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Ernest Erber

The Class Nature of the Polish State

A Reply to Ernest Germain

(July 1947)

From The New International, Vol. XIII No. 5, July 1947, pp. 134–143.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Polish question is today the acid test for the two opposing concepts that have struggled for supremacy in the Fourth Internationalist movement since the American party split over the issue of defensism in Russia in 1940.

The importance of the Polish question does not stem from the possibility of the Fourth International effecting the situation one way or the other in that unhappy country in the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, few Polish Trotskyists have survived the ravages of the Gestapo and the GPU. The task of rebuilding the revolutionary movement in Poland is, of course, related to the theoretical and political dispute represented by the Polish question. But the immediate and over-all importance of the Polish question exists in the fact that the political line taken on Poland will indicate whether the Fourth International will pass yet deeper into the shadow of Stalinism or whether it will resolve its political crisis by cutting itself free from the Russian axis, around which its politics have revolved, and emerge as a revolutionary, proletarian force, truly independent of the two great imperialist power combinations that dominate world politics.

The reason why Poland provides such an exceptional test is that the Polish situation combines the two main theoretical questions that divide the international Marxist movement today. These are (a) the Russian question and (b) the national question.

The Russian question is involved in the form of (a) Russian occupation, (b) Stalinist domination of the legal labor movement and the native Polish regime and (c) the nationalization of the decisive part of Polish economy.

The national question (which is for Europe but a concrete manifestation of the broader theoretical problem of retrogression) is present in the form of (a) a nationally-oppressed country with a movement for national liberation and(b) a brutal police dictatorship with a mass struggle for political democracy.

Realizing the key importance of the Polish question to the programmatic struggle in the international movement, the Workers Party established its position nearly a year ago. It appeared in the form of an editorial in our issue of August, 1946. Since then we have had many occasions to elaborate upon aspects of the Polish question, mainly through the excellent contributions of our collaborator, A. Rudzienski. However, we have not had occasion to re-state our fundamental analysis and basic conclusions. In the absence of such a restatement, our factional opponents, with a woeful lack of intellectual integrity in polemics, have so distorted our position in their desperate efforts to refute it, that we find it necessary to re-state (and even in part reprint) our position to clarify the atmosphere before making a polemical reply to these attacks.

The Workers Party Analysis

Our analysis of the Polish situation can be summed up in the following points:

  1. Russian control of Poland is basic to Russia’s position in Eastern Europe as well as important to Russian economic needs;
  2. it is to Russia’s advantage to rule Poland through a “native” Quisling regime, dominated by a Polish Stalinist apparatus, rather than by direct Russian military control;
  3. due to international power relations and to efforts to placate public opinion in the West, as well as resistance in Poland itself, Russia is forced temporarily to tolerate a legal opposition in the form of Mikolajczyk’s Peasant Party;
  4. due to the police regime which throttles a free political life, a vast underground opposition exists;
  5. this opposition is composed of heterogeneous and antagonistic elements, as was the wartime anti-German resistance movement, both in Poland and in Western Europe;
  6. the only political aim held in common by the entire opposition is that of national liberation;
  7. the predominant character of the opposition is that of a bourgeois-democratic movement, mainly composed of peasants, reflecting in the underground the political views of the Peasant Party;
  8. this underground has a strong proletarian wing, with its main center apparently being the industrial city of Cracow, composed of old PPS and trade union cadres which refused to submit to the Stalinist rape of the official labor movement;
  9. the underground also has a reactionary, bourgeois-feudal-clerical wing, composed of old Pilsudski elements, organized in the NSZ;
  10. the reactionary wing of the underground is increasingly less important as a political factor as a consequence of its loss of an economic base through the nationalization of economy and the breaking-up of large estates and as a consequence of desertions to the Stalinist state apparatus;
  11. the actual state power in Poland is Russian imperialist rule;
  12. the latter seeks to consolidate its rule through the crystallization of a new bureaucratic class, composed of the Stalinist political apparatus, the state job-holders, the Russian-trained officer caste, a section of the old reformist labor bureaucracy, and the technical personnel of the new nationalized economy – a bureaucratic class in the image of the Russian ruling class but subservient to and dependent upon the latter;
  13. the ultimate aim of the Stalinists in Poland is to proceed by stages to eliminate all opposition and all “unassimilable” elements and achieve a totalitarian state resting upon a nationalized economy, identical with, and incorporated into, the Russian political and economic structure.

The Political Conclusions

On the basis of this analysis, our original statement offered the following political conclusions:

The new political pattern of Poland consists, therefore, of a crystallizing bureaucratic class basing itself upon a nationalized economy and ruling the country by police terror, accompanied by demagogic gestures to win some proletarian and peasant support. It is opposed by a broad popular movement of peasants who rally around the banner of democracy and receive support from such divergent elements as the reactionary and fascistic former rulers, on the one hand, and the best socialist elements of the proletariat on the other.

This political pattern is no phenomenon peculiar to Poland, but extends to all the occupied territories. This poses for the revolutionary Marxists a most critical situation. It gives flesh and blood to the theoretical question which the movement posed when it considered Trotsky’s slogan of self-determination for the Ukraine. The question is: what is the revolutionary Marxist attitude toward a broad opposition that rallies under democratic slogans against a totalitarian regime that bases itself upon nationalized economy?

How do the actual forces in conflict pose this theoretical question? In its crudest form it seems to be the question of the relative weight of nationalization of economy against the relative weight of political democracy. This is becoming one of the touchstone questions of our times. Woe to the movement that chooses wrongly or seeks to ignore it.

The revolutionary socialists, of course, want BOTH, nationalization AND democracy. That is the socialist solution everywhere. In Russia the struggle for the revolutionary overthrow of the regime will begin as a struggle for political democracy as the instrument by which the rudder can again be placed in the hands of the ‘masses. In the United States the struggle for nationalization of economy is the struggle for the indispensable framework for a democratic social, economic and political existence for the masses.

But the essence of politics is not merely what we want. A political line must proceed from the reality of the existing struggle. The main battle lines are not drawn up between a socialist proletarian movement and the Stalinist regime, nor between a socialist proletarian movement and a Mickolajczyk regime. The main battle lines find the Stalinist dictatorship confronted by a popular opposition movement headed by Mickolajczyk. Our problem is to create a Third Camp which will fight both against Stalinist totalitarianism and the bourgeois reaction inherent in the petty bourgeois peasant movement. But the question is: where are the elements today out of which such a Third Camp can be constructed? Are they in the GPU-staffed, misnamed “Workers Party” and the GPU-staffed government unions? Or are they in the opposition elements grouped around Mickolajczyk? It is precisely in such a posing of the question that the difference between the French situation and the Polish situation comes to the fore. In France the decisive sections of the proletariat are in the Stalinist and social democratic camp. The power, however, remains in the hands of the capitalist class. The class interests of the Stalinist workers require that they engage in a class struggle with the bourgeoisie and aim toward a proletarian solution. The Marxists seek to drive this struggle to its ultimate revolutionary conclusions as a means of breaking the workers from the Stalinist straightjacket, bound in France as elsewhere by the limits imposed by Russian needs. In France, therefore, the elements for a Third Camp are today in the Stalinist and Socialist parties. Without them there will be no socialist revolution in France.

In Poland the case is radically different. The bourgeoisie has, for all practical purposes, been expropriated. The workers do not engage in a class struggle in industry against a capitalist owner. Those workers who support the Stalinist regime do so under the illusion that socialism is being constructed or out of purely opportunist motives, like jobs or food rations. Those workers, on the other hand, who wage a class struggle today, do it precisely against the Stalinist overlords of government and industry. In order to wage that struggle effectively they must fight for the democratic rights of existence as a labor movement, the right to free speech, to organization, to a free press, to assembly, etc., all finding their final expression in the slogan, “Out with the Russians!” and “Long live a Free Poland!” These are rights for which the vast majority of the Polish population yearns today and which finds its distorted expression in the Mickolajczyk opposition. It is here that the revolutionary Marxists will find the decisive elements for the Third Camp, i.e., a revolutionary, proletarian, socialist opposition to the Stalinist dictatorship. The political line of the Marxists must, therefore, be one of critical support to the Mickolajczyk camp.

What is meant by “critical support”? It means first of all complete political independence from the Mickolajczyk movement. It means political criticism of that movement. It means independent proletarian organizations in the shops and proletarian methods of struggle, all aimed at wresting the leadership from Mickolajczyk and making the proletariat the leader of the broad people’s movement against the Stalinist regime. The proletariat cannot remain on the side lines when two sections of the nation stand locked in deadly struggle.

If barricades arise between the two camps, on which side do the Marxists seek to rally the proletariat? In Poland today the civil war smoulders underground and we must take a position. Do Polish Marxists condone the GPU arrests of Peasant Party leaders as being the liquidation of capitalist restorationist elements? Or do they actively fight alongside of the Peasant Party leaders to defend them against GPU persecution? For the Marxists, the revolutionary socialist struggle is the only decisive one in a historic sense. However, where they cannot determine the nature of the struggle, they must lead the proletariat, as an independent force, into that camp which represents the best possibility of socialist advancement.

We ask our reader’s indulgence for the necessity of reprinting this key section of our statement. We are sure, however, that our readexs, regardless of their political judgment of our position, will agree that there is a need for such a restatement when our opponents have chosen to restate our position for us in the following piece of skullduggery:

Shachtman’s position can be summarized as follows: “I consider as primary my right to be able to express my own opinions. I abandon in advance the attempt to conquer this right within the framework of the defense, of the expansion, and of the consummation of expropriation measures against the old possessing classes. I refuse to get mixed up with those opportunistic workers who choose their camp solely on the basis of questions of food rations and of jobs. I am ready to return the factories to the bourgeois and the land to the landlords on condition that I have freedom to smear as much paper every week as I desire.”

The above appeared in a polemic against us in the Fourth International of February 1947 under the title of The Conflict in Poland with the sub-title, From Abstentionism to Active Intervention – In the Camp of the Class Enemy. The author of this particularly ignorant and vicious piece is one Ernest Germain, of late, unfortunately, regarded as the leading theoretician of the Fourth International. We can only list this sad fact as further evidence of the extent to which Marxian thinking has been lowered in the world workers’ movement, including its vanguard, the Fourth International. Yet, since we must assume that Germain’s article is the official reply of the leadership of the Fourth International, the further development of the discussion on this question requires that we come to grips with this article rather than ignore it and permit it to pass into the oblivion it deserves.

On the Nature of State Power

Basic to any discussion of whether one should support the state power or the opposition that seeks its overthrow is the question of the nature of the state power. We are, therefore, considerably pleased to note, early in Germain’s article, a section boldly entitled, The Class Nature of the Polish State. After telling us that Shachtman [1] will not succeed in confounding the “militants of the Fourth International” by posing questions about the nature of the Polish state, and after reminding us that the question of the nature of a state is not “a subject for cheap jokes,” and that Trotsky devoted twenty pages of The Revolution Betrayed to explaining the nature of the Russian state plus forty (!) additional lines for summary, Germain finally launches into his explanation of the Polish state. He begins by formulating a broad theoretical precept as to the nature of state power, the first sentence of which reads:

The nature of the state is dependent in the last analysis on the class structure of society.

We take this to mean that the state is the political expression of the class that is economically dominant. However, as Germain states, this is true only in the last analysis, i.e., only in the historical sense and not in every given instance. If it were true in every given instance there could never be a proletarian revolution. For the proletariat seizes the state power at a time when the bourgeoisie is still the dominant class in the economy. “In the last analysis” means, therefore, in so-called normal periods and above all not in times of revolution and counter-revolution. Consequently, in the latter periods one cannot determine the class nature of the state power by examining the economic structure of society. How then can one determine the class character of a state in time of revolution and counter-revolution? We shall answer this question presently, since it contains the powder that blows apart Germain’s laborious theoretical structure, which we have not yet finished examining. Germain continues:

But this structure [the class structure of society] is in turn reflected in the structure of the state itself and can impose forms upon it which are in contradiction with the class interests of the ruling class. (Italics in original – E.E.)

If this is not gibberish, then we must take it to mean that the state does not correspond at all times and in every respect to the class needs of the dominant class. The state is subject to the stresses and strains of the class struggle and can yield to the measure exercised against it from below. This is, of course, a daily feature in the political life of bourgeois democracies, especially in those where the direct administrator of the state is the labor bureaucracy, such as the British Labour government. In dictatorial regimes, the state, as with all institutions in the superstructure of society, develops interests of its own and often imposes these upon the dominant class. The latter phenomenon Marxists. have long ago given the name of Bonapartism. Often the political heads of the state, the ideologists of the ruling class, follow policies in keeping with the historic interests of the ruling class at the expense of its immediate interests and a sharp political struggle ensues between the majority of the ruling class and its state apparatus. The regime of Roosevelt and the New Deal was an example of the latter.

However, whereas the policies of the state in all of the above instances “are in contradiction with the class interests of the ruling class” (Germain) they never upset the social order which gives to the ruling class its dominance. If the policies of the state systematically destroy the social order of the dominant class, these policies are part of a social revolution (or counter-revolution). We do not know what Germain understands by forms, which he italicizes. If he means political forms like monarchy, directorate, republic, fascist dictatorship, etc., this is quite in keeping with what we have outlined above. What other possible forms could there be imposed upon “the structure of the state”? Since the state is a political instrument, its forms can only be political forms. If Germain knows of any other, we wait to be enlightened.

Germain Sees ... a Bourgeois State

What is the purpose of this theoretical introduction to Germain’s conclusions about the class nature of the Polish state? Its purpose is an attempt to prove that the nationalization of economy is a state form imposed upon the Polish bourgeoisie by its own state. Or, to put it differently: the fact that the state renders the bourgeoisie propertyless does not alter the fact that the state is still a bourgeois state!

We are willing to grant that all manner of contradictions may make their appearance between the interests of the bourgeoisie and the policy of the bourgeois state but the one that we shall never see is precisely the one Germain would have us believe is taking place in Poland – a bourgeois state carrying out an economic policy that removes the bourgeoisie from its dominant place in the economy by taking away from it the ownership of the means of production, i.e., passes the death sentence upon it.

”But we cannot, in any degree, equate the nationalizations to an ‘expropriation of the bourgeoisie: or to the destruction of capitalism, which Shachtman seems seriously to imply,” protests Germain. Why? Germain tells us why in the very next sentence: “The former proprietors are to be indemnified up to the end of ....” Take a guess! 1996 perhaps? No! “... up to the end of 1946!” And Germain wrote his article on November 15, 1946, when the Polish bourgeoisie had a life expectancy, as rentiers of the state, of exactly six weeks!

But there are additional reasons adduced by Germain. We read on:

A part of these indemnities can be invested in new private industrial and commercial enterprises, explicitly authorized by the law. A system of special credit is functioning for the “private sector” of industry and commerce, and is designed to favor the development of medium and large commercial enterprises, as well as medium industrial enterprises of certain sectors (the only ones which can at this time be created by the Polish bourgeoisie with the capital at its disposal). (Our italics – E.E.)

What does this add up to? To the fact that a part of the money received from the state may be re-invested. (We do not know what happens to the other part, but taxes probably account for much of it.) Where may this part be invested? In commercial enterprises of both medium and large size. What does this mean? The former proprietor of a manufacturing plant may open a store, even a big one. Where else may this remnant of his capital be invested? In industrial enterprises. In any the capitalist may choose? No. Only in “certain sectors” as “explicitly authorized by law.” May he open as large a plant as he chooses? No, only a medium industrial enterprise. This is the best he could have done in any case, Germain assures us, since the Polish capitalist has little capital left. With such a “capitalist state” to look after his welfare, little wonder[ But then, you see, that is one of the contradictions of which we were warned in advance. And life is so full of contradictions. Most anything can happen – especially in these days, and above all, in Poland.

Of course, capitalism has not been abolished root and branch in Poland. Who is Germain polemizing against to prove this point? Certainly not anyone who has written in these pages. Capitalism was not “abolished” in Russia until the first Five Year Plan, and then not entirely. A well-known expert on Russian affairs recently wrote in the press of the Fourth International that he had located a kulak in Novisimbirsk who owned his own cow. And it recently came to light that there are private watch-repair shops in Moscow itself, thinly disguised as artisans’ collectives.

What was the NEP in Russia during 1922–28 but permission for small and medium capitalist enterprise, particularly in commercial undertakings, to operate subject to strict regulation by the government? Nor do we contend that capital in Poland today has been restricted to channels as narrow as those of the NEP. But the difference is one of degree and direction and not one of type. A proletarian state in Poland would not necessarily go beyond the scope and tempo of nationalization as carried out to date by the Stalinist regime. The Civil War in Russia necessitated wide and sweeping measures of expropriation; measures from which the NEP marked a retreat in the interests of economic rehabilitation. A workers’ state which is in a position to set its own pace of nationalization will take proper care not to throw the country into economic chaos by nationalizing a lot of medium and small industry and commerce before the economic institutions of the state are in a position to utilize them properly.

The Economy in Poland

What then is the nature of the economy in Poland today? Is it private capitalism? Is it “state capitalism”? Is it bureaucratic collectivism? The nature of the economy is not uniformly anyone of these. As with every economy in transition from one social order to another, the Polish economy has a mixed character. But the real question cannot be answered by determining just how much is privately owned and just how much is state owned. Such figures are not without interest, but they cannot answer the key question: toward what social order is the economy in transition?

How can one determine this? In a bourgeois economy which operates free of hostile state interference, the basic trends are the result of the inner laws of motion of the economy itself. In this case it suffices to study the economic trends and generalize upon them. But where the direction of economic development is not automatic but state-directed by an anti-bourgeois force, the “laws of motion” arising from the blind working of economic laws can be cancelled out by the planned intervention of the state.

During the 1920’s in Russia, the accumulation of kulak and Nepman capital began to outstrip the accumulation of capital in the state-owned economy. On the basis of an analysis of economic trends alone, one would have to say that the further development of the economy on the basis of these laws of motion could only result in the complete triumph of capitalism over the nationalized economy. Trotsky predicted this and proposed a program to prevent it. The essence of this program was to use the state power over the economy to cancel out the blind working of “laws of motion.” The means by which this was to be done were two-fold: (a) a planned program of accumulation of capital for the expansion of the nationalized sector of the economy and (b) state measures directed against the kulaks and Nepmen, especially tax measures, which would halt their growth and, finally, systematically reduce them. Unfortunately, Trotsky believed that the Stalin bureaucracy was a pro-bourgeois force and incapable of maintaining the nationalized economy against capitalist pressure. Trotsky, consequently, failed to foresee that the bureaucracy, also, could use the state power as an economic force against the capitalist trends, in the interests of its own special position, without thereby strengthening the proletariat or moving toward socialism. In line with his mistaken analysis, Trotsky was forced to regard the Five Year Plan as a temporary “left zig” – i.e., a pro-Stalinist and pro-proletarian measure taken under the pressure of the workers – on what was otherwise a “zig-zag” course toward capitalist restoration. The sad fact, however, was that while there was less capitalism than ever in Russia at the end of the Five Year Plan, there was also less socialism than ever, despite the vast expansion of the nationalized economy.

If a study of the economic trends alone cannot tell us toward what the economy is in transition, how can we discover the answer to this latter question? By analyzing the class nature of the state power which is determining the direction of economic development.

This brings us back to the question we posed earlier but postponed answering; namely, how does one determine the class nature of state power in periods of revolution (or counter-revolution) when the state does not necessarily represent the economically dominant class? One determines it on the basis of state policy toward the different classes composing the social order. How did we know that a workers’ state was at the head of Russian society despite the NEP concessions to small capital? Because the state policy was predominantly a pro~proletarian policy. How did we know that the workers’ state was degenerating? Because its policy increasingly favored the special interests of the bureaucracy at the expense of the proletariat.

We must therefore ask: If Germain states that Poland is ruled by “a bourgeois Polish State apparatus” and that “the structure of this state remains unchanged” from that of the pre-war state, why has the Polish bourgeoisie fared so badly at the hands of its own state?

Which Class Holds Power?

The next question which immediately suggests itself is this: which class has been favored by the state policies in Poland? Before answering this question, we will first examine another aspect of the nature of state power to determine in whose hands the Polish state rests.

Germain belligerently asks us:

How were you able to write an editorial of close to 4,000 words on Polish policy without telling us explicitly what is the class nature of the state and of the society in that country?

Four pages later in his article, Germain himself quotes our answer:

According to the editorial writer of the NI, “the Stalinist regime is seeking [!] to compose [!] the new bureaucratic class from the state apparatus. [The exclamations were inserted by Germain.]

”Ah-ha!” Germain wants to say. “You see, they are only seeking and want to compose but the editorial writer does not explicitly tell us who holds the state power today.”

Who holds the state power today? In Poland? Of course, we did not explicitly set down the answer to this. Because we don’t know? No! Quite the contrary, because we were sure that every schoolboy knew the answer to this question. When we said the “Stalinist regime is seeking, etc.,” whom did Germain think we had in mind? Lest we not be sufficiently explicit, we will answer at greater length the question of who holds the state power in Poland today.

What is the state in the last analysis? As Engels was at such pains to make clear, it is “an armed power.” Lest one think this too narrow a concept, Engels adds that “it consists not merely of armed men, but of material appendages, prisons and repressive institutions of all kinds ...” And Lenin comments on Engels’ definition and says somewhat categorically:: CIA standing army and police are the chief instruments of state power.”

What standing army is the backbone of state power in Poland? The Russian army. What police rules the country? The GPU. What repressive institutions exist? Special courts and concentration camps for the opponents of Russian rule.

We hope that Germain will not quibble about the fact that in addition to the Russian army of occupation there is also a “Polish” army that wears Polish uniforms and even has officers who speak Polish without Russian accents. Their arms, however, are Russian, both in origin and in point of control. We are even willing to grant that many of the chiefs of the Polish GPU speak Polish. Here, however, we are not ready to guaran tee that they speak without a Russian accent.

What is the nature of the state power in Poland today? The nature of state power is Russian imperialist rule, i.e. occupation, domination, oppression and exploitation of the country by the bureaucratic collectivist state power of Russia.

This is the bald fact which it seems everybody in the world knows (whether they call Russia bureaucratic collectivist or not) but which, it would appear, everybody has carefully withheld from Germain out of regard for his tender sensibilities.

What is the state power in Japan today? Everyone knows that the real state power rests upon the American imperialist forces of occupation. The United States being a capitalist power, it leaves undisturbed the basic class relations in capitalist Japan. Here there is no contradiction between the regime of MacArthur and Japanese capitalism, insofar as their common desire to maintain capitalism is concerned.

How Is Conflict Being Resolved?

But we know that where a contradiction does exist between the basic social aims of the state (i.e., the armed power) and the economically dominant class, this contradiction cannot continue indefinitely. If it did, then the entire Marxist theory that the state is an instrument of force in the hands of the economically dominant class would be invalidated. Germain correctly notes, in connection with another point, that the workers’ state in Russia ruled for some six to eight months with only few nationalizations. But this situation could not continue. Either the capitalist owners of industry would overthrow the Soviet state and again take the state power or the Soviet state would remove the capitalists from their economically dominant position by expropriations. If there is a contradiction between the class aims of the state power in Poland and those of the bourgeoisie [whom Germain considers still the economically~dominant class], how is it being resolved? We submit that all evidence proves that it is being resolved by systematically removing the bourgeoisie from its role as the “dominant class” in the economy.

“The character of the state which appears in its structure must rest, however, on a well defined social base,” we are told by Germain. The real state power in Poland, the Russian imperialist occupant and the native Stalinist~Quisling apparatus through which it rules, certainly intend to give their state power “a well defined social base.” But other than Germain thinks, it will not be bourgeois. This latter illusion rests upon yet another theory of the majority which is basic to their analysis of Poland. This is the theory that the Russian bureaucracy seeks to restore capitalism in Russia, and, consequently, to maintain it where it already exists. For you see, when all is said and done, Germain proceeds not from the nature of the economy in Poland but from the class aims of the Russian bureaucracy!

But the political intervention of the Soviet bureaucracy was primarily counter-revolutionary. The Soviet Army was used to “restore order,” re-establish the authority of employers and to rapidly rebuild a bourgeois Polish state apparatus.

Here we can clearly see that the Polish question is indistinguishable from the Russian question. How can it be otherwise when the real state in Poland is the Russian military power plus its native apparatus? The analysis of the Polish situation, therefore, cannot be the same for those who see a workers’ state in Russia as for those who see bureaucratic collectivism or state capitalism in Russia.

The above quotation reveals that those who hold the view that Russia is a workers’ state and that the only alternative is the restoration of private capitalism can only equate counterrevolution to bourgeois counter-revolution. If the “Red Army” enters Poland to suppress in incipient proletarian revolution, Germain can only conclude that it does this in order to place the bourgeoisie in power. That the Russian army may smash a proletarian revolution and simultaneously move to eliminate the bourgeoisie is ruled out as “Shachtmanite” revisionism (and in more truculent moods as Burnhamism).

According to the majority theory the Russian bureaucracy plays a dual role: reactionary and progressive, i.e., pro-capitalist and pro-socialist. It is either one or the other. If it suppresses a proletarian revolution, it must be pro-capitalist. If it divides the land and nationalizes economy, it must be pro-socialist. Accepting this mode of reasoning for the moment, we ask Germain this question: If one casts up a balance sheet of the Russian record in Poland, placing all the “progressive” acts in one column and the reactionary ones in another, which reveals itself as the decisive class policy, the pro-capitalist or the “pro-socialist” measures?

What have been the pro-capitalist measures in Poland cited by Germain? The Russians (a) saved the Polish bourgeoisie from a proletarian revolution and (b) generously permitted the bourgeoisie to keep its small and, to an extent, medium enterprises.

What have been the “pro-socialist” measures according to Germain? The Russians (a) nationalized banking and the key industries and (b) broke up the remaining landed estates. In the words of Germain, “the total expropriation of the bourgeoisie after an eventual conquest of power by the proletariat presents itself as infinitely easier and requiring less expense than in 1939” and therefore “economically, socially and technically the reforms of 1945–46 facilitate the realization of the socialist revolution.”

Can one assume anything else from this balance sheet than that the decisive class policy in Poland has been anything but pro-bourgeois? Germain could conceivably conclude that the policy has been “pro-socialist,” but hardly pro-bourgeois.

Russia’s Aim of Structural Assimilation

We cite one more item of evidence from Germain to bolster this conclusion. In explaining the reasons for the nationalization policy, he sums them up as: “... workers’ pressure; the tendency toward statism inherent in Polish capitalist industry; the tendency toward structural assimilation inherent in the policy of the Soviet bureaucracy in the ‘buffer’ countries.” (Our italics – E.E.)

We ask: if it is the aim of the Russian bureaucracy to assimilate the Polish economy “into the structure of the USSR,” will this be done on the basis of a Polish bourgeois economy? How could a bourgeois economy be grafted onto the collectivized economy of Russia? Or does Germain see in this, as did Oehler a few years ago, the secret design of the Kremlin to bring capitalism back into Russia? “Structural assimilation” to Russia! This is a most gloomy perspective which the Polish bourgeois state has outlined for the Polish bourgeoisie! Never has the “executive committee of the bourgeoisie as a whole shown such disregard for the most basic interests of its constituents, including their very lives!

Comparison of Poland and Spain

But Germain cites us an historical precedent for what is taking place in Poland. What is the precedent? The Loyalist government in Spain during the Civil War. Here, he says was a bourgeois state which fought the bourgeois as a class, the vast majority of the latter having been in the camp of Franco. Germain, however, omits one item from his analogy between Poland and Spain of 1936–39. The entire activity of the Republican government after July 18, 1936, was not merely to oust the workers from the control they had established in industry, but to conduct a consistent policy of restoring the property to the bourgeoisie. This latter policy was most ardently pursued by the Spanish Stalinists, under the direct orders of the Russian Ambassador in Madrid. Those bourgeois who had fled abroad but had not taken an active part in the Franco rebellion were even invited to return and resume their bourgeois functions.

Why did the Spanish bourgeoisie encourage the Franco uprising? Was it because the People’s Front regime was going to expropriate them? No. It was because they viewed the Republican government as too weak to prevent a proletarian revolution. They viewed Azana as the Russian bourgeoisie viewed Kerensky and, like the Russian bourgeoisie, the Spanish sought its own “Kornilov,” unfortunately, a victorious one. Does any Polish bourgeois oppose the present Warsaw government because it is weak in the face of a threatening proletarian and peasant upheaval? They could find no stronger counter-revolutionary regime than the one now in power. However, a regime that saves the bourgeoisie from the proletariat only in order to expropriate the bourgeoisie itself is of little consolation to the latter. The Stalinist course in Spain was anti-proletarian and pro-bourgeois. The Stalinist course in Poland is anti-proletarian and anti-bourgeois and pro-bureaucratic collectivist. They find themselves able to achieve in Poland today what was out of the question in Spain – namely to recast Polish society in the image of Russia.

Russia’s “Children”

As a consequence, Shachtman asserts that the “unique” Russian bureaucratic class can produce children – “intentionally,” of course, in order to insist on the determinist and historical character of this strange “sociology,” which continues out of laziness of thought to call itself “Marxist”! We have the right to ask him: And the French Stalinists, wouldn’t they, too, like to form a “new bureaucratic class,” if God furnishes the occasion?

Yes, Germain may as well know the worst; the Russian bureaucratic-collectivist class can “produce children.” Not only “intentionally” but also “necessarily.” [2] What is at the root of the Russian expansion into the “buffer-states,” according to the position which Germain holds? At the root is the bureaucracy’s concept of how to defend the “Soviet Union.” The very term “buffer” indicates this. But what is a more reliable buffer-territory, one with a bourgeois economy or one with a nationalized economy? Obviously, the latter. Yugoslavia is certainly more reliable than Finland in case of anĀ· American attack upon Russia. If the antagonism between Russia and the capitalist world rests upon two mutually hostile social systems, why should Russia desire to have the enemy social system behind its first line of defense (the iron curtain) and extending right up to the frontiers of Russia itself? We speak of “desire” here for it is Germain’s contention that Russia seeks to restore and maintain capitalism in Poland. We credit the Kremlin, if solely from an aim of self-preservation, with enough foresight to have the “intentions” of extending its social system throughout the buffer territory.

However, more than that, Russia finds it necessary to expand imperialistically due to her own economic needs. We dealt with this at length in an editorial in the April 1946 issue of this publication. The same point is made in different terminology in the Fourth International (March 1946) where we read on page 103 as follows: “The regime [in Russia] sees no way out in the economic field save through the realization of the fourth Five-Year Plan, which cannot be achieved by the devastated country without the resources of the ‘buffer zones’.” Most certainly “the resources of the buffer zones” cannot be exploited by continual looting. They must be geared into the economy of Russia. This is what Germain speaks of when he refers to the Russian aim of “structural assimilation.” What will these “assimilated” states be other than “children” of the Russian bureaucratic collectivist system? E.R. Frank, in his study of the buffer-states, admits that Yugoslavia looks terribly much like Russia already, though he also gags at calling it one of the “children.”

If capitalism is everywhere in decline, it is at its most feeble stage precisely in this buffer zone of Russia. Short of a war, this territory is lost to capitalism. The latter system no longer has the dynamism to make a comeback here. Certainly, Germain would be one of the last to predict an economic resurgence of world capitalism that would sweep over into these states. The only capitalist resurgence that is possible lies along the path indicated by Truman’s intervention in the Eastern Mediterranean – military might. Unless the proletarian revolution intervenes with its solution to the desperate situation of these nations, the vacuum will be filled by Russian policy – ending in bureaucratic-totalitarian rule by a new exploiting class that basis itself upon a nationalized economy.

But in France, too? mockingly asks Germain. Yes, the French Stalinists, too, seek to develop bureaucratic class rule, and “if God furnishes the occasion,” they will. This occasion, however, we do not see in France today nor for a long time to come. If it materializes, it will not only denote a crushing defeat of the European proletariat at the hands of Stalinism but it will also be the signal for the outbreak of the Russo-American war for world supremacy.

Why should the fact that the French Stalinists seek bureaucratic class rule of their own strike Germain as extremely preposterous? He should be well acquainted with the following quotation:

The predominating type among the present “Communist” bureaucrats is the political careerist, and in consequence the polar opposite of the revolutionist. Their ideal is to attain in their own country the same position that the Kremlin oligarchy gained in the USSR. They are not the revolutionary leaders of the proletariat but aspirants to totalitarian rule. They dream of gaining success with the aid of this same Soviet bureaucracy and its GPU. They view with admiration and envy the invasion of Poland, Finland, the Baltic states, Bessarabia by the Red Army because these invasions immediately bring about the transfer of power into the hands of the local Stalinist candidates for totalitarian rule. (Leon Trotsky, [The Comintern and the GPU], The Fourth International, November 1940)

You see, this “strange ‘sociology: which continues out of laziness of thought to call itself ‘Marxist’” did not even originate with us! We deem it far less “strange” than that sociology which sees the class aim of the bureaucracy of the “workers’ state” to be the rebuilding of the “bourgeois Polish State apparatus” by means of nationalizing the economy and partitioning the land. We cannot refrain from noting that the Russian bureaucracy, no doubt, does this “intentionally” to help poor Germain resolve the many theoretical contradictions he finds himself in.

Shachtman’s View in 1941

But Shachtman did not say that the Russian state could produce children when he first developed his theory of bureaucratic collectivism in 1941, complains Germain. This is not entirely true. For the Russian state already had produced several children by that time. Esthonia, Latvia and Lithuania were small nations but they were nations nevertheless and as capitalist as many another. Russian occupation, however, did not “rapidly rebuild a bourgeois [Esthonian, Latvian or Lithuanian] state apparatus.” It recast these nations in its own image of bureaucratic collectivism, or as Germain would have it, it “structurally assimilated” them. The assimilation has been so thorough that these nations have almost passed out of the memory of mankind.

Shachtman would have flown in the face of well-known facts (and facts which helped his case rather than weakened it) to deny that bureaucratic collectivism in Russia could have offspring. What our resolution on Russia in 1941 did say was that the Second World War would be decisive in the great contest between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie and that regardless of which won, the bureaucratic collectivist class would have an equally limited future. History has proven that we were one-sided and therefore wrong on this score. We were wrong not because we believed in the theory of bureaucratic collectivism, but because we did not fully comprehend and develop all the ramifications of this theory and continued to operate on many of the false concepts laid down by Trotsky on the Russian question. The result of the war was (a) the failure of t!le proletarian revolutionary wave to reach even the heights of 1917–23, (b) the terrible disorganization and disintegration of capitalism in Europe and (c) the emergence of Russia as the second greatest world power, supported in Europe by mass Stalinist parties. Rather than a limited future, bureaucratic collectivism today enters the lists as a powerful contender against both capitalism and the proletarian revolution. We took note of this changed relationship in the International Resolution of our party convention of May 1946 and stated that the future of bureaucratic collectivism was not absolutely decided but would be resolved in struggle. We seek to effect the outcome of this struggle by being active participants.

That is why we remain unrattled when Germain, after noting that we see Poland as the pattern for the other states of the buffer zone, asks: “Does he [Shachtman] perhaps think that King Michael finds himself at the head of – a bureaucratic state?” A pattern according to the dictionary is “anything cut out or formed into shape to be copied.” Stalin works with the easiest material first, i.e., Poland and Yugoslavia. Rumania, together with King Michael, will have their turn in being cut to the pattern. Meanwhile Stalin has use for King Michael – who has about as much power in Rumanian affairs as Kalinin had in Russia, a good deal less, in fact. Stalin has use for all kinds of conscious and unconscious collaborators – from the Metropolitan of the Holy Synod in Moscow to those who call upon the Polish masses to defend the Stalinist police regime against the bourgeois democratic peasant movement. As to the number of countries in which, and the extent to which, the “pattern” will be used, this – we repeat – will be decided iIn struggle.

(The concluding portion of this article will appear in our next issue. It will deal with the struggle for democratic rights, the relative value of nationalization, the national question, the question of class criteria, the two lines in practice and the international power relations involved in the Polish situation.)


1. Throughout the article, Germain chooses to speak of “Shachtman” rather than the Workers Party. thus giving the impression of a polemic directed against an individual rather than a party which represents a counter-position to that of the majority in the international movement; e.g., “The Shachtmanite thesis and the thesis of the Fourth International.” We suspect that Germain is unconsciously expressing a view found in some quarters of the movement that parties are merely appendages to “leaders.” Though Shachtman has not had occasion to write on the Polish question, he is in full accord with the party position, which, of course, flows from its basic views on the Russian and national questions.

2. Since we are dealing with Poland, one of the “buffer” states we will refrain from dealing with the question of the nature of Stalinism in the capitalist world in this article.

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