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George Breitman

Churchill Rejects Stalin Plea for ‘Western Front’

(22 November 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 47, 22 November 1941, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Soviet soldiers, workers and peasants who have borne the full brunt of the German fascist attack during the past five months will have to continue to bear it alone in the next period. This was made clear last week by authoritative representatives of the British and American ruling classes.

Stalin’s speech of November 6, directed partially toward the British and American governments and appealing to them for the creation of a “western front”, has been answered. He has been told that he’s not going to get a “western front” for a long, long time.

In answer to Stalin’s plea, Prime Minister Churchill spoke before the House of Commons on Nov. 12 and declared that:

“If we are able to get through this year we shall certainly find ourselves in a good supply of ships in 1942, and if the war against U-boats and enemy aircraft continues to prosper as it has done – about which of course there can be no guarantee – it seems to me that the freedom- loving powers will be possessed of large quantities of ships in 1943 which will enable overseas operations to take place utterly beyond British resources at the present time.”

That is to say, if all goes well, and if it suits his purposes, Churchill promises that “in 1943” the “freedom-loving powers”, Britain and her allies, may perhaps be able to open a “second front”.

Churchill was not speaking for the British ruling class alone. He was also speaking for the American imperialists. The New York Times, authoritative spokesman for Roosevelt and America’s Sixty Families, made this clear in no uncertain terms in its leading editorial on Nov. 10:

“(There is) the slim hope of preserving an eastern front. There is no possibility of opening a new one in the west ... There is still hope that by bending every effort toward sending war supplies to Russia a catastrophe can be averted there, but it is preposterous to believe that Russia’s fate lies entirely in the hands of this country and Great Britain. It would be well for the Administration to point out some of the difficulties in the way of helping Russia as well as the need for doing so ... the effectiveness of what assistance we can give and deliver depends upon Russia’s ability to help herself in the immediate future.”

The “democratic” imperialists would no doubt like to open a “western front” – not for the purpose of saving the Soviet Union, but for the purpose of striking Hitler a blow while most of his forces are occupied in the east. But for many reasons – military, geographic, technical and political – they are sure that it would not serve their own interests to attempt it at this time. Whatever the reason, it is deal’ that they are not even going to attempt to open a new front in the next period.

Stalin Explained and Promised

In his November 6 speech, Stalin had explained the defeats suffered by the Soviet Union primarily by “the absence of a second front in Europe against the German fascist armies.” In this way he is preparing to shift the responsibility for the defeats from his own policies onto the shoulders of his “democratic” imperialist allies.

He did more than that. He also promised the Soviet masses that “undoubtedly this (a second front) will appear in the near future.” In this way he tried to reassure the masses that his policy of depending on the “democratic” imperialists, which has brought only defeats up to now, would save the USSR “in the near future” when these “allies” would come to the rescue of the USSR.

The answer of the “democratic” imperialists did two things at the same time:

  1. It demonstrated that Stalin’s policies have from the beginning been based on an illusion – the illusion that if Stalin throttled the program of revolutionary war against Hitler, if he did nothing to arouse the revolutionary spirit of the masses of Germany and Europe, if he proclaimed unconditional support of the war of the “democratic” imperialists, they would come to the rescue of the Soviet Union.
  2. It means, furthermore that a continuation of the Stalinist policy – under conditions when the USSR must face Hitler’s armies alone – is bound to end in catastrophe for the workers state.

Stalin in his speech and the local Stalinists a score of times in the Daily Worker have virtually admitted that the Soviet Union cannot hope to defeat Hitler alone. Does it mean now, when it is clear to all that a “western front” is wishful thinking on Stalin’s part, that the Soviet Union is doomed?

This is the perspective as long as the war of the USSR is conducted along the lines of the Stalinist policy!

How to Save the USSR

The way out now for the Soviet Union is the disintegration of Hitler’s forces from the rear, from within Germany and from within the German army itself. Since Stalin admits that the USSR by itself cannot stop the advance of the German troops – and since Stalin himself no longer denies the shortage of tanks and aircraft and he himself explains that the Germans “now have at their disposal not only their own tank industry but also the industries of Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Holland and France” – it is obvious that the disintegration of the Hitler regime from the rear is the only way out, the only way the Soviet Union can compensate for the shortcomings of its own war machine.

But Stalin’s program for accomplishing this has thus far, been to rely on the armies of the “democratic” imperialists to attack and undermine Hitler from the rear. Over and above this he offers only his own recent boasts that eventually in “a few more months, another half year, perhaps a year, and Hitler Germany must collapse under the burden of her crimes.”

And meanwhile? Meanwhile what will happen to the Soviet Union with its admitted shortages of tanks and aircraft? In five months under Stalin’s policy, the workers state has lost vital European territory and more than two-thirds of its productive capacity. It is in a far weaker position than it was five months ago, and less able to offer effective resistance. What will happen while Stalin is awaiting the verification for his pleas and boasts?

What the German Workers Fear

The chief obstacle to the overthrow of Hitler by the German workers is their fear of what will happen if the “democratic” imperialists win the war. They know from the pronouncements of the “democratic” statesmen that an even worse fate awaits them after this war than was imposed by the Versailles Treaty on the German people after the last war. That is why they are afraid to move, for they do not yet see any allies in the revolutionary fight first against Hitler and then against the “democratic” imperialists. Goebbels’ main weapon in maintaining “discipline” in Germany is precisely this threat which he is now able to hold over their heads. Stalin’s plea for a “western front” by the imperialists against Germany has played right into the hands of Hitler and Goebbels who use it demagogically to identify the war of the USSR with the reactionary war being waged by the “democratic” imperialists.

The German masses can be moved into action against Hitler – only by the policy of revolutionary war which Stalin refuses to employ. Only by a revolutionary appeal to the German workers to rise up against their capitalist oppressors and join the Soviet masses in the straggle for the Socialist United States of Europe and the world. Only by the assurance to the German workers that the Soviet masses will fight side by side with them against all the forces of reaction.

Hitler will not fall, as Stalin promises, under the “weight of his crimes”. He will fall only when the German masses begin to move. And they will begin to move only when they see a chance for success, only when they feel they have a fighting chance, and a real way out.

What Revolutionary Policy Could Have Done

If five month sago, this policy of revolutionary war had been adopted by the Soviet masses, by this time – and not “perhaps” in a year – deep fissures would already have appeared in the German home front. The German soldiers would by this time have been in ferment, they would be asking questions, they would be thinking about the future. The ferment in Germany would have raised to fever pitch in the occupied countries. Real help would have been on its way to the embattled Soviet masses, and it would have been the kind that would sweep the Hitlers and Churchills from the face of the earth.

But Stalin’s “substitute” for this powerful weapon has been to place dependence on the “democratic” imperialists. In return for this policy, the Soviet masses have already paid a terrible price they have suffered calamitous blows. Meanwhile Hitler has felt secure in Germany and free to throw all his forces against the workers state.

Events themselves – as well as Churchill’s statement – have shown the bankruptcy of Stalinism. But it is folly to believe that Stalinism will change its course and adopt the revolutionary program. It will continue the cry for a “western front” to come to the rescue of the USSR. It will east about for other panaceas to lull the Soviet masses and confuse the Stalinist rank and file.

C.P. Members Warned Not to Speculate

In his Question and Answer column in the Nov. 17 Daily Worker, William Z. Foster tries to answer the question which has been worrying and alarming so many rank and file members of the C.P.: “Can the Soviet Union lick Hitler without outside help?” His answer: “This is an abstract speculative question ... It is not our task to speculate as to whether or not the Soviet Union can beat Hitler alone. Our job is to wake up the American people to a fuller realization that this is their war and that the Red Army is defending the United States as well as the USSR, etc.”

The Stalinist bureaucrats are panic-stricken lest the rank and file begin to think about the fundamental problems involved in the defense of the Soviet Union. The ranks are beginning to ask “abstract speculative questions” not only in the United States, but also in the USSR.

“It is not our task to speculate” shrieks Foster. What he really means is that any worker who begins to ask questions has already taken the first step on the road of understanding that Stalinism is incapable of leading a successful defense of the first workers state.

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