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War in Finland

Albert Goldman

On the War in Finland

Why We Should Defend the Soviet Union

(17 February 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 7, 17 February 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Since its birth our party has stood for the unconditional defense of the Soviet Union against the capitalist world. And for many years before the existence of the Socialist Workers’ Party, the Trotskyists considered that idea as absolutely essential to their program.

Our policy of unconditional defense is based on the fact that nationalized property constitutes the foundation of the Soviet state and for us nationalized property is a tremendous step forward in the development of mankind. Marxists considered the development of the productive forces as the basic criterion of

progress. That the destruction of capitalism in its period of decay and the substitution of nationalized industry permits the productive forces to develop at a remarkable rate has been proved by the great industrial growth that has taken place in the Soviet Union, and this in spite of the Stalinist leadership. The unconditional defense of the Soviet Union means the unconditional defense of nationalized property against the capitalist world.

Distinction Between Stalin and U.S.S.R.

Through all the years that we have been insisting on the necessity of defending the Soviet Union unconditionally against imperialism we have been the most consistent and implacable opponents of the Stalinist regime, from the revolutionary point of view. Every important policy pursued by Stalin we attacked; but we never swerved from our policy of unconditional defense of the Soviet Union. Some people thought we were inconsistent; but they failed to understand that we make a fundamental distinction between the Stalinist bureaucracy and the Soviet Union as a “complex of social institutions” based upon the October Revolution. Just as a revolutionary worker makes a distinction between his trade union and its reactionary leadership.

Unconditional defense has never meant and could not possibly have meant that we support the Red Army in every engagement into which Stalin sees fit to lead it. If that army were to be used against workers in the Soviet Union who were striking for better conditions or struggling to overthrow the bureaucracy, we would naturally do our utmost to demoralize and defeat the army.

If the Red Army were to be used against the Ukrainian workers attempting to establish an independent Soviet Ukraine, we would fight against that Red Army.

When part of that Red Army, the G.P.U., was used in Spain to suppress the Spanish revolutionists, we were in favor of exterminating that section of the Red Army.

It is only when the Red Army is fighting a capitalist enemy and thus protecting the Soviet Union from that enemy that we favor and work for the victory of the Red Army. Unconditional defense against imperialism means exactly what it says: whenever and wherever the Soviet Union is involved in any struggle against a capitalist enemy we are for the defense of the Soviet Union, regardless of the causes or circumstances that led to the war.

Bureaucracy and Nationalized Property

Is the Stalinist bureaucracy interested in defending nationalized property? It is a bureaucracy of the degenerated workers’ state based on nationalized property, and the interests of that bureaucracy are bound up with the nationalized property, which it must defend in order to preserve its existence. Green and Lewis are “labor lieutenants of capitalism” in the ranks of labor; but they are compelled to defend the trade unions against the bosses because their very existence depends on the existence and strength of the trade unions.

It is undoubtedly true that neither the Stalinist bureaucracy nor the bureaucracies led by Green or Lewis defend the interests of the workers and their institutions effectively. Their policies weaken those institutions. But that is a reason why the workers should get rid of them, and not an argument for refusing to defend the workers’ state or the trade unions.

A principle that our party has taught and shall continue to teach is that the workers must never turn over the task of removing the Stalinist bureaucracy to the capitalist enemy. They must reserve that privilege and duty for themselves because the destruction of the Stalinist bureaucracy by the capitalist enemy can lead to nothing but reactionary results.

* * *

It is only necessary to analyze the war between the Soviet Union and Finland in the light of the general principles mentioned above and in the first article of this series, in order to arrive at a correct conclusion as to the policy which a class-conscious worker should follow. In other words, it is necessary to ask if the slogan of unconditional defense of the Soviet Union against the capitalist or imperialist world is applicable to the war in Finland.

Who Was “Aggressor” Doesn’t Decide Question

In the first instance it is essential to exclude the factor of who first attacked whom. The fact that in 1914 Germany began the actual hostilities by launching an attack on Belgium was a matter of indifference to Lenin in arriving at his conclusion that the war was an imperialist war and that it was necessary for the workers in both imperialist camps to follow the policy of revolutionary defeatism. The fact that Germany attacked Poland could not possibly lead any revolutionary Marxist to urge the workers to defend the reactionary Polish state. For Marxists the character of a war “is determined not by the initial episode taken by itself but by the main moving forces of the war, by its whole development and by the consequences to which it finally leads”. This is what the thesis of the Fourth International states and the statement cannot be challenged successfully. Not the violation of neutrality or threats or an invasion by any particular country but the underlying economic and social factors and the probable consequences of the war should determine our attitude to it.

This does not mean that we condone the invasion of Finland by Stalin. I shall deal with this crime later. But in determining our attitude while the struggle is actually going on that factor is not the determining factor.

Finland an Outpost of Imperialism

Once more we remind the reader that Finland was born as a result of a victory of the counter-revolution led by Mannerheim and supported first by the German and then by the Allied imperialists. It is this state which is at war with the Soviet Union. Simpletons of the Socialist Party and lackeys of the capitalists in the Social Democratic Federation will point to the fact that representatives of labor and the farmers are in the Finnish government. But Marxists understand that the real rulers of the country are the capitalists and landlords, and these are inextricably tied up with the imperialist world. Finland is a buffer state, an outpost of imperialism, and its struggle against the Soviet Union is, in the last analysis, a struggle of the imperialist world against the Soviet Union.

To convince oneself of that simple fact, it is only necessary to consider the reaction of the capitalist world to the invasion of Finland. It is certain that even in Germany the sympathy of the ruling class is entirely with Finland but this sympathy is muted for the present because Hitler needs Stalin’s support. In the whole capitalist world, outside of Germany, all the “democrats”, including the Pope, Franco and Mussolini, have not hesitated to show on whose side their sympathies lie and this fact alone should almost be sufficient by itself to indicate to a class-conscious worker that he should be on the opposite side.

When Hitler invaded Austria, Czecho-Slovakia, Poland, the other imperialists grumbled a little because a rival of theirs had the nerve to do things in such a high-handed fashion. When Ethiopia was invaded by Mussolini there was also a tempest in a tea pot. But when Stalin invaded Finland the reaction was altogether different. For the simple reason that in a struggle between the Soviet Union and any part of the imperialist world, imperialism as a whole feels threatened.

The League of Nations, dead as a dodo under ordinary circumstances, suddenly revived and expelled the Soviet Union in one day. The Spanish fascist press, echoing the Pope, called for a Christian army to fight the Soviet Union. The humanitarian, Herbert Hoover, took the lead in defending the “democracy” of Mannerheim. Roosevelt, who was responsible for the embargo against Loyalist Spain in its life and death struggle against Franco, is assuming the leadership in the movement to help the Finnish capitalist army defeat the Soviet Union.

Imperialists Seek the Defeat of the USSR

Conditions are such as to make inadvisable, at the present moment, an open declaration of war against the Soviet Union by France and England. Bolder imperialist voices in those countries are demanding just that; but more cautious counsel may continue to prevail. Nevertheless, the passing of every day, it is becoming more clearly recognized that the Finnish-Soviet struggle is one of the fronts of the war, in fact today the only active front. Daladier and Chamberlain have stated openly that much more help has been sent to Finland than the average citizen is aware of and that still more aid will be forthcoming.

And is there any revolutionary worker naive enough to believe that Chamberlain and Daladier are interested in saving democracy, Finnish or otherwise? Can there be the slightest doubt that the imperialist world looks upon Finland as its protagonist?

No matter what the results of the Finnish-Soviet war may be – whether Stalin succeeds in his designs (as seems more probable) or gives up his attempt to conquer Finland; whether the Allies will openly declare war on the Soviet Union or will refrain from doing that; or whether a peace can be patched up between Hitler and the Allied imperialists and a combined attack made upon the Soviet Union – no matter what may develop in the near future, it is certain that right now the struggle in Finland is essentially the beginning of a struggle of the imperialist world against the Soviet Union.

Let the revolutionary worker ask himself: what would be the reaction of the imperialists to a defeat of the Red Army by the Finnish capitalist army? Would not the counter revolutionaries the world over, including those still living in the Soviet Union, be overjoyed?

A class-conscious worker can be fairly certain that what will bring joy to the imperialists, to the Hoovers, Roosevelts, Chamberlains and Daladiers, has nothing in it that is good for the workers.

The only conclusion that the class-conscious worker can possibly reach is that, as between the Red Army connected with and, in its own way, defending the Soviet Union based on nationalized property, and the Finnish capitalist army connected with and representing the imperialist world, he must favor and work for the victory of the Red Army. Analyzing all the factors involved, the slogan of unconditional defense of the Soviet Union is applicable in the present struggle in Finland.

That is the conclusion that the Socialist Workers Party has arrived at, and that is the conclusion that every revolutionary worker who follows the principles of revolutionary Marxism will recognize as correct.

But the defense of the Stalinist-controlled Soviet Union requires different tactics from those which revolutionary workers followed in the days when the Soviet Union was led by Lenin and Trotsky. In the next article we shall consider and analyze exactly in what way revolutionary workers in the Soviet Union and in Finland should defend the degenerated workers’ state.

(Continued next week)

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