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Albert Goldman

Where We Stand

(19 July 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 29, 19 July 1941, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

On the “Character” of the War

The character of the war has changed. So says the Communist Party.

The character of the war has not changed. So claims the Workers Party (Abern-Shachtman).

Diametrically opposite conclusions but both are wrong because both are the result of purely idealistic reasoning. Having left the ground of Marxist materialism, neither the Communist Party nor the Workers Party is capable of arriving at a correct analysis and adopting correct political conclusions.

To believe the Stalinist leaders, the first shot fired into Soviet territory, at the command of Hitler, had the miraculous effect of bringing about a change in the character of the war. From a war between rival imperialisms it was transformed, as far as England and the United States are concerned, into a different kind of war.

The Stalinists have not as yet described the exact character of the war but they have said enough to conclude that the war, on the part not only of the Soviet Union, but also of Great Britain and the United States is now one for democracy against fascism, for the right of nations to determine their own destiny and for the right of peoples to lead a happy and contented life. And this change occurred by virtue of the fact that the Soviet Union is now participating in the conflict.

It is not to be expected that the Stalinist leaders will furnish cogent arguments for their present contention. They simply make that assertion and expect everyone to accept it without argument. How and why did the character of the war change? Their answer is: by the entry of the Soviet Union. That of course is not an argument, for we are still left in the dark as to how the entry of the Soviet Union into the war created a change in its character.

The argument implicit in the Stalinist contention is that before the attack on the Soviet Union the war was imperialist in character because the governments conducting the war were interested in acquiring or defending colonies, markets and spheres of influence. Churchill and Roosevelt were conducting a war for imperialist purposes.

As soon as the Soviet Union was attacked Churchill and Roosevelt dropped their imperialist aims and began to struggle for democracy and the sacred rights of the peoples. What caused them to change? That is immaterial. It may be that the beloved and great Stalin used his powers to make them change. But whatever the reason was, Churchill and Roosevelt got religion, repented, became good Christians and stopped fighting an imperialist war.

From their sudden change, whatever the reason may be, it necessarily follows that imperialism is not, as Lenin taught, a stage of capitalism, but a policy of a government. Obviously, if it is a policy it call be changed over-night, if necessary. According to this Stalinist conception the character of the war is completely divorced from the character of the economy of the country waging the war. It depends upon the character and motives of the people at the head of the government.

Shachtman’s Method Is Like the Stalinists

Now let us examine the contention of Shachtman and his Workers Party to the effect that the character of the war has not changed. By that the Workers Party means that the Soviet Union was waging an imperialist war when it was allied with Germany and it is now waging an imperialist war as an ally of the capitalist democracies.

In this column last week I showed that, basing oneself on the theory that Hitler and Stalin were partners for the purpose of conquering and dividing the world, it becomes impossible to explain the sudden decision of Hitler to attack his partner-in-crime. Be that as it may, Hitler’s decision was made and Stalin, according to Shachtman, is now waging an imperialist war not to divide booty with Hitler but to guard his ill-gotten gains from his erstwhile ally.

Why is the Soviet Union waging an imperialist war now? The Workers Party answers: Because the Stalinist bureaucracy is playing a reactionary role. It wants to subjugate the working class of the world to the war machines of the imperialist democracies; it is fighting to retain control over territories it has seized and also “over the internal colonies of the Kremlin overlord”; it is fighting for its aristocratic privileges. The Workers Party utilizes the same method of idealistic reasoning that the Communist Party uses.

Both the Communist Party and Shachtman conceive of the character of a war as something independent of the nature of the economy of a country waging the war.

As against this idealistic method of reasoning, our party bases itself on Marxist materialism. The character of the war is determined by the nature of the economy of the countries participating in the war. Germany, Great Britain, the United States are imperialist countries, that is, their capitalist economy has reached an imperialist stage. They are therefore waging an imperialist war regardless of whether tho bad Hitler or the good Roosevelt is at the head of the government. The character of the war, as far as these countries are concerned, has not changed by the attack of Hitler on the Soviet Union. They are still imperialist countries. It is therefore impermissible for a Marxist party to support their war.

Since private property in the means of production has been destroyed in the Soviet Union and has not been reintroduced, there can be no such thing as Soviet imperialism, in the Marxist sense of the term. The Soviet Union therefore cannot be and is not waging an imperialist war even though the Stalinist bureaucracy is interested in safeguarding its own power, prestige and influence. The Soviet Union, even under Stalin, is waging a war to defend nationalized property against German imperialism. It is therefore mandatory on every class-conscious worker to defend the Soviet Union.

A deep gulf separates the reasoning of the Communist and Workers Party on the one hand and the Socialist Workers Party on the other. It is the difference between middle-class idealism and revolutionary Marxist materialism.

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