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War in Finland

Albert Goldman

On the War in Finland

Why We Should Defend the Soviet Union

(9 March 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 10, 9 March 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The war being waged between France and England on the one hand and Germany on the other is an imperialist war. A great many people make that assertion without, however, understanding the real meaning of the term “imperialist”. There are many who dump the Soviet Union into the class of imperialist countries and to prove this they point to the invasion of Poland and Finland. The net result of applying the term “imperialist” to the Soviet Union is to give the workers the idea that it is folly to defend the Soviet Union against imperialist countries because it too is an imperialist country.

When we say that Germany, England and France are fighting an imperialist war we mean something more than that the people who happen to be at the head of the government of those countries have bad motives. It is true that Hitler’s aim is to destroy the British Empire and obtain the colonies that Britain now possesses. But it is important to understand that German industry needs these colonies in order to obtain raw materials, markets for its products, and for the investment of German capital.

Great Britain on the other hand wants to retain these colonies for the same reasons that Germany wants to get them. The ruling classes of both countries desire to exploit the hundreds of millions of colonial peoples. The same is true of the French ruling class.

Why? Because these countries are imperialist countries: their competitive capitalism has developed into monopoly capitalism; the banks (finance capitalism) have replaced .industrial capitalism as the real power; every one of these countries needs colonies in which to invest their surplus capital and sell their products.

If and when the United States enters into the war it will be an imperialist war on its part no matter how many times Roosevelt will assert that it is a war to save the world from fascism. The United States, being an imperialist nation, cannot wage a war that is not imperialist in character.

Lenin’s Definition of Imperialism

Marxists have insisted on a very strict use of the term “imperialism”; especially since Lenin wrote his pamphlet on imperialism, in which he severely condemned everyone who did not use the term “imperialism” to characterize the latest stage in the development of capitalist nations. It should be used only to apply to the expansionist policy of finance capitalism.

There are of course many people who use the term “imperialist” to designate any kind of aggression, but they are not Marxists, although they might claim to be such.

When the Red Army, in the early days of the Soviet Union, invaded Georgia, the reactionary "socialists” set up a howl about “Bolshevik imperialism”. At present every writer in the capitalist press, every liberal and every pseudo-socialist insists that the invasion of Finland by the Red Army is a sign of “red or Stalinist imperialism”.

Marxists, however, will continue to ask: Is the Soviet Union a capitalist country? If not, then the term “imperialist” to characterize Stalin’s invasions and policies is absolutely incorrect and can only result in confusing the masses and weakening their struggle against real imperialism.

Some radicals of various kinds and types insist that we can recognize the difference between the economy existing in the Soviet Union and that of the capitalist countries and still Use the term “imperialist” to describe Stalin’s policies. They even attempt to justify the use of the term by stating that the aim of Stalin is to increase the “revenue, prestige and power” of the bureaucracy. This is undoubtedly true; but it can be pointed out to these people that the aim of every bureaucracy, including that of the trade unions is to gain “revenue, prestige and power”. That, however, is hardly sufficient to transform the trade union bureaucrats into imperialists, unless one wants to use the term in such a broad sense as to make it meaningless.

In effect, they who shout about the imperialism of Stalin, whether they do or do not recognize any distinction between the economy in the Soviet Union and the economy in capitalist countries, are all against defending the Soviet Union not only in the present conflict with Finland but, it is safe to say, they will refuse to defend it in case England and France send their troops into Soviet territory.

Imperialism Is the Main Enemy!

Calling the Soviet Union an imperialist country conceals the fact that the imperialism of France, Germany, England and the United States is the most reactionary phenomenon of modern society and the greatest enemy of the working class and of mankind in general. It is the imperialism of the capitalist countries that causes wars, exploits hundreds of millions of colonial slaves and its “own” workers, causes unemployment and retards the development of the productive forces.

The Russian workers, by expropriating the capitalists and landlords, delivered a terrific blow to imperialism. By means of the foreign trade monopoly the Russian workers erected a wall to prevent the economic penetration of the Soviet Union by the forces of imperialism. One- sixth of the earth’s surface was thereby closed to the imperialist world which was unable freely to sell its products or invest its capital in the Soviet Union – the greatest blow imperialism has ever received.

It has been the policy of revolutionary Marxists to defend colonial and semi-colonial countries, regardless of the reactionary character of their government, against attack by imperialist countries. When Italy attacked Ethiopia we defended Ethiopia even though its ruler, Haile Selassie, was a slave driver of the worst type. We defend China against Japan even though Chiang Kai-shek has butchered tens of thousands of Chinese workers. In defending the colonial and semi-colonial nations we follow the principle that, as against imperialism, the independence of the backward countries is progressive. The defeat of any imperialist country trying to subject a colonial people, is a blow to all of imperialism, and revolutionary Marxists consider it their duty to help defeat their main enemy, imperialism.

If we defend Ethiopia against Italy and China against Japan, how much more is it obligatory upon us to defend the Soviet Union against the imperialist world, in spite of Stalin? The Soviet Union is completely closed to the imperialist world whereas the colonies, whether they are independent or not, are subjected to imperialist exploitation. As yet no imperialist country has the right freely to sell its goods in the Soviet Union or to invest its capital there.

Far-sighted leaders of the capitalist class understand just as well as Marxists that, in the last analysis, the Soviet Union with its nationalized property and its planned economy must, be destroyed or else the whole capitalist world is in danger. Although Stalin’s policies have been of tremendous help to the imperialists, nevertheless, it is hardly possible for the imperialists to permit one-sixth of the world’s surface to be excluded from their clutches and to be dominated by a different form of economy. By and large the alternative has been and, so long as nationalized property continues to exist in the Soviet Union, will continue to be: either the destruction of the Soviet Union or the destruction of the capitalist world.

This does not mean that the rivalries and conflicts between the imperialist countries cease to exist. They continue and, as a matter of fact, the imperialists have succeeded in dragging the Soviet Union under Stalin into their conflicts. At times, as at present, the inter-imperialist conflicts may succeed in pushing into the background the contradiction between the social system in the capitalist world and that in the Soviet Union. From all appearances it seems that England and Germany have decided to fight it out to the last before settling scores with the Soviet Union. But they make a serious blunder who close their eyes to the fundamental contradiction that exists between the capitalist world and the Soviet Union, even under the Stalinist regime. Sooner or later that contradiction must lead to an attempt by the imperialist world to destroy the Soviet Union and open up its territory to capitalist exploitation.

Why Stalin Has Nationalized Property

The undisputed fact remains that, within the territory occupied by the Red Army, territory which formerly belonged to Poland, the land and the banks and larger industries were nationalized and thus another section of the world was taken away from capitalism. Stalin could not afford to permit a different ruling class to remain in the territory annexed to the Soviet Union. It is not because Stalin is anxious to advance the interests of the social revolution. All he is anxious to do is to save and strengthen the Stalinist bureaucracy, but by virtue of the fact that this bureaucracy rules over a state where nationalized property exists, it is compelled to destroy capitalism in such territories as it makes part of the Soviet Union.

When Stalin invaded Finland he set up a government which immediately issued a program for the expropriation of the big landlords and for state control of large industry. His aims in Finland were not realized so quickly but the fact remains that Stalin's course in the territory that he invades and occupies is fundamentally different from that pursued by Hitler – or Chamberlain. Stalin’s actions in nationalizing property in the territory he occupied is a confirmation of our theory that the character of the Soviet Union is fundamentally different from the character of capitalist states. It is absolute folly to call imperialism that which in actuality narrows the base of imperialism.

Invasion Reactionary – In What Sense

When the contention is advanced that the invasion of Finland is reactionary, we say: yes, yes, that is true. But reactionary in what sense? Reactionary in the sense that it has discredited the Soviet Union in the eyes of its only real defenders, the working masses. But look on the other side of the battlefield and you behold the imperialist world, the most reactionary thing in existence.

For every worker, the world over, the main enemy is imperialism, the breeder of wars and fascism, the master of hundreds of millions of colonial peoples.

Stalin’s policies hurt the struggle against imperialism and are contrary to the interests of the world revolution but the Stalinist bureaucracy rules over a state which has taken one-sixth of the earth away from imperialism.

The victory of the Red Army may temporarily strengthen the Stalinist bureaucracy but the defeat of the Red Army strengthens the main enemy of the working class, the imperialist world. Under no circumstances, therefore, can a revolutionary worker be indifferent in a struggle between the Red Army and any army connected with the imperialist world. To work for the victory of the Red Army in such a struggle as against the capitalist army is a duty of every worker, in the Soviet Union, in Finland or anywhere else.

(Continued next week)

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