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Ernest Erber

The Class Nature of the Polish State – II

A Reply to Ernest Germain

(August 1947)

From The New International, Vol. XIII No. 6, August 1947, p. 176–182.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

This installment completes Comrade Erber’s reply to Ernest Germain’s criticism of the position of the Workers Party and the New International on Poland. The first part of this article appeared in the July issue.


The political crisis which has gripped the Fourth International since the outbreak of World War II is rooted in its false position on the nature of the Russian state. However, as has been demonstrated so many times in the history of political movements, a false position on a key question disorients the entire program of a movement and renders it incapable of answering other questions, even those that appear to be unrelated to the key question. It was, therefore, not long after the split in the movement over Russia’s role in the war that the Fourth International committed its error on the national question, the consequences of which all but equal those of the Russian question.

The disastrous policy advocated by the Fourth International for Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe under Russian rule is the bitter fruit of both of these major errors, because the political situation of these countries is dominated by national oppression imposed by Russia. The result is that the political line of the Fourth International, which tends everywhere to subvert the revolutionary movement into a left opposition to Stalinism, emerges in these Russian-occupied countries, as a result of the direct effect of both major errors, in the role of open defenders of the Stalinist police regime and of national oppression against the popular democratic movement of national liberation.

The connection between the Russian question and the national question is far more intimate than appears from superficial examination. The link between these two questions is formed by the fact that both are integrally related to an evaluation of the nature of the epoch, one as a determinant of it and the other as an extraction from it. Whether or not one recognizes that the national question has reappeared in Europe as one of the main political questions depends upon one’s analysis of the main trends of development during the last twenty-five years of European history. Without making the latter analysis the framework for one’s investigation of the national question, it is impossible to establish the relationship of national liberation struggles to the socialist revolution. However, a historical analysis of this period of history that proceeds, as must that of the Fourth International, from the view that the Russian Revolution still lives and that Stalinism, no matter how degenerate, represents its continuity, cannot possibly come to the same conclusions about the nature of the epoch as a historical analysis which proceeds, as ours does, from the view that the Russian Revolution is dead and that Stalinism represents one of the beginnings of barbarism.

Proceeding from the perspective that the social, economic and political conditions of Europe, including the revolutionary consciousness of the proletariat, had undergone no basic change since the period of the early Comintem and that the prospects for the end of World War II were for a repetition of the post-war revolutionary waves of 1917–19, one could not possibly conclude that the national question had returned after seven decades to dominate European politics. The strategy of the proletarian revolution, as formulated by the early Comintem and defended by the Left Opposition, would then continue as the central political axis with the struggle for proletarian state power as the main political slogan. The occupation of the continent by Germany would, in this event, be but a passing phase of the war which would be resolved by the rising tide of proletarian revolution as was the less extensive German occupation during the First World War. Under these conditions, the emergence of national resistance movements with influence among the masses would be correctly viewed as solely of tactical importance for the revolutionary movement.

The Fourth International, of course, proceeded from the above analysis. Its theoreticians could not understand that the events of the last quarter century required that the strategy of world revolution be altered precisely in order to achieve the aim of world revolution. Being epigones, these theoreticians had learned the strategy by rote and had come to assume that any changes in “the” strategy must mean changes in the revolutionary goal. A strategy of world revolution that took into account the events of history and sought to find new points of support for the proletarian revolution in the mass national and democratic movements appeared to them as an attempt, not to make necessary revisions in strategy, but. to substitute some other kind of “revolution” for the proletarian revolution.

Taking Note of Some Changes

Our struggle against this sterility based itself, in large measure, upon an analysis in which our views on the nature of the Russian state and on Stalinism played a major role. This analysis was composed of the following decisive factors that had shaped world history since the early 1920s:

  1. The first workers’ state had been destroyed and replaced by a totalitarian rule that based itself upon the state-owned economy;
  2. The organized mass revolutionary movement, product of decades of struggle that crystallized in the Comintern, had been destroyed and replaced by a ruthless and efficient agency of counter-revolution in the form of Stalinism;
  3. The working class, deprived of a revolutionary leadership, had fallen victim to fascism in Central Europe;
  4. The combined effects of reformism, Stalinism and fascism had hurled back the proletariat in terms of political consciousness and revolutionary organization;
  5. The continued decline of capitalist economy was bringing about a decay and disintegration. in social institutions and in culture that marked the undoing of several centuries of civilized progress;
  6. The emergence of the outlines of organized barbarism (Germany, Russia) as the alternative to a socialist reorganization of society;
  7. The outbreak of a Second World War with its threat to complete the destruction begun by fascism.

The correct reading of these changes revealed that Europe, in the absence of the proletarian revolution, was rapidly slipping backward and that long outlived political problems were once more reappearing on its agenda. This is the essence of what we have referred to as “retrogression,” a concept which has been so badly misunderstood or misrepresented by our opponents. One of the products of this retrogression is the undoing of a great part of the progress achieved in an entire historical period (the bourgeois revolution) in the solution of the national problem. State frontiers, having outlived their usefulness, had become fetters on the economic and political progress of Europe by the beginning of the Twentieth Century. Europe could not progress without the abolition of state frontiers through the unification of European economy as a whole. But this unification would mark progress only if it were brought about by the democratic process of the socialist revolution. The unification of Europe through imperialist conquest and oppression could mark, not a step forward, but only a step backward. Leaving aside the fact that the imperialist unification would not necessarily raise the level of production, it would constitute a retrograde process because its political effect would not be, as some falsely believe, the transfer of the proletarian struggle for power from a national to a continental basis, but, rather, the transfer of the struggle in the oppressed nations from directly proletarian socialist goals to national liberation.

All modern history teaches us that national oppression has the general effect of blurring class consciousness and heightening national consciousness. The proletariat of the oppressed nation quickly discovers that every struggle which it wages in behalf of its class interests finds its first and most formidable obstacle in the troops and police of the state power, i.e., the foreign oppressor. The proletariat’s struggle for national liberation is, therefore, not the result of some vague feeling without material basis, born of bourgeois patriotic propaganda, as some sectarians believe. It arises from the logic of the class struggle itself. The course pursued by the proletariat in the struggle for national liberation – whether it submerges its class interests in the struggle of the nation for liberation or whether it wages its class struggle as a struggle on behalf of the nation as a whole through leading the struggle for national liberation – depends entirely upon the correct strategic orientation of the proletariat, that is to say, of its organized, political vanguard. The struggle for national liberation, therefore, can become the lever by which the proletariat achieves the leadership of its nation and by which the successful liberation of the nation becomes merged with the socialist revolution as a consequence of the proletariat taking state power in the process of liberation. It is this aspect of the problem that gives the national question its crucial importance wherever the national question emerges as the dominant political problem. It is because of this that a movement which is incapable of understanding the national question is totally impotent as a revolutionary leadership wherever the national question predominates. That is why the bankruptcy of the Fourth International on the national question during the occupation of Europe by the Nazis meant its bankruptcy as a revolutionary leadership, no matter how loudly it called for “soviets” and the Socialist United States of Europe. Or rather, one can say, the louder they called for these as substitutes for the struggle of national liberation, upon which they had turned their backs, the more bankrupt they declared themselves in the real struggle for the proletarian revolution.

No graver error, nor a more revealing one, can be made than to assume that the national question was a problem limited to wartime Europe. Those who hold this view cannot possibly understand the Marxist-Leninist concept of the national question, in general, nor the essence of the national question in its reappearance under new world conditions in particular. Every wartime military occupation of foreign soil does not give rise to a national question, even if it does give rise to movements of national resistance. Such movements in the course of the First World War were correctly denounced by the revolutionary Marxists as social patriotic movements that could only divert the proletariat from its revolutionary goals. It is, as we have said previously, a problem of the epoch.

The liberation of the continent from the Nazis did not do away with the national question. It merely shifted national oppression from Western Europe to Germany, leaving Eastern Europe unchanged in this respect except for a change from German to Russian oppression. The national question has reappeared in Europe to remain until the socialist revolution. This assertion is true because the solution of the national question on the plane of 1871–1939 would require a degree of progress under capitalism which it is utterly incapable of achieving, above all, when the real prospect for Europe under capitalism is for no progress whatsoever.

The National Question Remains

The unification of Europe through imperialist conquest, which we referred to previously, was not a necessity that was peculiar to German capitalism alone. It is part of the whole drive of modern imperialism which has resulted on a world scale in the trend toward fewer and ever greater powers just as within each capitalist nation the trend is toward fewer and greater units of monopoly capital. The division of the world into a Russian and an American sphere has not yet exhausted this process. The two giants stand poised to grapple for final world supremacy.

The corollary of this process is the reduction of the rest of the nations of the world to one of varying degrees of subserviency to the two great powers This does not mean that every n.ation has a national question as a result of domination by Russia or the United States. The great economic power of the latter permits it to dominate other nations through a variety of forms that enable it to gain its ends without direct military occupation. Russia likewise dominates some countries (Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia) without direct occupation, through the agency of the native Stalinist apparatus. Wherever the foreign domination is exercised without a direct use of military power by the oppressing nation, the national question tends to recede in importance because the direct state power is exercised by the native ruling class, however subservient it may be to the foreign power. As a result, the national question remains as the dominant political question in those nations of Central Europe (Germany, Austria) and of Eastern Europe directly occupied by the forces of Anglo-American or Russian imperialism.

We see, therefore, that the national question is not a matter of wartime military occupation. It is, as would have also been the case in the event of a German victory, a matter of national oppression for an indefinite period. This means that we face a period in which the revolutionary strategy of large sections of the European proletariat will revolve around the national question. By the same token, we face a period in which a revolutionary movement that persists in misreading history and misunderstanding the national question can have no prospect of success.

The ability of the Fourth International to free itself from the sectarian impasse in which it has landed on the national question is severely restricted by the role of its Russian position as an obstacle to a clear comprehension of the extent to which Europe has been “hurled back.” How can one comprehend the reality of retrogression if one believes that half of Europe is dominated by the armies of a workers’ state, which introduce “reforms” which “facilitate the realization of the socialist revolution”? No matter how much such a position laments the fact that the socialist revolution is brought closer through the agency of the Russian bureaucracy itself instead of by the proletariat itself, such a position must still contend that socialism is being brought closer. This latter process does not constitute retrogression. It constitutes progress. If Russia, vis-à-vis capitalism, represents progress and Russian might, assisted by the Stalinist mass movements? pas grown, all talk of retrogression and the reappearance of the national question becomes objectively counter-revolutionary. That is why two basic currents that struggle for supremacy in the international movement divide on both questions, the Russian question and the national question.

An attempt to establish a position which believes that Russia remains a ‘Workers’ state but that retrogression has carried Europe to the point where the national question dominates the politics of half the continent is an attempt to make an illogical, internal1y-contradictory construction. [1] It would fall apart immediately if tested in a real political situation, such as Poland represents today. Likewise, an attempt to establish a position that holds that Russia has retrogressed to capitalism (which means fascism), but that Europe as a whole has not retrogressed to the point where the national question reappears on its agenda, is to make an eclectic construction which is absurd on the face of it. [2] The absurdity of this latter theoretical construction is that it recognizes the complete retrogression of the Russian Revolution into its extreme opposite, fascist barbarism, but fails to understand the simple fact that the retrogression of the Russian Revolution, both in Russia and as a world movement, is the starting point from which all other aspects of retrogression get their impetus. This position also would find its total debacle in Poland. To make the call for “soviets” and the “Socialist United States of Europe” the central political slogans in Poland today would expose this position as totally sterile and without the possibility of finding a point of political contact with either camp-the Warsaw Quisling regime or the national liberation movement. A position that denies retrogression and preaches the imminent proletarian revolution but finds itself reduced to neutrality between two mass forces that periodically threaten to erupt into civil war becomes a laughable incongruity.

Germain Does Violence to Facts

In our previous article on Poland, dealing with the nature of state power in that country, we pointed out how the false position on the Russian question held by the Fourth International forces it to maintain that Russia is interested in saving capitalism in Poland and that it erects a police dictatorship for that purpose, but concludes that the Polish workers must defend this regime against the bourgeois democratic opposition. This unfortunate position leads its unhappy exponent, Ernest Germain [3], to do further violence to fact and reason whenever he touches upon the national question in Poland. The result is a repetition of all the traditional errors on the national question which have been the stock-in-trade of every sectarian opponent of Leninism on this question, plus a few new ones tailored to fit the exceptional situation in which the official policy of the Fourth finds itself in Poland.

We say “touch upon” advisedly, because Germain is careful to skirt around the national question in Poland in order to avoid the necessity of making an analysis of Russia’s role in Poland. Germain’s article abounds with indications of what he believes Russia’s role not to be. From our foregoing analysis of the relationship between the Russian question and the national question, it is easy to see why Germain should be so discreet.

Germain, for instance, finds it necessary to place quotation marks around the words “exploit” and “oppress” when referring to our view of Russia’s role in Poland. The purpose of these quotation marks is to make sure that the reader under” stands that these characterizations of Russia’s role are those of The New International and not of Germain. A few lines later, Germain makes reference to the views of our collaborator, A. Rudzienski, on the nature of the revolution which Poland faces and, in quoting, finds it necessary to include in his quotation a sentence which expresses Rudzienski’s view that Russia subjects Poland to colonial exploitation. Lest someone be given the impression that Germain accepts this part of the quotation, he hastens to introduce his comments by saying, “Let us disregard the question of whether or not Poland is at present subject to ’colonial exploitation’.”

In the absence of a forthright statement on the question, we are entitled to assume, at least, that Germain is not prepared to commit himself as to whether Poland is oppressed and exploited by Russia, either in a colonial or any other manner. The facts of Russia’s role in Poland are not in dispute. Almost everyone, with the exception of the Stalinists and their apologists among the liberals, accepts the view that Russia subjects Poland to political dependence and forces upon her such trade relations as are Ito the advantage of Russia. This has been amply demonstrated in the studies of Russia’s role in Poland by Rudzienski, which have appeared in these pages and in Labor Action. We very much doubt that Germain will rest his argument on a refutation of our factual material. To do this, he would have to paint the Kremlin in such altruistic colors that they would be unacceptable to anyone in the Fourth International.

If Germain agrees with us that the Polish regime is politically subservient to the will of Moscow and that the laUer seeks to use Polish economy and resources for purposes of rebuilding Russian economy, why should he refuse to tenn this relationship as oppression and exploitation? The answer rests on the fact tlIat what is at stake is an interpretation of more or less commonly accepted facts about Russiaos role. Germain admits the facts of Russian political and economic policy in Poland but is forced to support Russia against the bourgeois democratic movement of national liberation on the basis of his view that Russia is a workers’ state and Poland a bourgeois state. One may condemn and criticize the methods by which the Kremlin carries out its policy in Poland (which Germain does) and keep within the Russian position of the Fourth, but how can one denounce the role of a workers’ state, no matter how degenerate, and support its bourgeois democratic, peasant opponents or its reformist (really, Menshevik) proletarian opponents? If one proceeds from the view that Russia and Poland rest upon antagonistic class foundations, the former working class and the latter bourgeois, then support to a national liberation movement in Poland would constitute aid to the bourgeoisie against the workers’ state, i.e., aid to the counter-revolution.

The only political conclusion possible in Poland on the basis of Germain’s reasoning is the conclusion he arrives at support the imperialist oppressor and denounce his victims. This is the sum and substance of Germain’s political line in the context of the actual political relations in Poland today.

”Not true!” say the partisans of the official policy. ”We call for an independent Soviet Poland!” Yes, we are aware of this slogan. More than that, we note that Germain labels this the central slogan in Poland today. But this knowledge does not affect by a hair’s breadth our characterization of Germain’s line as being support to the Quislings and opposition to the fighters for liberation.

Poland Is Not China, You Say

What does it mean to say that one is for an independent Soviet Poland? Are we not also for an independent Soviet India? Or an independent Soviet Indo-China? Or an independent Soviet Indonesia? The aim of our struggle in these latter countries is certainly not the replacement of British, French or Dutch imperialism by native exploiters. Yet we never lose sight of who the main enemy is in these oppressed nations. Today the main enemy is foreign imperblism. Our central slogan is, therefore, “Drive out the imperialist oppressor.” Our struggle against the bourgeois nationalists in the nationally oppressed countries remains on the level of political criticism, denunciation, clarification, etc., in an effort to wrest the national liberation movement from their domination. But if we permitted our struggle against the bourgeois wing of the national liberation movement to become our main struggle before the imperialist enemy has been driven out, we would be guilty of playing a counter-revolutionary role. Trotsky’s criticism of the Comintern line in the Chinese Revolution was not that it failed to make the Kuomintang the main enemy in the period before the fall of Shanghai. Trotsky’s criticism was directed at the policy of political and military subordination of the Communists to the bourgeois nationalist leaders and the failure to organize the masses independently of the Kuomintang movement.

“But Poland is not China,” our opponents will protest. “Poland is a European nation that has gone through many national liberation struggles in its history and cannot succeed any more today than in the past in achieving its independence short of a socialist revolution.”

That Poland is not China, we are willing to grant. Yet the two nations, today, have more in common than the fact that they both excel in the quality of their pork products. One such common feature is that neither enjoys national independence, Poland less than China. A second common feature is that the main tasks of the revolutionary partya re the same in both countries. These tasks can be described in the following manner:

The task of the revolutionary party is ... to formulate its program and its slogans in such a way as to rally around itself all the exploited masses in the struggle against all their exploiters. It bases itself on the dynamics of the class struggIe and not upon the depth of chauvinist feelings, because it knows that in the last analysis the struggle of the masses for their national democratic aspirations can be victorious only by colliding with bourgeois nationalism, can be victorious only through the realization of the socialist revolution, which will require the expulsion of the “occupier” as well as the destruction of the “native” reactionary classes.

This description of the tasks of a revolutionary party which I hold, apply in both Poland and China is a quotation from the article by Germain. No Marxist who stands upon the theory of the permanent revolution could reject its formulation wilhout becoming a petty bourgeois nationalist. Germain, who wrote these words, is under the impression, however, that they constitute a refutation of the possibility of supporting the national liberation struggle in Poland! If he believes that adhering to the above tasks means that the Marxists cannot support the national liberation struggle, he must believe that in those countries where Marxists do support the national liberation struggle there is no need to adhere to these tasks! Here we see revealed the fact that Germain knows nothing of the Marxist concept of the national question and the Marxist strategy in the struggle for national liberation. What he clearly implies is that in a country like China the task of the revolutionary party is something other than he describes above. What other policy does he have in mind? Namely, one in which the revolutionary party does not carry on the struggle for national liberation on the basis of its own slogans, its own class organizations, etc., but subordinates itself to the bourgeois nationalist movement. This does not follow? This is an unfounded accusation and, therefore, a slander? We shall demonstrate otherwise.

The “liberty” which Shachtman demands for “Poland” has its very different meaning for the different social classes. The ”free Poland” of General Anders and Cardinal Hlond, that is the Poland where the gentry and colonels are free to exploit the peasants, assassinate strikers, and organize pogroms. The ”freedom” which the workers and landless peasants require, is the freedom to drive out the land-owning clergy, the capitalists, and the “managers” forced on them by the State; it is the freedom to manage industry and the land themselves. Petty-bourgeois politicians think that they can for the moment disregard this difference in content, remaining satisfied with the similarity in formulation of the slogan. But to drag the bourgeoisie and the proletarians, landless peasants and exploiting peasants behind one and the same banner, means, in the Twentieth Century, to fill an empty form with bourgeois content!

The above sentences of Germain precede immediately the previous quotation on the tasks of the revolutionary party. These latter tasks we have described as being an adequate description of the role of the revolutionary party in the national liberation struggle. But to Germain these tasks are counterposed to support for the liberation struggle. But what role would the revolutionary party play if it did support the national liberation movement according to Germain? The role of joining with General Anders and Cardinal Hlond and dragging all the conflicting classes behind the same banner, a bourgeois banner, and of refraining from fighting for the kind of “freedom” (i.e., freedom from exploitation) which the worker and peasant masses desire.

What Is a Bolshevik Policy?

We ask, is this the role of the Fourth International in those countries, like India, where it supports the national liberation struggle? Was this the role of the Fourth International when it supported China in the war against Japan, even after China became openly a tool of American imperialism after Pearl Harbor? According to Germain, supporting the national liberation struggle in India and China requires the revolutionary party to drag the masses along behind Chiang Kai-shek and Gandhi and to deny the right of the masses to struggle for their own class interests.

If Germain still wishes to contend that this policy is falsely imputed to him, let him describe the tasks of the revolutionary party in India and China and show wherein they differ from the tasks which he outlines for Poland as being the alternative to supporting the liberation struggle. But let him not say that he implies no support to the Chinese and Indian General Anders and Cardinal Hlonds, but that in Poland “Shachtman” (i.e., the Workers Party) does imply such support. For this requires citing chapter and verse from our voluminous writings on the Polish question. He will not succeed, either in reading such support out of our writings or into them.

It is not enough, therefore, to say that one is opposed to Russian domination of Poland by virtue of raising the slogan of an ”independent Soviet Poland.” This slogan states our final aim in every country. The problem of Marxist politics is not to state the final aim (this is already stated by our program, if not by the entire content of revolutionary Marxism), but to state at every period what stage the struggle is in and what to do next. The Mensheviks and Bolsheviks had complete agreement on the final aim of the Russian Revolution. They adopted a common program in 1903, largely written by Plekhanov. This sufficed for both factions until 1918, a year after the revolution! But each separate stage of the revolutionary process found Mensheviks and Bolsheviks giving different and opposing political answers to the problems of the day. We can readily accept the slogan of an “independent Soviet Poland” [4] put forward by Germain. Yet we would find ourselves looking across barricades at Germain in Poland today were the national liberation movement to erupt into civil war against the Russian oppressor and its Warsaw Quisling regime. To call for an ”independent Soviet Poland” as the final goal and then to proclaim the need to support the Russian puppet regime today, reveals that this central slogan, whatever its propaganda value may be, gives no automatic political line in the actual struggle of contending forces today. The political line of Germain is adduced from other considerations.

Germain, who, presumably, unlike us, prefers an “independent Soviet Poland” to one ruled by Gen. Anders and Cardinal Hlond, cannot resist falling into the same sectarian channel which has been worn deep but never wide, by successive generations of anti-Leninists on the national question. Says Germain, in the section we have quoted, “... in the last analysis the struggle of the masses for their national democratic aspirations can be victorious only through the realization of the socialist revolution.” This gem of a thought has been the “crushing” argument of every sectarian on the national question since Rosa Luxemburg [5] first formulated it. Why should a mind allegedly sharpened with a study of the Marxist method find it so difficult to distinguish between the struggle for national liberation and the solution of the national question? Why should it seem a contradiction people like Germain to declare the national liberation struggle progressive and simultaneously state that the national problem cannot be resolved under capitalism?

Lenin’s polemics on the national question has already filled a heavy volume. But were one to subtract his expositions on the compatibility of the national struggle with the struggle for the socialist solution of all social problems, the heavy volume would be a mighty thin brochure indeed. For the concept of the relationship between these two struggles composes practically the whole of Lenin on the national question. Yet here we hear, in the middle of the twentieth century and from the theoretical representative of the Fourth International, the old bromide about the fallacy of the national liberation struggle because socialism is the only solution. The source of the errors of Luxemburg, Gorter, Bukharin, Ryatokov, etc., on the national question in the period before the Russian Revolution can be readily understood. They could at least argue (1) that the proletarian revolution was an imminent probability and with it the solution of the national questions and (2) that the national liberation movements in countries like Poland succeeded in achieving mass support only through advanced programs of economic and social radicalism, like that of the Polish Socialist Society. Germain, however, is forced to admit that the two main camps in Poland represent the regime of oppression and the movement for national liberation respectively, neither of them on the verge of erupting as proletarian revolutionary movements. As a consequence, Germain is reduced to resting his case solely upon the well-worn misconception that since socialism is the only solution to the national question today, all struggles for solutions under capitalism are utopian and reactionary.

The “Independent Soviet Poland”

“But Germain does more than call for an independent Soviet Poland,” his partisans will protest, “Germain also demands the immediate departure of the Soviet occupation troops.” Good! We heartily approve of this demand. Even more important, the vast majority of the Polish people approve of this demand. But what if the Russian troops refuse to heed our demand? If the Fourth International intends that its demand for the “departure” (what a delicate and considerate term!) be more than platonic advice, it must implement it with a program of action. The following is suggested by Germain. He states that the Fourth International will link the slogan for “departure” with that of “fraternization between the Polish workers and the Russian soldiers.” Again we say, good! Again, we heartily endorse it. But we endorse it because we comprehend the full revolutionary significance of fraternization and do not accept it as a substitute for revolutionary struggle against the imperialist oppressor. Fraternization is a weapon of the revolution with which to disorganize and disrupt the organization and discipline of the armed forces of the class enemy, with which to weaken him militarily in preparation for the final struggle. Fraternization was encouraged by the Bolsheviks on the fronts of the First World War as a means of breaking up the imperialist armies. The tactic of a national liberation movement in Western Europe during the Nazi occupation would have been that of fraternization with the German troops if the movement would have had a proletarian revolutionary approach to the struggle. The fraternization with the German troops would have had as its purpose the disruption of the German army as a means of facilitating the process of driving out the German occupant, not the hope of fraternally convincing them to depart. If, however, Germain sees the tactic of fraternization with the Russian troops in Poland in this light, much else that he sets forth must go by the board.

If Germain agrees that the Polish masses are to mobilize around the slogan of “drive out the Russian oppressors,” he must proceed from the view that the Russians constitute the main enemy. In this case, however, he will be in essential agreement with us on the national question and the nature of the national liberation struggle. For the slogan of “drive out the Russians” is not merely a proletarian revolutionary slogan. It will set in motion wide masses of people from various classes on a national basis. But it is precisely because Germain understands the consequences of the slogan of “drive out the Russians” that he balks at its acceptance and takes refuge in the weasel-worded formula of calling for the ”departure” of the Russians and seeks to give to fraternization a non-revolutionary, a “friendly” content. The call for the “departure” of the Russian troops within the context of the position of the Fourth is a cowardly concession to the overwhelming national sentiment in Poland. It is a crumb thrown in the direction of reality, a crumb that will be immediately taken back by the Fourth International if the Polish masses undertake any measures to hasten the “departure” of the Russian troops.

Germain seeks to give the demand for the departure of the Russian troops a reason other than the national sentiments of the Poles. He states:

It [the Fourth International] demands the departure of the occupation troops precisely because their presence is a brake upon the struggle for the realization of the socialist revolution in Poland, is even a brake upon the struggle for the defense of the nationalizations.

How explain the fact that the presence of the Russian troops is a brake upon the realization of the socialist revolution? Is it not precisely because the Polish masses are taken up with a national problem as the number one political problem? Is not this fact which Germain adduces only further verification of the validity of our position on the national question?

The reference of Germain to the Russian troops constituting a brake “upon the struggle for the defense of the nationalizations” just makes no sense at all. If the aim of the Russians is toward the “structural absorption” of Poland, why should the presence of the Russian troops undermine the defense of the nationalized economy which they seek to absorb into Russian economy? It may make sense if Germain were willing to explain this statement in terms of the increasing hatred of the Polish masses for the Russians being also directed against the nationalized economy and the consequent increase of the possibility that an overturn of the Russian power would see the anti~Russian feelings vented against the nationalizations introduced by the Russians. We are quite sure that Germain does not have this possibility in mind.

What Germain really does is to (1) call the Warsaw regime a bourgeois state, (2) call Russia a workers’ state and (3) call upon the workers’ army to liberate the soil of the bourgeois state. This is some going for a man who insists that the class criterion is basic.

What Is the Social Character?

Germain asks us, with his usual sneer, what our attitude was toward the resistance movements in Europe during the German occupation. He writes:

Shachtman obstinately refused to answer the question: “What is the social character of the various organizations toward which it is necessary to take a position? Is it necessary, on the basis of a distinction between mass organizations led by petty-bourgeois leaders and bourgeois organizations directed by White Guards, to have a different tactic toward these different organizations?” He waxed indignant, however, when he was shown that under these conditions his slogan of “Unconditional support of the resistance movement” (in general? of all organizations?) implied by its lack of precision, a support of bourgeois organizations.

The impertinence which Germain displays here is matched only by his polemical dishonesty. (We will retract the characterization of Germain as being dishonest in polemic, only if Germain insists that he never read our resolution on the national resistance movements which appeared in these columns in the issues of January and February of 1943. In this case, however, Germain would be guilty of wanton irresponsibility for engaging in a polemic based on hearsay evidence of his opponent’s views.)

The confines of this article do not permit us to quote our resol uti on of 1943 on the national question and the resistance movements.

But to date no opponent who has read our material has made the accusation which Germain does. They have not made it because the resolution deals at length with the heterogeneous character of the resistance movements and the necessity to separate out the proletarian elements and organize them in their own class organizations. In the actual military operations against the Germans, there is no alternative but to shoot in the same direction as do reactionary bourgeois nationalists, while subordinating all other struggles to the main struggle against the Nazis as a step toward dominating the resistance movement and imbuing it with a revolutionary proletarian perspective.

To recognize that the national question has reappeared in Europe today does not mean that Europe is literally back in the period of 1793–1870. Only especially ignorant or especially malicious people could read this out of or into our writings. The national question reappears in an entirely different world situation and must be dealt with along entirely different strategical lines. We can illustrate this with the example of the views of Lenin and the Mensheviks on the character of the Russian Revolution. Both proceeded from the view that the Russian Revolution was a bourgeois revolution. For the Mensheviks this meant that Russia would literally live through another 1793. The roles of classes and parties were to be assigned accordingly. Since the bourgeoisie led the 1793 revolution in France, it would have to be the same in Russia. History, according to the Mcnsheviks, demanded that Milyukov play the role of Robespierre. Lenin, on the contrary, saw the bourgeois revolution against the background of his time and the actual character of the Russian bourgeoisie. He sought that strategical orientation that realistically took into account the character of the revolution but just as realistically proceeded from the conditions that prevailed in the world of the twentieth century and their effect upon Russia.

Likewise, to recognize realistically the dominant position which the national question has again assumed in much of Europe does not mean to apply the strategy that was valid in Italy and Germany in the period of 1848–71 when Marx and Engels wrote about it. Why do opponents of the type of Germain then find it necessary to attribute to us the view that recognition of the nationa1 question and support to national liberation movements means a search for a Garibaldi among the Polish colonels? We proceed from the view that (1) socialism is on the order of the day, not a nascent bourgeois democracy, (2) only the proletariat can lead progressive struggles to their final goal and (3) a proletariat at the head of the national liberation movement means a proletariat in power if the liberation is achieved, i.e., the solution of the national question merges with the socialist solution of the social, political and economic problem as a whole.

We repeat. Germain can only accuse us of fighting to restore the Poland of 1939 because for him national liberation consists of placing the native bourgeoisie in power. Because he does not see a need for the latter in Poland today (confining it – wrongly – to ”backward” countries like India), he opposes the struggle for national liberation. Is it for this that Trotsky labored to clarify his concept of the permanent revolution against Stalinist misrepresentation? One can truly state that we, thc open opponents of Trotsky on the Russian question, remain the only people who can consistently defend his great revolutionary contributions and preserve them for the new generation of revolutionists. Our defense of his views must be directed in the first place against those who so zealously yearn for his mantle.


1. Trotsky’s views on the eve of the war were of this general character. Trotsky not only recognized the retrogressive process and the key role of Stalinism within it, hut made this recognition an important consideration in his calculations. As a result, he was acutely aware of the growing contradiction between his views on the working class nature of the Russian state and the implications of his analysis of retrogression. He resolved this dilemma by postponing any further theoretical conclusions until the second world war would be concluded and its political repercussions were known. His brilliant article. U.S.S.R. and the War, written a few weeks after the war began, was his final rounded presentation on the subject of retrogression and the nature of the Russian state. In this article he poses the entire question from the point of view that either the war will ’conclude with a revolution, in which case both the problem of the class character of the Stalinist state and the problem of retrogression will he automatically resolved, or the proletariat will fail to take power and require a complete re-analysis of Marxist fundamentals, including the possibility of a world of bureaucratic slave states. The actual results of World War II are somewhere between the two alternatives which Trotsky posed. The failure of the proletariat to make a revolution in post-war Rurope does not demonstrate its historic incapacity to play the role which Marx assigned to it. Yet the continued and accelerated retrogressive process places a question mark over the abilitv of the proletariat to reassemble a revolutionary leadership and take power before it is overtaken and destroyed by the disintegrative tendency of capitalist civilization, of which the threatening atomic war is the most potent force.

2. This absurd position is actually held by the tendency led by J.R. Johnson. In the course of the debates on the national question, he added a further absurdity to it. This consisted of denying the retrogressive development of Europe but of “recognizing-” the reappearance of the national question! According to Johnson Europe did not retrogress but moved forward – from the proletarian revolutions of 1917–23 to the national liberation movements of 1941–45! That is to say, from millions rallying to the banner of Lenin to millions rallying to the banner of de Gaulle! This utterly contradictory position could be encommpassed by the same mind only because it was devoid of any understanding of what the national question means in the Marxist-Leninist concept. For Johnson, the beginning and end of the problem was to advise the French proletariat that in process of making the proletarian revolution they should also “throw out” the Germans, except, as Johnson carefully added, those German soldiers who wanted to marry French women and settle down to live in a Socialist France!

3. Ernest Germain: The Conflict in Poland, Fourth International, February 1947.

4. The use of the word “Soviet” in a popular description of a workers’ state is the height of folly in this period when the word is everywhere related to Russian and Stalinist rule. This is above all true in Poland.

5. The great Rosa has had the singular misfortune of having more exponents of her theoretical errors than of her genuine contributions. No mistaken view of hers has proven more popular with mechanical students of Marxism than that on the national question. The adherents of the latter even outnumber the latter day disciples of “self-mobilization” and the mass strike.

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Last updated: 3 June 2017