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War in Finland

Albert Goldman

On the War in Finland

Why We Should Defend the Soviet Union

(2 March 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 8, 2 March 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Many and serious have been the crimes of Stalin from the very beginning of his regime. In fact, his internal and his foreign policies constitute one colossal crime against the interests of the workers of the whole world.

Bitterly as we condemn and fight against his crimes and betrayals, nevertheless we do not yield an inch on our fundamental position of defending the Soviet Union against the capitalist world. We distinguish between the Soviet Union based on nationalized property and the Stalinist bureaucracy capable of the worst crimes against the working class.

When Stalin expelled the Bolshevik-Leninists, led by Trotsky, from the Communist party of the Soviet Union, when he hounded and jailed them, he committed a crime against the revolutionary proletariat, but these Bolsheviks, hounded by Stalin, pledged loyalty to the state which they were instrumental in creating.

When, in order to save himself from the danger of an attack by Hitler, he made an alliance with France and, as compensation to the French imperialists, actually ordered the Communist party of France to cease its anti-militarist activities, we condemned the alliance as a betrayal of the workers. But the revolutionary Marxists did not give up the slogan of unconditional defense of the Soviet Union.

By frameups, by torture, by outright murder, Stalin exterminated the generation of Bolsheviks who organized and led the revolution. That crime did not cause us to eliminate from our program the slogan of defense of the Soviet Union.

Stalin’s Greatest Crime Was in Spain

The greatest crime that Stalin has committed thus far was the crushing of the Spanish revolution. When Franco began his revolt, the Spanish workers took the factories away from the capitalists and the peasants took the land away from the landlords. Stalin bought his way into the leadership of the Spanish Loyalists, sent a large contingent of his GPU to Spain, took control of the Spanish government, murdered hundreds of revolutionary workers and crushed the Spanish revolution.

The program of our party was written after that crime and in that program was included a section dealing with the necessity of defending the Soviet Union against capitalism.

Why did we cling to that slogan? Because the crimes of Stalin, taken separately or together, did not change the nature of the Soviet Union. They undermined the basic structure; they weakened the Soviet Union but they did not destroy nationalized property and we therefore continued to insist on the unconditional defense of the Soviet Union against imperialism.

* * *

Came the Hitler-Stalin pact. The liberals were dreadfully shocked. They had depended on Stalin to save their democracy and now the great savior changed playmates and left them holding the bag.

Sad to say, some of our own sympathizers were shaken but of their equilibrium by Stalin’s “betrayal” of the “democratic” nations.

Did Stalin betray anyone when he signed the pact with his erstwhile arch enemy? Undoubtedly, he betrayed the working masses, but essentially no more and no less than when he made a pact with imperialist France. If we are going to measure betrayals by degree, his crushing of the Spanish revolution was by far worse than the signing of the pact with Hitler.

Why His Alliances Are Crimes Against the Workers

It must be clearly understood that, in and of itself, there is nothing criminal in the leaders of the Soviet Union making a temporary alliance with one imperialist nation against another. Existing in an imperialist world, a workers’ state must of necessity take advantage of the conflicts between the imperialist nations in order to strengthen itself to a certain extent.

What constitutes Stalin’s crime in making these alliances is that he ties the working masses to that section of the imperialists with which he enters into an alliance. When he was courting the democratic imperialists, his agency, the Communist International, was backing France and England against Hitler. Now that he has entered into an alliance with Hitler, the Communists are in fact supporting Hitler. Not so openly, it is true. But openly enough so that an intelligent worker can see what their real game is.

In his alliance with Hitler, Stalin proved his contempt for the workers—he did not hesitate a moment to violate their democratic sentiments. He proved that he never was interested in fighting fascism because it is the mortal enemy of the workers but simply because it represented a danger to his regime. As soon as conditions made Hitler willing to make peace with him, Stalin dropped the fight against fascism.

We Predicted The Stalin-Hitler Pact

Our party was not shocked, not even surprised, by the pact. We foresaw the possibility of such an alliance; we warned the workers against that possibility. The Stalinists raged at us; the Stalinist liberals sneered at the “fantastic” idea that Stalin could make an alliance with Hitler.

We turned out to be correct. And events have demonstrated that the pact was a betrayal of the workers. Recognizing it as such, we ask all our critics: what change in the economic structure of the Soviet Union did the Hitler-Stalin pact usher in? We have thus far heard no answer: In fact the economic structure remains the same, and our policy of unconditional defense of the Soviet Union against the imperialist world must still be followed.

* * *

Following upon the heels of the pact came the invasion of Poland by the Red Army. More liberals left the Stalinist movement. The whole capitalist press began to howl about Stalin’s "imperialism.” Norman Thomas and his followers took up the cry; the Lovestoneites joined in, and, alas, some of our close sympathizers permitted themselves to be led astray by the crime of Stalin and by the pressure of capitalist public opinion.

We too condemned the invasion, but from a totally different viewpoint. All others condemned it as an “imperialist venture.” We condemned it because it confused the masses, undermined their faith in the Soviet Union and thus weakened it in the struggle which some or all of the imperialist nations will inevitably wage against it. We condemned the invasion in the same way that revolutionary workers condemn reactionary activities of the leaders of their trade union, activities which would not in the least prevent them from defending the union against the bosses.

Revolutionary socialists do not look upon boundaries as sacred. When the Soviet Union invaded Poland in 1920 and Georgia in 1921 no class-conscious worker hesitated for a moment in supporting it. "Socialists" condemned the invasions of those years as “red imperialism” but that was to be expected from lackeys of the capitalists. If and when it is necessary for the Soviet Union, in order to defend itself, to invade the territory of some capitalist nation, it would be perfectly justified in doing so. But it should be done under circumstances where the workers of the world can clearly see the necessity for the invasion. The sentiments of the workers must be taken into consideration because in the last analysis the defense of the Soviet Union depends upon them.

Gains from Invasions Outweighed by Damage

Now it is true that to some extent the Soviet Union has gained certain advantages by occupying a section of Poland. One advantage is that all of the Ukrainians are now out of reach of Hitler so that he cannot establish a phoney Ukrainian state to be utilized in an attack against the Soviet Union. There may also be some military-strategic advantages. But all of the advantages put together cannot compensate for the damage the invasion has done because of the terrible effect it has had on the workers of the world.

Had Stalin invaded Poland in order to struggle against Hitler, no class-conscious worker would have objected; it was criminal for him not only to invade Poland but to permit Hitler to seize the best section of Poland. The invasion, in and of itself, is not the crime. The circumstances under which it took place and the effect on the workers make it a crime.

The same thing is true of the invasion of Finland. It is only a simpleton who can condemn Stalin for wanting to fortify important bases on the Gulf of Finland, in order to protect Leningrad against an attack either by England and France or by Germany or by all three. Only middle-class liberals or middle-class "socialists” will take the attitude that the Soviet Union has no right to ask a smaller state to cede important bases for its defense. Class-conscious workers make a distinction between capitalist states and the Soviet Union. It does not at all follow that what we oppose as far as capitalist states are concerned we should oppose in a workers’ state, even though degenerated.

We condemn the invasion of Finland not because the Soviet Union has become “imperialist,” but because under the circumstances it had a terrible effect upon the workers of the world. It was not proved to the workers that the invasion was absolutely necessary to defend the Soviet Union. No attempt was made to appeal to the Finnish workers before the invasion took place. Ridiculous lies were spread about Finland threatening to attack the Soviet Union. The same tactics were used by Stalin in invading Finland as by Hitler in invading Poland. The invasion was criminal because, even if Stalin gets what he wants, it will not be sufficient compensation for the loss of faith in the Soviet Union amongst the workers.

We Defend Unions Despite False Leaders

But the invasion is one thing and the defense of the Soviet Union is another. If we condemn Stalin’s invasion, that does not mean that we change our attitude to the Soviet Union.

There are those who argue that even if we consider the Soviet Union as a workers’ state we cannot defend it in every struggle that the Stalinists see fit to throw it into. Suppose a trade union, they argue, calls a strike to compel a boss to exclude Negroes. Revolutionary workers would not support that kind of a strike. Very true. But if that strike, called for a bad purpose, develops into a struggle between the union and the boss and the defeat of the union by the boss must inevitably result in the weakening of the union, then class-conscious workers defend the union against the boss regardless of the cause of the strike. The workers themselves must punish the treacherous leaders and not permit the boss to defeat the union.

Even if we should consider that Stalin’s invasion had an objective which we would condemn, it would not alter our attitude, because the struggle in Finland is essentially, as I explained in a previous article, a struggle between the Soviet Union and capitalist Finland representing the capitalist world. In such a struggle we defend the Soviet Union.

Stalin’s Overthrow Is Task of the Workers

Stalin’s objective, however, as I mentioned above, is not something that we can condemn. The invasion is what we condemn. Frequently it happens that reactionary trade union leaders want to organize a section of workers who are opposed to unionism and the reactionary leaders, instead of educating these backward workers, send up gangsters to beat and intimidate them, thus antagonizing not only these but other workers. Nevertheless, if a strike should develop under circumstances where the union is placed in a bad position in the eyes of public opinion, including the public opinion of workers, there would be nothing else for us to do except to support the union to the utmost.

Because we condemn the reactionary leaders of the Soviet Union for invading Finland does not mean that we should permit the Finnish bourgeois army representing world capitalism to defeat the Red Army representing the workers’ state.

Because of its criminal acts against the working masses the Stalinist bureaucracy must be overthrown—but only by the workers. As against the capitalist world the Soviet Union must be defended at all costs.

(Continued next week)

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