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Ernest Erber

PROS AND CONS: A Discussion Corner

World Situation and Marxist Policy

(14 June 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 24, 14 June 1948, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The great merit of our Workers Party is that it recognized that the political world of 1923–1939, which gave birth to the Trotskyist movement, died during the course of World War II. Unfortunately, we have not always realized how much of the old Trotskyist program has been outlived as a result. Our thinking, consequently, has a tendency to proceed on two levels, that of convention resolutions, where we bring our views abreast of the times, and that of everyday reactions to new events, where we instinctively follow old, deep-worn grooves which, often, have no relation to the real world of today. I fear that the reaction of Comrades Draper and Hall to the Marshall Plan suffers from this defect.

Fundamental to the politics of the Workers Party has been our view that we live in a three-power world – (1) the capitalist world, mainly American imperialism, (2) the bureaucratic collectivist world, which coincides with the Russian imperialist sphere, and (3) the proletariat. The latter, however, we have recognized as a power in a different sense than the other two. While capitalism and Stalinism are real powers, the proletariat, today, is only a potential,power. Catastrophic defeats, at the hands of Stalinism and fascism, have reduced the army of the proletariatf rom its status of 1917–23, when it was a real power that contended with capitalism for the mastery of the world, to disoriented, divided and largely demoralized battalions that are physically and/or ideologically captives in either the camp of Stalinism or the camp of capitalism. The proletariat is far less a subjective force in the world today than an objective factor, taken into account by the two forces that dominate the struggle.

The Third Camp

The central strategic aim of our epoch is to re-establish the proletariat as a real power, able to attack, independently, both Stalinism and capitalism and best them in the struggle for world domination. This is the Third Camp and the meaning of the slogan of “Neither Washington nor Moscow.” We must never forget, however, that the Third Camp is an AIM, not a present reality. If we delude ourselves into thinking that the Third Camp exists as a real power, in the sense of the revolutionary battalions led by the Comintern in its early years, the slogan “Neither Washington nor Moscow” will become a sectarian trap that effectively seals us off from contact with the real struggle.

It goes without saying that mere propaganda will never suffice to translate our aim into achievement. We can effect the liberation of the proletariat from the camps of capitalism and Stalinism and place it on the road of independent class action only through participation in the existing political struggle in order to advance at each stage those proposals which will facilitate the process. But the existing political struggle is primarily the struggle between the Stalinist and capitalist camps. It is they who determine the shape and form of this struggle (witness the Mikolajczyk movement in Poland and the Stalinist strike wave in France.) If we seek only the kind of political struggle we would initiate, we will never enter the arena. It is relatively simple to establish the Stalinist or capitalist motivation behind this or that action initiated by one or the other enemy camp. But it is utterly futile to consider our duty done with such an exposé. Participation in political life, today, requires that we seize upon every issue that affords us the opportunity to steer toward our aim, whatever may have been the aims sought by the imperialist camp which initiate the issue.

The struggle between capitalism and Stalinism is a struggle between two social orders, each seeking to remake the world in its own image. Marxist principles that have served as a sound guide in struggles between blocs of capitalist powers for world domination cannot always apply in this situation. The effect of our policies upon the struggle between capitalism and Stalinism is not irrelevant to us. We cannot any longer simply say that the main enemy is at home and direct unilateral demands to one side. The absence of a demand in our press for the withdrawal of American troops from Germany without regard to what the Russians do is, of course, no oversight. As long as Stalinism, rather than an independent proletariat, would fill the vacuum, such a unilateral withdrawal would be a setback to our aims, not an advance.

Foreign Policy

It has been a traditional policy of the Marxist movement that in the realm of foreign policy, as distinct from domestic policy, we have never advanced immediate or transitional proposals. In this sphere we have confined ourselves to an uncompromising demand to end imperialism and all its works, an aim that could only be realized by a workers’ government. Hall’s contention that imperialism cannot be reformed is essentially correct. There is no basis for changing this view. However, in the past our attitude toward the foreign policy of American imperialism was 100 per cent “anti” every one of its proposals. We followed a completely negative and obstructionist tactic. The concept that “The worse for American imperialism, the better for world socialism” is true only when an independent proletarian movement or a colonial people is in a position to profit. If, as is the casein many key questions today, it is only Stalinism that can profit, we must weigh our tactics in the light of this fact.

The Marshall Plan is the current form of American foreign policy for Europe, much like the Monroe Doctrine for Latin America and the Open Door for China. It is NOT our policy and we can never assume responsibility for it. The ERP establishes the means of achieving the first aim of the Marshall policy, the economic reconstruction of Western Europe as a bulwark against Russia. Our aims also demand the economic reconstruction of Europe. As is almost unavoidable in a three-cornered fight, the aims of two contenders momentarily coincide. We are clear as to the motivations of American imperialism in this matter – they are imperialist. But American imperialism is not the main danger in Western Europe today. The main danger is economic chaos and Stalinism. We need a breathing space in Europe to reassemble the proletarian forces to liberate Europe from both American imperialism and Stalinism. Should we, by a doctrinaire clinging to outlived formulae, take an obstructionist attitude toward ERP, which, to the extent we had power, to block it, can only benefit Stalinism and harm the chances of a proletarian socialist revival in Europe? The new world situation demands that we veer and tack in such a manner as to draw the maximum benefits from ERP for OUR aims, without taking responsibility for something which is beyond our control and administered by one enemy camp in its struggle against the other enemy camp. If, in that hypothetical situation adduced by our critics, viz., that we had a vote in Congress, we would use it to declare “No confidence” in the imperialist regime that sponsors the ERP, unless, in the even more hypothetical situation which has been posed, viz., that our vote was decisive, we may either abstain or vote for it with a clarifying statement. How we would vote in a parliamentary body on this question is, of course, a tenth-rate question, entirely subject to tactical considerations.

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