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James Burnham

Their Government

(2 June 1939)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 38, 2 June 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

No one need envy V.J. Jerome his new specialty. After several years as Browder’s commissar in Hollywood, where he was so conspicuously successful in winning strip-tease artists, humorists and glamour girls to the cause of peace and democracy, Kremlin style, Jerome has now a much less luscious assignment.

He has become the ace trouble-shooter of 13th Street. Whenever a crack or dent appears in the party’s ideological armor, Jerome is dispatched post-haste to rivet it together again. He operates under the label, Questions from the People, run when occasion demands on the editorial page of the Daily Worker. The questions are worth keeping track of. They show that even the ten ton steel plate of Stalinism cannot prevent heretical ideas from now and then driving toward the surface.

A few months ago, Jerome was hard at work on the refugee problem. Even the most loyal party members couldn’t help wondering why no refugees from anywhere were being admitted into the land of the final triumph of socialism; and Jerome’s acrobatics in explaining would have got him a place on almost any vaudeville circuit. A while back he had a few points of Spain that badly needed cleaning.

We’re in the Army Now

How Jerome must long for the day when his party will hold state power, and anyone who even breathes out of key can be answered with a rifle or an automatic! It’s so much easier, more efficient, that way. But here it’s still one trouble after another: refugees, then Spain, and last week the question. “What is the position of the Communist Party of Great Britain on conscription?”

A very good question indeed, and one that certainly needs answering. And how revealing of the degeneracy of a pretendedly Marxist party that such a question could even be raised in its ranks! Could a man with a single drop of Marxist blood in his veins seriously debate whether he would have any attitude other than unbreakable opposition to conscription – the slave-driver’s whip whereby imperialism drives the unwilling masses to their death on the battlefields of wars to make the world safe for profits?

An issue long ago settled for Marxists; but not so easy for Stalinism. Stalinism is prepared to support one coalition of imperialist powers in war against another. And the terrible logic of politics decrees that if you support the war, you must support the means taken to fight the war. In the democratic countries as ip the fascist, the masses do not want to fight in the very popular, very democratic wars of imperialism. And, consequently, every imperialist nation, either today or tomorrow when the war begins, must introduce conscription. Therefore, in the end, Stalinism must “accept” conscription in every nation where it supports the war. Not merely are the Stalinists recruiting agents for the war. They are and must be prepared to be jailers and judges and executioners of “draft evaders” – that is, of workers who try to keep their heads off the chopping block of imperialism.

But there seems to be a contradiction. Jerome explains that the Stalinists are against the present British conscription measure. Have I been unjust and slanderous? Are the Stalinists suddenly returning to virtue?

The contradiction does not even penetrate the surface. All that Jerome really says is that the Stalinists are not now ready to support the present conscription bill.

Why not? Because support of conscription is the blackest treachery to the workers? How absurd! “Communists,” Jerome explains in his first sentence, “are not opposed to conscription in principle.”

The reason for the present pseudo-opposition is two-fold: On the one hand, the present British government hasn’t yet come through with what Stalin wants of it, “chief of which is the formation of a genuine anti-aggression pact with the Soviet Union.” Chamberlain – no mention of course of British imperialism and the British ruling class for which Chamberlain authentically speaks – hasn’t been playing ball. Therefore a conscription bill introduced by Chamberlain must be (temporarily, for bargaining purposes) opposed. But let a new government be formed – speaking, naturally, for the same imperialism and the same ruling class – with just the tiniest change in foreign policy, and then support of the conscription bill will become the duty of every man and woman except counter-revolutionary Trotskyists. Or let Chamberlain get together with the Kremlin (though this chance is circumspectly not referred to by Jerome) and in a twinkling his conscription bills will change their spots.

On the other hand, the Stalinist must go slow from a different motive: the English workers are overwhelmingly against conscription, so much so that even the Labor Party has to pretend to be politely against it. The Labor Party and Stalinist bureaucrats must for the moment put up a front of opposition – though never enough to interfere with Chamberlain’s plans – in order to prevent the workers from seeing them in their true light and walking out on them.

The opposition of the workers to the war cannot be broken in an instant, even at Stalin’s orders. It must be worn down step by step, by carefully planned stages. Half betrayal today makes more readily possible full betrayal tomorrow.

In writing of England, did Jerome remember France? There is universal conscription in France. The Stalinists do not oppose it, but support it most warmly as they do all other “defense measures”. And who is at the head of the French government? Is it not Daladier, Chamberlain’s Munich comrade?

May I suggest the next question for Jerome to deal with: “What is the position of the Communist Party of France on conscription?”

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