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War in Finland

Albert Goldman

On the War in Finland

Why We Should Defend the Soviet Union

(10 February 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 6, 10 February 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

What attitude should a class-conscious worker adopt towards the Soviet-Finnish war?

The problem is in reality not so difficult as some people would have us believe. The worker who does not permit himself to be confused by the propaganda of the capitalist press, by the winnings of all the varieties of middle- class intellectuals, including those who call themselves “socialists” and those who use Marxist phraseology; the worker who bases himself on the fundamentals of revolutionary Marxism and who approaches the whole problem from the standpoint of the historic interests of the working class, will readily agree that the policy adopted by the Socialist Workers Party is not only clear and simple to understand, but is the only policy that is in harmony with the principles of revolutionary socialism and therefore one hundred per cent correct.

Revolutionary Roots of the Soviet Union

The revolutionary worker, in trying to arrive at a correct conclusion as to what attitude he should take towards the struggle between the Soviet Union and Finland, cannot possibly forget the different roots of these two states. The Soviet Union was born as the result of the greatest revolutionary upheaval in the history of mankind. Under the leadership of Lenin the Russian masses destroyed the capitalist army, police force, jails, legislative, executive and judicial organs, in a word, the capitalist state that protected the interests of the Russian capitalists and landlords. Under the leadership of Lenin the Russian masses created a new type of state, the Soviet state, based on the idea that the workers should control their own destinies both politically and economically. The workers’ state proceeded to nationalize all industry. The capitalists fled the country.

There are some people, pretending to be the super-Marxists of the century, who claim that there never was a proletarian revolution in Russia. We shall let these people argue with the former Russian capitalists who are now living in France, England and the United States and vociferously proclaiming the need to defend democratic Finland. To the worker who is not misled by phrases any revolution in which the masses take the industries away from the capitalists is a proletarian revolution.

It is true that the terrible conditions under which the revolution was consummated did not permit the workers’ state to put into practice the degree of democracy that Lenin dreamed of, but in spite of everything the Russian workers had greater freedom and greater rights under the early Soviet regime than any group of workers ever had in the history of mankind. Their victorious struggle against the armies of the Russian, French, English and American capitalists testifies to that fact.

Reactionary Roots of Bourgeois Finland

Now let us take a look at the origin of Finland. The story is simple. Under the leadership of Mannerheim and supported, first by the German imperialists and then by the English imperialists, the Finnish white guards succeeded in defeating the Finnish workers, exterminating tens of thousands of them physically and establishing on their blood and bones a country which was to serve as one of the buffer states against the Soviet Union. In the course of some years a veneer of capitalist democracy was smeared over but hardly succeeded in concealing the capitalist exploitation which exists there. Essentially it is the same Finland that was created by virtue of the defeat of the Finnish workers and the same Mannerheim is still at the head of this country.

Thus in the struggle between the Soviet Union and Finland we have one born under the leadership of Lenin in a victorious struggle against the capitalists and the other born under the leadership of Mannerheim in a victorious struggle against the workers.

He who ignores this fact is likely to go far astray and land in company which, to put it mildly, is far from interested in the welfare of the Finnish or any other workers.

Is Anything Left of the Russian Revolution?

Is there anything left of the revolution, of the work of the Russian masses guided by Lenin?

This is the second question that we must ask ourselves. For, obviously, if there is nothing left of the revolution we need not concern ourselves at all with the question whether or not to defend the Soviet Union. The revolutionary worker can make up his mind only on the basis of the answer to the question: Is there anything worth while saving in the Soviet Union?

The leaders of the revolution of November 1917 had as their fundamental aim the achievement of socialism, the establishment of a social system where the means of production would be owned by society as a whole, where every human being would have a very high standard of living, where there would be no classes and consequently where there would be no state, that is, no instruments of force for the purpose of keeping any section of society under control. The advanced workers, however, understood well enough that such a social system could not be achieved unless the proletarian revolution was extended to the most advanced capitalist countries.

The more immediate aim, therefore, of the advanced Russian workers was to overthrow their own capitalists, establish a workers’ state to prevent a possible restoration of capitalism, to organize production, and continue to work for the extension of the revolution. The rule of the workers expresses itself fundamentally in the fact that they have abolished private property in the means of production and have established nationalized property.

The rule of any class can assume different forms. Under capitalism we have absolute or limited monarchies, democratic or fascist governments. The rule of the working class can also assume different forms depending upon the particular conditions prevailing. But the aim of the advanced workers has always been and should always be to achieve the greatest possible degree of democracy in a workers’ state. That was the aim of Lenin and of the Russian workers.

Democratic Soviets to Bureaucracy

But circumstances prevented the achievement of the ideal of a democratic Soviet state. The extreme backwardness of Russia, the imperialist war, the civil war and the throttling of the proletarian revolution in Germany by the Social Democratic leaders, made impossible the attainment of a really democratic state. The bureaucratic forces generated by these objective conditions finally gained control. The victory of Stalin over Trotsky expressed the victory of the bureaucratic over the democratic forces.

Step by step the bureaucracy under Stalin’s leadership consolidated its control. Soviet, party, trade union democracy were crushed. Initiative and freedom of thought were suppressed. The process of degeneration set in and the advanced Russian workers were unable to stem the tide of reaction. The bureaucracy gained complete control.

Some overly-hasty people who either do not know or have forgotten that for Marxists the basic criterion is an economic one, jumped to the conclusion that, since the Russian workers lost all their democratic rights, there was no longer any workers’ state. On the other hand Trotsky and those who accept his theories have been tireless in pointing out that so long as the basic achievement of the November revolution remains, so long as nationalized property has not been destroyed by the Stalinist bureaucracy, so long does the Soviet Union remain a workers’ state. It is true, no longer the kind of workers’ state that we would like to see; it is true, that it is now a workers’ state that has degenerated; but it is still a workers state and will remain such so long as nationalized property and the monopoly of foreign trade remain essentially as they were established by the revolution.

Political Revolution in the Soviet Union

Following and analyzing events in the Soviet Union, Trotsky has proposed certain changes in our attitude to the Stalinist bureaucracy. For a long time it appeared possible to change the nature of the regime by methods of reform, but when that possibility disappeared Trotsky did not hesitate to propose the idea, and the Fourth Internationalists did not hesitate to accept the proposal, that reform was no longer possible and that a political revolution was necessary to overthrew the Stalinist bureaucracy.

No one denies that Stalin has introduced some changes which affect nationalized property in the Soviet Union. No one denies the danger of a change in property relations by virtue of Stalin’s policies.

But a revolutionary worker has a different attitude to a company union than he has to an independent union, no matter how reactionary the leadership of the latter union may be. Once a revolutionary worker, by analyzing all the factors involved, comes to the conclusion that the Soviet Union is still a workers’ state, though degenerated; once a revolutionary worker clearly sees that nationalized property still exists and that therefore there is something worth while saving he can easily solve the problem of what his attitude should be in the war that is being waged between the Soviet Union and Finland.

(Continued next week)

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