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Pierre Frank

Under Pressure of the Coming War

Imperialism Beckons “Third Camp”

(December 1951)

From Fourth International, Vol.12 No.2, March-April 1952, pp.57-63.
Translated from Quatrième Internationale.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

The preparations for the third world war do not consist only in an enormous material arms production. In order to mobilize the greatest possible mass of people in the service of imperialism, the most varied ideas and arguments are set to work, reflecting the extraordinary material and ideological pressures bearing down upon individuals and organizations. A few dreamers are still able to muse about an impossible neutrality. The capitalists of Western Europe are beside themselves because they have to follow the directives of Washington, but they have no other choice. The conflict in preparation is developing such scope that it is already smashing century-old traditions. The idea of the bourgeois fatherland – for which millions of men went to their death in the course of two preceding world wars – can no longer serve to deceive very many people in Europe. More subtle ideologies are required. The simple booby-trap of “Stalinist totalitarianism” also serves the same end.

In any event, from now on every one is taking his place more or less openly in the struggle. The Kravchenkos have chosen “freedom” in order to don the American uniform with the hope of re-establishing private property in the USSR. At the same time the bourgeois world finds itself abandoned not only by the greater pant of the laboring masses in a growing number of countries, but also by wide layers of intellectuals. Even bourgeois are deserting their class. Can there be a more striking symptom of the decline of the bourgeoisie than the case of those officials of the British Foreign Office, one of the most selectively staffed of institutions, deserting their world? But in the milieus of the working class and the revolutionary vanguard, or where claim is made to a place in this vanguard, the struggle is similarly going on, the class pressures are likewise in motion.

We Are “Buried” Once More ...

The Third World Congress of the Trotskyists has clearly drawn the positions of our movement in the coming war. We are in the camp of the USSR, of China, of the people’s democracies against the camp of imperialism. This position has not emerged unexpectedly. It is the traditional line of our movement. It was ours during the course of the Second World War. It has been particularly emphasized and more precisely defined since the beginning of the war in Korea and since the preparations for the third world war have taken on an intensive character.

This position has caused a great hue and cry. It has brought us once more the accusation launched almost periodically against us: We are capitulatirig to Stalinism! For some we are even tools of the Cominform. For others, good souls, the Fourth international which might have played such a great role in history has taken the fatal road leading to its ruin. Once again we are being buried, with or without flowers. To tell the truth, Stalin and his gang, who have had other means to employ against us, have so often boasted of slaying us that we are no longer awed by hearing such funeral orations. We are periodically “buried” because periodically certain people experience the need to bury Marxism.

We will say nothing here of those within the working class who have openly and without circumlocutions placed themselves in the camp of American imperialism, as in France the collaborators in that magazine which is still mockingly entitled The Proletarian Revolution [1] We want to deal with those who have defended, and with those who, still defend, the so-called position of a “Third Camp” or of a “Third Front,” with those who advocate equal independence of the two camps facing each other and a struggle directed simultaneously against the one and the other of these camps.

Various Types of “Independence”

The idea of “independence” of the two camps or the two blocs exists not only in the ranks claiming to be part of the working class, but in certain bourgeois groups as well. Even certain bourgeois governments claim to follow an international policy based on such a consideration. We will deal only with organizations of individuals claiming to belong to the working class. Among them we can observe these ideas in tendencies that move in various directions. Recently a common statement was signed by the Socialist Parties of Japan and India in favor of a policy independent of the two blocs. These organizations, as is evident to those who have followed their evolution, have not at all reached the stage of crystallization on the basis of clearly defined positions. They have broken, or are on the road to breaking, with the bourgeoisie and with the right wings which directly expressed the pressure of the bourgeoisie within their organizations.

We must neither pass judgment on these parties on the basis of these statements nor accept these positions as conclusive for these parties. The signing of such a statement by these parties expressed a stage in a progressive evolution which is, however, inadequate, incomplete, and replete with dangers. We must turn elsewhere in order to see the inherent dangers in this position of the “Third Camp.” Either toward such organizations as the Yugoslav CP which, after an excursion to the left, passed through this position in its evolution to the right; or to such organizations or tendencies relatively crystalized politically, such as the POUM (“Marxist Party of Workers Unity,” in Spain) and the Shachtmanites, who have been and still are the most systematic defenders of the “Third Camp.”

The Yugoslav Case

There is not much to be gained in pursuing this subject on the Yugoslav side. Immediately following their break with the Cominform, the Yugoslavs made an obvious theoretical effort toward a political orientation. Then, when the pressure of the international situation became too strong and they saw their sole hope in important material assistance from the West, they remembered what they had learned at the Stalinist school: that principles were made to be scoffed at and that there were always theoreticians available to justify the worst compromises in the name of Marxism. Tito discovered the blessings of the West, concluded a military agreement with the USA, and now condemns every idea of a “Third Camp.”

For the Yugoslav communists whose uneasiness requires some theoretical explanations, Djilas proclaims the bureaucracy a new class and the USSR as state capitalism. If that isn’t enough, the Yugoslav State, which is “on the road to withering away,” certainly possesses some more powerful arguments in the person of Rankovitch, the Minister of Internal Security. But the practical evolution in Yugoslav diplomacy is most striking. Breaking with Stalin, the Yugoslavs first claimed, and justly so, the right to decide for themselves what their policy shall be within the anti-imperialist camp. As pressure of the Soviet government and of its satellites became increasingly onerous, they declared for an “independent” position, and for a period walked upon this tightrope. Unquestionably their situation was a very difficult one.

But refusing to turn toward the workers of the world, and having far more confidence in the jet planes which might come to them from Washington, they sold their principles along with their merchandise. They abandoned Korea to American aggression. They came to the last session of the United Nations to deny even their principle of the equality of all nations, large and small, for which they had dared rebel against Stalin. In his speech Kardelj, for the first time, took a position for a Pact of the Big Powers ... in order to insure peace. Up to then the Yugoslavs had denounced this kind of agreement as made at the expense of the small nations, and as not aiding .the cause of peace. However, the Yugoslavs are now ready to accept not just any kind of a pact among any combination of “big powers.” Kardelj favors a “Four Power Pact” such as Washington might perhaps allow, but not a “Five Power Pact” such as Moscow, desiring to associate China in its game, is demanding. In this current Yugoslav policy .principles play a very small part. An “independent” position, a “Third Camp” are very difficult positions to hold when there is a State to run ... Shall we have better luck when we turn to those who only have slighter responsibilities or no responsibilities at all on their shoulders?

With Whom Can a United Front Be Made?

In fairness to the POUM, let us note that of all the centrist organizations born between the first two world wars it is the only one to survive. Burnt by its experiences with the London Bureau, the International Workers Front, and other ephemeral creations which the POUM supported, the leadership of this organization had practically abandoned the idea of being an integral part of an international movement and was content with attending all possible meetings in the role of “observer.” Violent debates may have taken place at these meetings but the POUM “observers” remained silent. La Batalla subsequently published reports with the minimum of political comment, the leadership of the POUM appearing to exist above all the difficulties which beset working class and would-be socialist organizations.

But the approach of war has brought about some changes. On the Third World Congress of the Fourth International, La Batalla expressed itself unequivocally:

“The three adopted resolutions and in general all the decisions taken confirm that the Trotskyist movement has radically changed the line followed for some months and is orienting towards a policy of capitulation to Stalinism.” (October 10, 1951).

Capitulate to Stalinism? The accusation could have grave consequences not for the Trotskyists, at whom it has already been repeatedly levelled, but for those hurling it. For it is self-evident that, not to be politically inconsistent, one must adopt the same attitude towards those who capitulate to Stalinism as towards the Stalinists, and we will see further on that the POUM has a well defined attitude on this last point.

A national conference of the POUM recently held in Spain took a certain number of positions. On the coming war the conference took a position simultaneously against Washington and Moscow. According to this conference the third world war will not be what the Trotskyists call it, namely an international civil war, but “a struggle for world domination” between Yankee imperialism and the Russian bureaucracy. In the working class movement

“the socialists who have gained strength at the expense of the Stalinists in certain countries (Belgium, Germany, Scandinavian countries) are acting almost without exception as a wing of Western capitalism. On their side, the Communist parties are behaving like what they are, instruments of the political and military strategy of the Kremlin.”

As for the POUM, it sets itself the following tasks:

“1) To intervene actively in all actions and all independent movements against war. 2) Collaborate closely with all forces independent of capitalism and of Stalinism. 3) Support the unification of all revolutionary socialist tendencies and organizations.”

We find no theoretical basis in the document of the POUM sustaining this position, and we do not want to quibble over the “active intervention” of POUM observers in “independent” movements which the POUM will have ever increasing difficulty in finding, judging by its attitude toward us. But for a better evaluation of the position of the POUM, let us see how it is applied on the national scale. For the “Marxists” of the POUM will certainly not dispute with us over the fact that there is a connection between the international policies and the national policies of an organization as well as of a State. The resolution of this conference on the Spanish situation contains this directive:

“To establish an organ for united action with all working class and republican organizations with the single exception of the Stalinists.”

With the single exception of the Stalinists! An impassable barrier is raised – which, moreover, will render the greatest service to the Spanish Stalinists. But in the same number of La Batalla in which the resolutions of this conference are published is to be found an article criticizing the Spanish social-democrats for having made a pact with the monarchists, and in which we read:

“(The monarchists) forged the military uprising of July 1936, supported Franco with the greatest energy, have mingled and even identified themselves with Franco fascism. Nevertheless, one might for the moment put this aside, while never forgetting it, with the object of constituting a common front of struggle with them against Franco and his regime, hoping that the progressive forces would later go beyond the objectives of the monarchists: But all the monarchists, from the pretender and down the line, have never shown the slightest desire to struggle, to act, to want to overthrow Franco fascism.”

Thus, according to the leadership of the POUM, a united front which must include all working class and republican organizations (with the sole exception of the Stalinists) could even be considered with the monarchists if there were even the slightest leaning toward struggle among the latter. Why? Because – one might hope “that the progressive forces would later go beyond the objectives of the monarchists.” But we, who are for a united front with the Stalinists (whose objectives may be condemned, but of whom it cannot be said that they are not struggling), “hoping that the progressive forces (mainly the workers) would later go beyond the objectives” of the Stalinist leaders, we vulgar Trotskyists, are on that account capitulating to Stalinism. You can point to the examples of Yugoslavia and of China where the class struggle under the leadership of the Stalinist chiefs went beyond the plans of the Kremlin. It will be of no use, for the leadership of the POUM, shut up in its national boundaries, does not recognize the Spanish CP as a working class party ...

Why is the leadership of the POUM so flexible toward the bourgeois camp and so intransigeant toward the Stalinists where Spain is concerned, and why does it manifest an equal hostility to both the camps on the international plane? (The political friends of the POUM, notably Shachtman as we will see later on, are far from being so “equidistant” on the international plane.) It is necessary not to forget that Washington persists in supporting Franco, and not those with whom the leadership of the POUM is bent upon agreement. For the moment there is an insurmountable wall, just as on the Stalinist side – but it is Washington and not the POUM which has erected it.

Shachtman Studies Lenin

The “Third Camp” in the pure state, if one may use the phrase, is Shachtman himself. Ever since he broke with Trotskyism, he has constructed innumerable theories on innumerable subjects. He has abandoned the idea of building a broad organization embracing “all tendencies in revolutionary thought” for the far more modest role of an educator of the working class without political ambitions. In addition, he also dispenses priceless advice to working class militants and others throughout the world, but his advice is of precious little use to them. In all his flip-flops over more than ten years we must concede his consistency on one point: he has remained loyal to the “Third Camp” (although the latter has undergone several variations in the process of aging). He has, moreover, had to defend this idea tenaciously against his own followers, who at fairly regular intervals have deserted him and gone over openly to the camp of imperialism, abandoning forever the building of the “Third Camp” in order to struggle against their enemy number one, Stalinism.

In the course of the second world war, Shachtman took an attitude which we condemned on the question of the defense of the USSR and of the colonial countries entangled in this war. For him the war made an indivisible whole: the USSR, China and India were fighting for the imperialist cause. As a logical consequence he was a defeatist for these countries. But in spite of this error and although he could not build a hypothetical “Third Front,” he did display an intransigeant hostility to the bourgeoisie of his own country, and that was unquestionably something to his credit. It is always hardest to be a revolutionary in one’s own country.

Unfortunately for him, the pressures bearing down today are incomparably stronger than those which prevailed all the way through the second world war. This cannot surprise those who understand that this time we are facing primarily an international civil war and that this is something different from the inter-imperialist war into which the USSR was drawn ...

Subjected to far greater pressures today, the champion of the “Third Camp” is, as a consequence of his ideological weakness, slipping so fast as to foreshadow only the worst for the future. In the May-June and July-August 1951 issues of his magazine New International he has revealed his positions in a 22-page long article entitled Socialist Policy and the War. The article is more than a significant retreat from his previous positions, more than a continuation of the backward march he has been pursuing. Capitulation to imperialism is virtually inscribed therein.

Like all of Shachtman’s outpourings, the article twists and turns dizzily all over the landscape. It is painful to follow the author’s train of thought. First observation: He quotes Lenin in these terms: “To be a Marxist, one must appraise each war separately and concretely.” But Shachtman himself at no point undertakes more than the most superficial analysis of the social character of the forces and movements confronting one another. The question is treated at times as if it had already been settled once and for all, at times by some brief remarks which carry little weight in the article as a whole. More than half the article is devoted to historical precedents. More particularly, Shachtman pounces upon the first world war and recalls the positions supported by Lenin in that period. From there he makes a prodigious leap to the third world war, completely forgetting that there has been a second world war and that at the beginning of the latter he was somewhat at odds with Trotsky on the attitude toward the USSR and on the question of the “Third Camp.” Shachtman’s historical recollections are capricious.

Lenin “Abandons” a Slogan

But let us return to Lenin and to the first world war. After all, it is not bad to delve into Against the Stream, into those articles which have been basic in the education of the revolutionary generations after 1920. Shachtman, at the end of wearisome dissertations, recalls the main political conclusions of Lenin in this first inter-imperialist war: revolutionary defeatism, transformation of the imperialist war into civil war. But having said that, Shachtman suddenly launches out into a very long disquisition on the theme: Lenin abandoned transforming the imperialist war into civil war. Shachtman indicates, without learning anything therefrom at all, that Lenin did not thereby make any concessions whatever to the so-called “revolutionary defensists.”

Those alleged socialists called upon the masses to continue to get themselves massacred in order to “defend” democracy’, while – as Lenin relentlessly emphasized – the provisional government was continuing to serve the same imperialist interests as were defended up to then by overthrown czarism. What Lenin did was to show that the problem had to be posed in another form for the masses. The masses had themselves begun to execute the Leninist strategy, that is to say, to “transform the imperialist war into civil war.” Shachtman writes as though he is unaware of this in his article. But it was because of this fact, that Lenin’s strategy required a formulation suited to the new conditions.

In the former empire of the czars a “dual power” had been set up, that of the bourgeoisie (the provisional government) and that of the masses (the Soviets, under a leadership of Mensheviks and S-Rs anxious to collaborate with the bourgeoisie). These two powers went through a highly unstable coexistence at the beginnings of the revolution. The task of the revolutionists consisted in aiding the masses to go through their own experience with this dual power on the plane of domestic policies as well as on that of the war (which the bourgeoisie wanted to continue, whereas the masses longed for peace). It was necessary to aid this experience until such a time as it became possible to pass over to a new stage of the revolution, in which the dual power would be liquidated by the rise of a workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ power.

But Shachtman, who quoted the sentence of Lenin on “concreteness,” no longer remembers it, any more than he bothers with the very special characteristics of this dual power. Me has brought out this example only to retain one thing: Lenin modified his tactic, abandoning the transformation of the imperialist war into civil war. [2] Only later on in his article will we understand why Shachtman has been on the hunt for this example. With history thus clear in our minds, let us follow Shachtman as he passes to the third world war. He defines this war as follows:

A Definition of World War III

“The powers that will dominate and direct the Third World War are those that are dominating the preparations for it, the United States and Russia. Their relations make the conflict irrepressible. The conflict is imperialist on both sides, and that is what determines the predominant character of the war they will be (and in a sense are already) waging.” (p.195).

There follows what serves as analysis for Shachtman. We now find several pages demonstrating that the United States is an imperialist country. Apparently, some have to break through an open door in order to appear strong. As for Stalinism, here is what we find as a social analysis:

“The imperialism of the bureaucratic-collectivist states is different from that of the capitalist states. But the economic motive forces beind the one are no less powerful than in the case of the other. Only ignoramuses – people who know nothing about history and nothing about Lenin’s theory of imperialism – can conceive of imperialism as a phenomenon unique to capitalist society.” (p.200).

We have learned to distinguish societies on the basis of the mode of production and of their property relations. We knew about a slave society, a feudal society, a capitalist society, and we did not think that one could usefully put ancient Rome, the Germanic Holy Roman Empire and Great Britain under the same label of “imperialism.” We are very willing to concede our ignorance, but Shachtman should also in all fairness attribute it to Lenin, who wrote:

“Colonial policy and imperialism existed before this latest stage of capitalism, and even before capitalism. Rome, founded on slavery, pursued a colonial policy and achieved imperialism. But ‘general’ arguments about imperialism which ignore, or put into the background the fundamental difference of social-economic systems, inevitably degenerate into absolutely empty banalities, or into grandiloquent comparisons like ‘Greater Rome’ and ‘Greater Britain.’ Even the colonial policy of capitalism in its previous stages is essentially different from the colonial policy of finance capital.” (Imperialism, Little Lenin Library, pp.81-82).

Although forewarned that he would degenerate inevitably into empty banalities or into grandiloquent comparisons, Shachtman set out on a road which, as we shall see, caused him to degenerate much more.

Still Another Definition

We cannot however hold it against Shachtman that he has remote and confused recollections about this work of Lenin, for his mind has a tendency to confuse everything. Several pages after having written that the third world war would be an imperialist war “on both sides,” he gives a somewhat different definition:

“The Third World War will differ radically from the First and even the Second in that the two main belligerents find in one another not only imperialist rivals but class enemies representing antagonistic social systems” (p.201).

It will then be something other than an inter-imperialist war, at least in the minds of the belligerents; for the formulation of Shachtman is, to say the least, ambiguous. In any event, we will see two systems confronting each other which have different property forms. This being granted, Shachtman says that when the American ruling class speaks of a war against communism this is “not so stupid” from its own point of view, but it is “arch-stupid”, from his point of view for “there is nothing in common between communism and Stalinism” (p.202). Shachtman is here referring to societies, the society of his dreams and Russian society. There is nothing in common between them except “the centralization of the means of production and planned production and distribution” (p.200). Only a Trotskyist could maintain the Marxist conception that only one social regime, and not two, corresponds to a given set of production and property relations. For Shachtman, production relations, property relations, are not very concrete; otherwise one would be compelled to accept the Trotskyist theory of the USSR as a workers state. But wanting a fundamental analysis, Shachtman decides his policies by means of statements of a psychological and subjective order:

In Place of Analysis – Stalinophobia

“Far overshadowing all other obstacles to the realization of the American imperialist objective – nothing less than domination of the world – stand the forces of Stalinism. Without hesitation or ambiguity, we can say that the only greater disaster that humanity could suffer than the war itself ... would be the victory of Stalinism as the outcome of the war.” (p.198). “We repeat: no greater disaster can be expected in connection with the Third World War than the victory of Stalinism ... Until it has been utterly destroyed as a political force, the victory of the working class is impossible” (p.200).

Shachtman is so blinded by the possibility of a worldwide victory of Stalinism as to think that capitalism cannot be vanquished by the working class throughout the world unless Stalin is first overthrown. He has learned no lesson from the revolutionary struggles which have marked the world since 1943. He shuts his eyes to what took place in Yugoslavia, to the nature of the relations between the Kremlin and China. What is taking place in the countries of Eastern Europe is unimportant to him. He fails to see the revolutionary upsurge of the masses wearing away the foundations of Stalinism right within the Communist Parties themselves. So long as Stalin will be there, no victory is possible for the working class. [3]

Shachtman “Transforms” Lenin’s Strategy

At this point, whoever will have followed Shachtman in his intellectual tribulations will be led to conclude: we must first support the United States in order to vanquish Soviet imperialism; only then can we think of fighting for socialism. This follows so logically that it explains why the Shachtmanite organization has above all been a passageway for intellectuals between the workers’ camp and the imperialist camp. Shachtman himself raises the question. He begins by conceding that a victory of American imperialism would not be quite so disastrous:

“If the United States were to win the war, in all likelihood it would not mean the automatic and immediate establishment of totalitarian rule that would result directly from a victory of Stalinism. It is far from certain but it is quite probable that an American victory would leave at least some degree of democracy under which the working class and socialist movements could continue to develop with greater or lesser freedom” (p.200).

Is it freedom of the type which the South Koreans are experiencing or of the type promised by that famous issue of Collier’s? Shachtman does not tell us and he is not ready (not ready as yet) to go so far. He does not want, he protests, to march with American imperialism because the latter bases itself on the worst forces of reaction throughout the world. For want of more arguments, Shachtman proceeds to define his position in the last three pages of his article in the following way:

“The labor movement in this country is today a minority politically. The socialists are a much tinier minority. We have our responsibilities; the ruling class has its responsibilities” (p.204).

Shachtman’s evaluation of the American working class is a bit summary and very static. But let us proceed further:

“The bourgeoisie is at the head of the nation. It is genuinely concerned with defense of the nation. But it conceives of it in the only way it can: as identical with the defense of capitalist property and imperialist power” (p.204). “The working class, too, is concerned with the defense of the nation. Unlike the bourgeoisie, it does not identify this primarily with the defense of capitalist property and imperialist power. Its patriotism is of a fundamentally different type, no matter how heavily overlaid it may be with bourgeois ideology. It identifies national defense essentially with its own class interests: with the preservation of its organizations, its relatively high standard of living, its hard-won democratic rights, as well as the right to rule as a free and independent nation. One of the outstanding differences between the coming war and the First World War is that all the things that the working class identifies with national defense are actually threatened by Stalinism. The triumph of Stalinist arms would completely change the social and political regime in the United States, a fact which we can state with as much firmness as Lenin insisted upon the opposite with respect to the main belligerents of the war of 1914. We socialists are as one with the working class in wishing to resist this threat and overcome it. We differ with the working class, as it is now, in that we cannot and will not support the American capitalist side in the war which aims at violating the rights and integrity of other people. Socialist policy in the corning war, then, does not put forward any such slogans as ‘revolutionary defeatism’ or ‘transform the imperialist war into a civil war’.” (p.205)

Thus the American labor organizations are not threatened by American imperialism (which aims merely at “the rights and integrity of other people”), but by Stalinism. At the same time the social and political regime of the United States – the capitalist regime – would fall with a defeat of the arms of American capitalism. Stated another way, the American working class organizations and American capitalism have a little something in common: they have the same enemy, Stalinism. If the latter wages war, an American worker cannot desire the defeat of his boss. Shachtman makes it even more explicit in these words:

“... To prosecute the class struggle in such a way that it would clearly ‘imperil the military position of the government, even to the point where it may be defeated by the enemy and lose the war’ – that, in the conditions of the Third World War, would be disastrous to the working class and to socialism. Instead, socialist policy must be based upon the idea of transforming the imperialist war into a democratic war, that is, adopting broadly the view put forward by Lenin in 1917, with all the changes required by the differences between the situation then and now, and working for its adoption by the labor movement as a whole.” (p.205).

Bowdlerizing Lenin’s Ideas

It now becomes clear why Shachtman began by seeking out that example from Lenin. He has given it a broad, a very broad interpretation. Under what conditions did Lenin modify his position? Let us see:

“We have been advocating the turning of the imperialist war into civil war, and now we have reversed ourselves. We must bear in mind, however, that the first civil war in Russia has come to an end; we are now advancing toward the second war – the war between imperialism and the armed people. In this transitional period, as long as the armed force is in the hands of the soldiers, as long as Miliukov and Guchkov have not resorted to violence, this civil war turns for us into peaceful, extensive, and patient class propaganda. To speak of civil war before people have come to realize the need of it, is undoubtedly to fall into Blanquism” (The April Conference, Little Lenin Library, p. 19).

The imperialist war having begun to change into a civil war, the masses being armed, to speak of civil war would no longer be a question of strategy; it would become a slogan, it would mean calling for an armed struggle against the government. The majority of the people must first become convinced that this is necessary before they will take such an action. Lenin temporarily abandoned speaking of civil war as a slogan of action, at a time when “it is the soldiers and not the capitalists who are in possession of the guns and cannons” (Lenin), and while the Bolsheviks were in a minority in the class. Shachtman abandons it as a strategy at a time when, according to him, “the labor movement is a minority, politically,” while American imperialism is slaughtering the revolutionaries of Korea, of the Philippines, is helping to slaughter those of Vietnam, and is preparing to plunge the whole world into war. In order to take into account so vast a difference in situations, Shachtman changes Lenin a little bit more. Lenin wished to propose “a democratic peace to all the nations” in order to help the masses go through their experience with the provisional government. Shachtman wants to organize “a democratic war” against the USSR and the nations which may be allied with the USSR.

Not only is this one of the most impudent examples of bowdlerizing Lenin’s thoughts; it also discloses in Shachtman the scarcely refurbished ideas of the social patriots and centrists which Lenin castigated during the first world war. When Shachtman speaks of the democratic rights and workers organizations he wants to defend against Stalinism, this is only a belated echo of the German social democrats of those days who carried out their betrayal under the pretext of protecting their organizations against czarism, and of the French Guesde socialists who did their betraying under pretext of defending their country’s revolutionary traditions against the Kaiser.

The “Third Camp” to the Rescue

How is Shachtman going “to transform the imperialist war into a democratic war?” He calls upon the labor movement to champion a series of economic and political measures, such as control of production, of the distribution of commodities, of prices and profits, abolition of all measures of racial discrimination, economic aid to backward countries, etc. And, he adds, since only a workers’ government would carry out this program, such a government

“... could mobilize such an international force – the force to which we refer as the Third Camp – as could be counted upon either to postpone the outbreak of the Third World War or, if it is precipitated by a desperate Stalinism, to bring it to a speedy, democratic and progressive termination” (p.206).

The “Third Camp” thus appears on the scene for the first time in the last twenty lines of Shachtman’s article. There are the people who are not as yet ready to die for Wall Street today. Shachtman is presenting a political line for enlisting them under the stars and stripes.

But while one thing is clear in this political line, namely that Shachtman is set upon a war to the death against the USSR, he has omitted to tell us how and by what means he contemplates replacing the capitalist government of Washington by a workers’ government. We know that he does not want to carry on the class struggle disturbing to the schemes of the Pentagon. What does he propose? In the history of the international working class movement we have heard of only two proposed roads: the (realistic) revolutionary road and the (Utopian) reformist road. Shachtman is abandoning the revolutionary road. Has he discovered a “Third Road,” just as he invented a “Third Camp”? No, he has sunken jnto shame-faced reformism and does not want to admit this even to himself. His “Third Camp” has led him in practice to capitulation to American imperialism, for which he does not want to cause any serious difficulty in wartime and which he is trying to change gradually ...

From the “Third Camp” to the Imperialist Camp

We have had occasion to point out in passing examples of incoherence in Shachtman’s thinking, but his own evolution and that of his concept of the “Third Camp” are not at all incoherent. For a long time he was with us in the camp of the working class, with all its imperfections, despite its miserably inept and scoundrelly leaders, aware that that was the only road to the unfolding socialist showdown with capitalism. At that time he unconditionally defended the USSR, despite the criminal policies of the Kremlin. When great social pressures began to bear down, that is to say, at the beginning of the second world war. when the petty bourgeoisie was shocked by the Hitler-Stalin pact, he took a stand for several weeks for “conditional defense” of the USSR, and called on the Polish masses to organize an insurrection simultaneously against Hitler and Stalin. Then he invented his “Third Camp,” and abandoned the Trotskyist conception of the USSR in order to adopt the theory of “bureaucratic collectivism” which Burnham had whispered in his ear. Somewhat later, when Stalin and Roosevelt became allied against Hitler, his “Third Camp” had to find a reorientation. Incapable of distinguishing between the war which the USSR was fighting and that being conducted by imperialism he sought refuge in abstention. Now that a life and death struggle is developing between world capitalism girding for a decisive test and the organized masses which are under the command of the bureaucratic leaderships, his “Third Camp” is undergoing a new transformation: this “Third Camp” is also for a life and death struggle against the USSR, and while it must not jeopardize the decisions and the actions of the White House and the Pentagon, it must wait until the American camp has received a good coating of democratic paint. Again we find behind this position, just as in 1939, the same social force, but with greater intensity: that liberal petty bourgeoisie which chokes at the unsavory aspects which history assumes; which dreams, if not of an ideal development, then at least of a nice orderly camp, in which one could take one’s place without the danger of getting dirty. This liberal section of the American petty bourgeoisie cannot determine the march of history, but it is sufficiently powerful to push Shachtman into the camp of imperialism.

The “Third Camp” of Shachtman has had its evolution – a rapid one in the case of its adherents (the erstwhile R.D.R.) in France where the situation hardly lends itself to equivocation, slower in the United States, just so long as the war did not take on definite form. But rapid or slow this evolution has led inexorably into the camp of imperialism. The Shachtman case illustrates, on a microscopic scale, the inevitable evolutions which the gigantic forces now prevailing and criss-crossing one another are provoking and will continue to provoke. For the petty bourgeoisie socialism has merit only as a moral idea and becomes odious when it takes on the form of an attack against the foundations of capitalist society. Under the pretext of not “capitulating to Stalinism,” and yielding to the pressure of petty bourgeois public opinion these alleged revolutionaries, who cannot adjust themselves to a working class which is not dressed in a style they like, enter the “Third Camp” which brings about their capitulation to the imperialist camp.

The search for quotations from Lenin, the subtleties of thought or alleged subtleties of thought employed to prop up a theory of the “Third Camp” which abandons the fundamental Marxist concept of the class struggle carried on by the two main social camps – all these verbal acrobatics have led and inevitably lead those who are taken in by them right into the arms of the bourgeoisie. Stalinism, which is not a social system but an ultra-reactionary leadership of the working class, will be conquered only by those who remain rooted in the working class camp and fear neither Stalinism itself nor contamination in a united front struggle with Stalinists.

December 15, 1951


1. Organ of the Syndicalists led by Pierre Monatte. – Ed.

2. We need not here dwell on Shachtman’s studied effort to picture Lenin as a “democrat,” in the most vulgar meaning of the term. As we shall see, Shachtman wishes to make use of the founder of the Bolshevik party for his own reformist purposes.

3. We cannot follow Shachtman in all his “theoretical” promenades. It would be a pity, however, to let the following lines pass:

“Stalinism is a powerful social force rooted and nurtured in the decay of capitalist society, which is incurable, and the decay of the labor movement, which, fortunately, is not at all incurable ... Stalinism remains an unshaken force in countries like France and Italy because the bourgeoisie is incapable of taking serious measures to overcome the social crisis on a capitalist basis and the non-Stalinist labor movement, the Socialist Party and the reformist trade unions in France, for example, remain appendages or allies of the bourgeoisie; whereas Stalinism is an insignificant force in a country like England because, even though the bourgeoisie could not solve the social crisis in its way, the official labor movement has taken serious, if hesitant and inadequate, measures to solve it in an anti-capitalist way. With all the necessary changes, the same explanation can be made for the difference between the situation in India and the situation in China, or even in comparing the situations in Indonesia and Indo-China” (pp.201-202).

The right-wing leadership of the Labor Party, the bourgeoisies of India and of Indonesia, they are the means of curing the decay of the working class! What is really incurable is Shachtman’s decay.

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