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War in Finland

Albert Goldman

On the War in Finland

Why We Should Defend the Soviet Union

(16 March 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 11, 16 March 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


When Stalin ordered the Red Army to invade Finland, we condemned the invasion; but we did not permit his crime to deter us from our fundamental policy of defending the Soviet Union. The Finnish capitalist government represents the imperialist world and our policy of unconditional defense of the Soviet Union against capitalism applies in the war against Finland. While the advanced workers of the Soviet Union must not give up their struggle against the Stalinist bureaucracy, and while the advanced workers of Finland must redouble their efforts to overthrow the Finnish capitalist government, both the Russian and the Finnish workers, as well as the workers throughout the rest of the world, must do everything in their power to prevent a defeat of the Soviet Union.

“Terrible”, cried every middle- class democrat, beginning with the liberals and going on through Norman Thomas and his Socialist Call, the Lovestoneites, and even close sympathizers of our movement. This showed that either they did not understand our program or expected us to do what they did: cave in under the pressure of the bourgeois democrats. The difference between all of these people and ourselves is the difference between the revolutionary Marxists led by Lenin in 1914 and the others who called themselves “socialists”. Lenin did not yield an inch to the capitalists when war actually came, while the others showed that in reality they were nothing more than middle-class democrats.

* * *

“Democratic” Arguments for Support of Finland

These pseudo-Marxist critics falsify our position by insisting that our party supports Stalin’s invasion. In the Feb. 17 Nation, in his swan song bidding goodbye to whatever Marxism he still possessed, the Lovestoneite Lewis Corey makes the assertion that according to the Appeal “the invasion of Finland is justified.” These critics omit the obvious fact that from the very beginning we have condemned the invasion on the ground that it has discredited the Soviet Union in the eyes of the working masses.

The Socialist party of Norman Thomas and the Lovestoneites have approximately the same position: more or less open support of the Finnish capitalist government. The Lovestoneites are a little more careful and use a few more Marxist phrases than the Thomasites, but essentially they agree that the Red Army should be defeated by the Finnish bourgeois army.

Let us take a glance at the position of our critics, especially those who claim to speak in the name of Marxism. We need not argue with the liberals, the social-democrats and labor bureaucrats, with the people, that is. who openly support the falsehood that the war between England and Germany is a war for democracy against fascism, with the people who, in advance, have promised their wholehearted support to the American government when it deems it advisable to enter the war. The advanced workers understand these people well and there is no danger that they will follow them.

If there is any danger that the advanced workers, due to their justifiable hatred of the Stalinist bureaucracy, will be led to take a wrong position, it is because there are those who glibly speak in the name of Marxism and advance the false theory that on the basis of Marxist principles we must either support the Finnish government against the Soviet Union or else be indifferent to the victory of either side.

To justify their position both the Socialist party and the Lovestoneites point to the “democratic character” of the Finnish government. They furnish us with figures showing that there are 85 “socialists” in the Finnish parliament and “143 representatives of workers and peasants.” On the same basis, however, the workers should be asked to support France and England. Are there not more representatives of the workers in the parliaments of those countries than in the Reichstag of Germany? These “Marxists” have found a new criterion to determine whether the workers should support one capitalist country as against another, namely, the relative number of representatives of workers in the parliaments of the countries fighting each other!

Revolutionary Marxists can only look with contempt upon these people who have not yet learned or who have forgotten that the capitalist state remains a capitalist state no matter how many “socialists” there may be in parliament, that the capitalist state, in any war, defends the interests of the capitalist class and these interests are of no concern to the workers.

It is only in a case of civil war between fascists and a democratic government that the workers can give material (but not political) support to the latter, That is what our party advocated in the Spanish civil war. In a war between imperialist countries, the only thing that can possibly be at stake are the rival imperialist interests. In the war between Finland and the Soviet Union, the Finnish capitalist army is not fighting for democracy against fascism. Regardless of the motives and intentions of Stalin, the war between the Soviet Union and Finland is a war of forces representing on the one hand nationalized property and on the other capitalist private property.

The Soviet Union Represents the Future!

But do not the Finnish workers live under better conditions than the workers in the Soviet Union? Do they not have a higher standard of living and greater “freedom”? They leave the ground of Marxism who present such arguments.

One thing that every worker must understand is that capitalism is in a stage of decay and with it capitalist democracy. Whether in Finland or in any other part of the capitalist world, the workers face a choice between fascist slavery or the proletarian revolution. Capitalist democracy is doomed and whether it is this year or in ten or twenty years it will be destroyed by the fascists – or by the proletarian revolution establishing a higher form of democracy.

Finland is part of the decaying capitalist world. The foundation of the Soviet Union, nationalized property, represents part of that future world of planned economy and the production of goods for the welfare of the people. In the last analysis the existence of the Stalinist regime is to be explained by the fact that the capitalist world still exists.

Let the workers destroy the capitalist world and Stalinism will have no base whatever. It will disappear from the Soviet Union like the scab on a sore from which the pus has been drained.

The advanced Finnish workers, considering the historic interests of their class have no alternative but to defend the Soviet Union from the capitalist world.

* * *

Helping Mannerheim by “Working Class” Methods

The Norman Thomas “socialists” have discovered a method by which they are able to claim that they are not helping the Finnish capitalist government but only the Finnish workers. They ask that help be sent through the Finnish trade unions, whose officialdom – house-broken “socialists” – support Mannerheim. But what class is in control in Finland? Have the trade unions the governmental power? Who controls the army which is the most important instrument of the state, especially during a war? Soft- brained “socialists” tell us that Mannerheim and his White generals have been deprived of power. Can one imagine greater nonsense! The creator of the Finnish capitalist state, the butcher of the Finnish workers, “deprived of power” and – and still the commander-in-chief of the armed forces!

Even more miserable are the arguments of the Lovestoneites, who are proclaiming that the Trotskyites have capitulated to the Stalinists. Coming from the people who up to a few years ago justified every crime of Stalin, including the Moscow frame-up trials, this leaves one flabbergasted. In an article by Donald Graham, in the Feb. 17 Workers Age, we are completely laid low by the profound argument that since we support China against Japan in spite of the fact that Chiang Kai-shek is as ferocious a butcher as Mannerheim we can also support Finland.

For just one little reason, Mr. Graham, does our policy differ. China, a semi-colonial country, is attacked by Japan, an imperialist country; Finland, a capitalist country and the outpost and tool of English imperialism, is attacked by the Soviet Union, a workers’ state even though a degenerated one. Isn’t that a slight difference? And by the way, Mr. Graham; we do not justify, neither do we support the invasion of Finland.

Yes, the Lovestoneites warn the Finnish workers not to trust the Finnish bourgeoisie “who cannot follow an independent policy of revolutionary defense” because it is a pawn of imperialism. But please explain how the workers can fight under capitalist control and still “follow an independent policy of revolutionary defense.” In a war one either fights under the control of the capitalist class and thus aids it or fights against the capitalist class in control of the government.

A “Radical” Version of Anti-Sovietism

A small group in the Socialist party, led by Herbert Zam, advocates a policy of defeatism for both camps. The people who advocate such a policy don’t want to be caught helping Finland, which they recognize to be a tool of imperialism, but they are for the defeat of both sides. That sounds more revolutionary than helping Finland against the Soviet Union; but assuredly it is just as much against the principles of revolutionary Marxism.

Lenin advocated a policy of revolutionary defeatism for both camps in an imperialist war. He insisted that to carry on the struggle against one’s own capitalist class even at the risk of a defeat at the front was a lesser evil than class peace and victory at the front. He was perfectly willing to take the risk of a defeat of his “own” imperialist government. If one tries to get at the basic reasons for his attitude it is clear that Lenin formulated such a policy because on both sides of the war the same property relations prevailed. At the very worst, the workers fighting against their own capitalist class would come under the control of another capitalist class. There would be no change in property relations.

Far different is the situation where a workers’ state is involved in a war with a capitalist state. A defeat for the workers’ state means the destruction of nationalized property, a higher form of economy; and no revolutionary Marxist can be indifferent to such a possibility.

The argument is advanced that a defeat of the Red Army by the Finnish army would lead the workers in the Soviet Union to overthrow the Stalinist bureaucracy. We cannot exclude that possibility but the far, far greater probability is that a defeat of the Red Army by a capitalist army would result in a capitalist counter-revolution.

History knows no example of a union defeated by the bosses in a serious struggle coming under the control of revolutionary workers as a result of the defeat. A defeat of the union by the bosses means the destruction of the union. To be for revolutionary defeatism within the Soviet Union is like being for the defeat of a union in a struggle against the boss. All the crimes of a reactionary trade union leadership would not make it any less of a crime on the part of a worker to follow a policy of defeatism in a struggle between the union and a boss.

* * *

Will the world revolution gain through a victory of Stalin’s Red Army in Finland? That question is supposed to slay all of us who are for the defense of the Soviet Union. We calmly answer: Will the world revolution gain by a victory of the Finnish capitalist army representing the imperialist world? A victory of the Red Army guarantees the continued existence of the first workers’ state, thus giving the workers an opportunity to clean out the Stalinist bureaucracy. That will constitute a tremendous victory for the world revolution.

Subjected to criticism, any policy other than that of defending the Soviet Union means either consciously to favor the Finnish capitalist state and thus, the capitalist world or objectively to aid the capitalist world by being indifferent to the defeat of the Red Army guarding the nationalized property of the. Soviet Union.

We Remain True to Our Program

How easy it was to defend the Soviet Union before war actually came! And especially when Stalin was playing with the democratic imperialists! Many a time did we issue the warning that the’friends” of the Soviet Union would scurry to cover when the test of war would come. The Stalinists, the liberals, the “socialists,” the Lovestoneites, all proclaimed us to be enemies of the Soviet Union. Why? Because we insisted on making a distinction between the Stalinist bureaucracy and the Soviet Union.

The war came and all these fair-weather defenders of the Soviet Union find one reason or another for scurrying to cover. It is not so easy now to defend the Soviet Union as it was when Stalin was flirting with the democratic imperialists.

Our party does not adopt a program to be followed only during times of peace. Our program of defending the Soviet Union was based on the fundamental fact that nationalized property makes of the Soviet Union a workers’ state regardless of Stalin’s crimes. No one has shown us why we should change that program.

* * *

(This concludes Comrade Goldman’s series of articles. Beginning with the next issue, Comrade Goldman will answer questions sent in. All readers are invited to send in questions.)

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