Enemies. The defense of the European Revolution coincides with the genuine revolutionary defense of the USSR.

But didn’t the same resolution, on the other page, push to the fore and emphasize the “task ahead”: “... the Trotskyists everywhere urge the masses to work and fight for the victory of the Red Army” (etc.). Now a “better” slogan comes to the fore and pushes the task ahead into the background, with us still in ignorance on how the defense of the European revolution against “all” its enemies is to be conducted. The writers of the resolution evidently thought that the problem of the revolution and all other problems are solved if only they ask stupid questions on how, indeed, to “reconcile” the old position (defense of the Soviet Union in the foreground) with the new, bureaucratically-adopted position (defense of the European revolution, likewise in the foreground). Since they have no answer themselves, they resort to a Trotsky quotation:

... In every case the Fourth International will know how to distinguish where and when the Red Army is acting solely as an an instrument of the Bonapartist reaction and where it defends the social basis of the USSR.

The quotation is good, and it is not Trotsky’s fault if the resolution gains nothing by it. For anyone who believes that, set on the right trail by Trotsky, they would yet think better of it at the last moment, get to the “tasks,” and try to “distinguish” whether the “Red” Army, for example in Bulgaria, the Baltic countries, Poland, etc., is playing a “solely” reactionary role because it is propping up capitalist governments with bayonets ... ah, whoever believes in anything at all but organized stupidity, can go to the dogs. Trotsky himself is defenseless, like Held, and can do nothing about it if the “policy” of the SWP is just as “effective” as that of the German CP leadership before Hitler’s victory. According to Trotsky, the policy of these people was a policy “with extinguished lamps,” and on all questions the “mouth was filled with water,” Unfortunately, the resolution also has a mouth full of water, and instead of following the good quotation with the “distinction” it reacts with its favorite phrase:

The independent revolutionary action of the European masses, in deadly combat against the Stalinist scoundrels, will [!] assure the victory of the European Revolution and the survival and further development of the October Revolution inside the Soviet Union.

Wherewith the stupidity “inside” the resolution attains its highest independent action, and the time has come when the incense burner must be swung to and fro:

Of all the “programs” and “theories” on the Soviet Union and the Kremlin bureaucracy, only the Trotskyist analysis and program have been confirmed by events and have provided the revolutionary vanguard with a correct guide to action.

The reference to “action” is worth exactly as much as Stalin’s reference to socialism – not the slightest trace of either one can be discovered. No analysis and program, no confirmation, no provision, no revolutionary vanguard, no correctness, no guide, but complete confusion, revolutionism of the phrase (which must be driven out mercilessly, according to Lenin, because it is betrayal), false agitation and propaganda, the arrogance of ignorance – that is what was to be proved as the “peculiarity” of our critics. Only in the sense of the total falsity of their whole “policy” in the past are they now justified in opening their resolution, with regard to the future, with the assertion:

This resolution is a reaffirmation and an extension of the Plenum resolution.

This resolution is a reaffirmation and an extension of the Plenum resolution.

From what we knew of our friend Held, he will be content with his self-punishment of his slanderers.

What Would Trotsky Say?

We put this question here only in so far as it is a question of the estimation of the situation that has been given through the development of the Soviet Union in the war. Naturally, nobody knows how Trotsky would have evaluated the events in detail. But he left enough unmistakable indications of the greatest importance for us not to go wrong on the main line. Let us go back for the last time to the Fourth International of November 1944. Animated by the need of covering up their insincere, imposed change of front in the Russian question, the editors present us with a fourth contribution under the title, Two Pertinent Quotations from Leon Trotsky. In reverse order, the essential in the quotation reads:

We revolutionists fight against the bureaucracy in the USSR because by its parasitic policies and its repressions it undermines the nationalization of the means of production and the monopoly of foreign trade, that is to say, the fundamental, bases of socialist construction. World imperialism demands of the Kremlin oligarchy that it carry through its work to the end, and after the reestablishment of ranks, decorations, privileges, domestic servants, marriages for money, prostitution, punishment for abortions, etc., etc, – the reestablishment of private property. [Let us note here: Still according to the evidence of our critics, the development is proceeding entirely along the line of capitalism and the Kremlin oligarchy has already conceded the demand of world imperialism with bayonets, gold, etc.]

War accelerates the various political processes. It may accelerate the process of the revolutionary regeneration of the USSR. But it may also accelerate the process of its final degeneration. [In the opinion of our critics and in our own, the latter has already occurred,], For this reason it is indispensable that we follow painstakingly and without prejudice these modifications which war introduces into the internal life of the USSR so that we may give ourselves a timely accounting of them. (Emphasis ours throughout.)

The living spirit of Trotsky, which breaths in these lines, obligates us to insist unsparingly upon driving out the “revolutionists of the phrase.” Well: in the behavior of our critics, there can be no talk about painstakingly, without prejudice, timely accounting, etc. In the best of cases, an interventionist pushes them a half-step forward and puts them to the trouble of having to “reconcile” two false positions. The first thing, however, that Trotsky would say without absolute certainty on the basis of the present situation, as it is presented by the criticism itself, would be an energetic repetition of his old statement: the interests of the world revolution stand above the interests of the Soviet Union!

Taken without its consequences and voided of its content, this statement, like any other, is only a phrase. Taken with its content and thought out to the end, however, it says that the interests of the S.U., must be violated under certain conditions (something like the way a sick person is given poison in order to save him), in order not to doom it to ruin.

Now (as our critics who are on the hunt for the “dialectic” themselves testify), when the S.U, has entered completely into the net of world imperialism; when the interests of the Kremlin oligarchy have become completely interlaced with those of the bourgeoisie; when Stalin is restoring the health of capitalism outside of Russia and is protecting it with the arms in the hands of the “Red” Army; when the S.U. appears on the scene just like an imperialist robber; when Stalin already has the world revolution by the throat and is its most dangerous foe ... what now?

We leave it to our critics to dig up for themselves where Trotsky has already given the answer to this. But since the answer actually lies before us, we can speak out with certainty on what Trotsky would say in view of the accomplished facts. He would perhaps not employ the same words as we, who, a few years after his physical slaying, are the witnesses of his intellectual slaying, and who are face to face with organized stupidity. However, he would undoubtedly speak up in this sense: Get out of the way the revolutionists of the phrase, who conceal their passive impotence behind the defense of the S.U. and betray the revolution ... under present circumstances a defence of the “Soviet” Union is a violation of revolutionary interests.

Theoretical Balance

Practise without theory is the same absurdity as theory without practise. This truth is so strong that with a false theory (if it is only sufficiently consistent) you can much sooner reach a correct practise than, for example, with the confused and unthinking empiricism and eclecticism of the SWP leadership. Its “theory” is a store of undigested quotations, wedded to their peculiar dilettantism, which are thrown together according to need and rearranged with the same old printer’s ink. The result is a – political vacuum or the pure “action” of “pure” printer’s ink. But if we leave the SWP aside as a thing in itself, there remain two possible theoretical positions with regard to the S.U.

The first position is that of Trotsky, which is theoretically completely maintained so long as it is assumed: either the S.U. must go forward to socialism or back to capitalism. Whoever takes this position, may have substantial differences with Trotsky on the stage of the development, the estimation of the facts, the situation, etc., without having to depart from him theoretically. We ourselves, for example, as already stated, hold firmly to the theoretically decisive formula of Trotsky and believe that Russia must go back to capitalism, failing new revolutions. Not despite this, but precisely on the basis of this theoretical position, we have finally come to the conclusion (following painstakingly and without prejudice the modifications which war introduces into the internal life of the S.U.), that the S.U. is lost and that its “defense” is a covering of the rear of imperialism, incompatible with the revolution. Meanwhile, in our opinion, what is decisive for the victory of capitalism over the S.U. is not 20, 30, 40 or 50 percent “restoration” in Russia itself, but the totality of the international economic and political factors and relationships.

The second position is that of “bureaucratic collectivism,” as the representative of which we know, primarily, the “wicked” Max Shachtman. Whoever takes this position, achieves thereby in advance the advantage of an unambiguous and consistent line, but on the other hand falls into strong dependence upon the once-given estimation of those factors that determined the formula, “Neither capitalism nor socialism, but bureaucratic collectivism.” Inasmuch as the formula itself is easily subject to oscillation as soon as the given and above all the newly-adhered factors (e.g., war) have developed further, and require a different estimation (new quality) under certain circumstances, the danger is ever-present of considering the things not in their self-movement and in “flux,” but in accordance with the rigidity of the formula. This danger is theoretically absolutely inevitable, because the formula is itself rigid, undialectical, in premise and conclusion. It is not capable of grasping the flow of things or their self-movement – rather it excludes itself, by its very foundations, in itself, from development and transition (the essence of all things). The great theoretical weakness of this position may be easily perceived when it is borne in mind that exclusion from change is fundamentally absurd; and on the other hand, every essential transition must destroy the formula. Theoretical objection is further strengthened when it must be admitted: the development of the S.U. is a result of the capitalist encirclement and of the dependence of the S.U. upon the world market, whose laws (impossibility of socialism in one country) it cannot escape. If changes are not to be denied fundamentally, their direction is therewith given in advance by virtue of the law of the capitalist environment and – we land again at the alternative: forward to socialism or back to capitalism. The “third” possibility that then exists is not bureaucratic collectivism, but the intermediate condition that is provided with both features, the formula of the movement (forward or back), the stages of the transitions themselves. Arrived at this point, everything is again reduced to the estimation of the old and the incontestably newly-adhered factors, that is, to the question of whether the changes have become essential enough to make it possible to say: the S.U. must be created all over again from the ground up.

So that whatever stand may be taken on the two positions: on the basis of the estimation, Shachtman and ourselves come to the same conclusions which, speaking politically, mean the rejection of “defense” of the S.U. Put differently: in the Russian question, we have theoretically different views, but in the political line we are in agreement. One must be struck with factional blindness not to recognize that the sheer consistency of the (in our opinion false) theory of Shachtman enabled him to conduct a correct policy (which, given the state of things, can be little more than a correct agitation and propaganda). Anyone who says the same about the SWP policy, may do so on his own account, but it is just as certain for us that the “obviously false” line, the covering of the rear of Stalinism, the dismal confusion, the two “reconciled” positions which both stand in the fore, etc. (the evidence of which we find here, in the document of Comrade Roland as, in general, in all the materials for the convention), especially in the Russian question, cannot be derived from Trotsky’s position. For this, the evidence is, first, ourselves, and second, Comrade Roland who demonstrated in detail: the leadership was unable to do anything with the theory, was not up to its level and – thereby lost all theory in general. The secret of the present situation consists in this, that you can still be theoretically for the “defense” of the (monstrously mutilated) Soviet Union without landing in the treadmill of the SWP. If the modifications are followed paintakingly and without prejudice (e.g., unconditional defense under all circumstances), you will be able to seek for a long time, in practise, for an opportunity to “defend” (which is why we characterized this slogan as directly misleading), while you have both hands full with the struggle against the “Red” Army, the GPU, Russian imperialism and its enslavement of peoples. From which it follows: Theory is indispensable, and the first premise for a successful policy. But theoretical differences of opinionar e far from being decisive under all circumstances for that reason. In the Russian question, for example, they are not today. Whether or not they can again become decisive tomorrow is a question we do not deny, but we leave that to the wise owls of the SWP for “advance decision.”

What Attitude to Take?

When Max Shachtman had our study on Capitalist Barbarism or Socialism at hand, we were most assuredly interested in its publication also for – factional reasons. We record this being-factionally-interested as laudable – for a miserable politician is he who has his “views,” but it blind to the advantages of the situation and does not know how to conduct the political-factional struggle for his convictions. However, political-factional struggle has nothing in common with factional delusion. Success can be the lot of a proletarian organization only when it remains truth-loving, scrupulous, honest, and refuses to wipe out differences artificially or to eliminate them by bureaucratic maneuver. Max Shachtman was therefore a faction-man as he “should be” when he wrote in the Introduction to our study:

To be sure, the establishment of a common standpoint between us on the tasks of the proletariat and the revolutionary vanguard in the present period – and this is now decisive [!Bravo!] – does not necessarily imply literal agreement with every single word in the German document. Indeed, so far as the section on Russia is concerned, our differences with the views of Trotsky, which the German comrades still seem to accept, at least by implication, are too familiar to need special emphasis.

Although Shachtman knew that for us the discussion on the “workers’ state” has been passed over and become pointless, he was not willing to hush up a difference of opinion even if it exists only by implication. That is what we call coming to grips with questions not in the manner of organized stupidity, but in a Bolshevik way. This method makes it possible for everyone to reflect on the essence of the conflicts of opinion, to follow their development, to gain a broad view of them, and to become acquainted with every concrete detail. The result is precisely that universal knowledge of detail that permits the Bolshevik organization to find its way in the confusing mass of phenomena, to trace the general connections, to carry through its own class line without error in the midst of antagonisms and contradictions, without which a mastering of the manifold and complicated problems is not possible. Anyone who carefully compares the Bolshevik method with that of our critics, will recognize without difficulty whereon the intellectual poverty of their arguments (which we have cited down to the last letter, so far as the Russian question goes) rests. Unbelievable as it seems: we will encounter still greater poverty, still greater confusion, still greater stupidity, as soon as we pass over to the European question. Let us conclude the Russian section with the assurance:

We shall follow the development painstakingly and without prejudice, and see, for example, if Stalin will be able to change his present policy in Eastern Europe and adapt it to that system which is regarded by Shachtman as “bureaucratic collectivism.” If weighty facts speak, and force us to another conclusion, we will draw that conclusion and revise our theoretical standpoint. Neither we nor Shachtman can lose anything in “prestige” or anything else (there are people who have such “worries”), if we are compelled to acknowledge the falsity of an opinion and to lay bare the roots of the mistake. Quite the contrary! There was “no better” Bolshevik, none endowed with more “authority,” none more worthy of confidence, than the one who was capable of thoroughly thinking out his mistakes and learning from them.


International Communists of Germany
by N.T.


5. Trotsky rightly calculated the victims of the Stalinist reaction during the “forced collectivization,” the unintermittent “purges,” etc., etc., at many millions. In addition, the number of prisoners, deported, slave-workers, etc., are estimated by some observers at ten, and by others at twenty, millions. Such a civil war is unexampled in all history, and it shows that the restoration must immediately give expression to the essence of decaying capitalism in its most hideous and passive form. It is of the highest importance to enlighten the masses on the developments in the S.U., but in this respect too there has been a gloomy experience. Again in the document of Comrade Roland you can read how the highly interesting material submitted by him was handled. “With a motivation which was entirely worthy of the notorious “Friends of the Soviet Union,” the SWP leadership refused the publication of this material. If ever a genuine principle of Trotsky (or of Bolshevism in general) was violated, it was here. For Trotsky heaped scorn and contempt upon the “arguments” of this Society of “Friends” and insisted emphatically that the workers need no embellishment of the reality and no “indulgence,” but, under all circumstances, the truth and nothing but the truth. In reality, the bureaucrat gives no “consideration” to the masses. He takes himself into consideration, because the truth might smash his sacred (and false) “line.”

6. Let us dispose of another “critical” argument at this point: “What the English Tories have understood relatively late, the Fourth International, according to Held, has not understood to this day. Then, why not say so openly? The Fourth International has always been of the opinion that the existence of the Soviet Union represents a danger to imperialism, that the socialist [!] economy [!] of Russia, i.e., the workers’ state, is an important part of the world contradiction – Proletariat-Bourgeoisie – a point that Shachtman did not understand, but which is very well understood by the English Tories as well as by all other imperialists.”

It is not quite comprehensible to us how they can say “according to Held,” and then ask: “Then, why not say so openly?” Let us say so as “openly” as possible: The American, English and French sections of the Fourth, at the least (for we know precisely about these) have not understood to the present day that Stalinist Russia must be recognized as an “agent” of the world bourgeoisie which no longer represents any danger. For America, the proof lies in the false policy that Comrade Roland analyzes, and the inconsistent “correction” which the present polemic only makes possible. For the rest, the question is reduced to the same “argument” from the manifesto on The Imperialist War and the Proletarian Revolution, to which we promised to return: “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 is noteworthy that Held also believed this, for he wrote in the criticized article: “The bellicose dispute between German neo-imperialism and the S.U. is nevertheless unavoidable. It has only been postponed to a more favorable period for Hitler ...” A seeming contradiction, therefore, in Held’s exposition. Yet, on what does this alleged contradiction rest It rests upon the dilettantism of the criticism itself, which has not the slightest notion that “danger” and “contradiction” are two different things. It is of no concern to us whether the Fourth has “always” gone along with this confounding of two things – we shall simply see how things are in reality.

7. “Defense” of the Soviet Union and “support” of the revolution is positively precious.

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Last updated on 22 August 2016