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Paul G. Stevens

Centrism Did Its Bit
During the Soviet-Finn War

(23 March 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 12, 23 March 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Among the centrists today united in the so-called “International Front Against War” (British Independent Labor Party, Lovestoneites, French P.S.O.P., Dutch Revolutionary Socialist Labor Party, etc.), the Soviet-Finnish conflict has brought to the fore the deep contradictions which have been latent among them for years.

Thus we read in the German edition of the “Front’s” information bulletin (January 1940): “Among adherents of the I.F.A.W. who have had an opportunity to discuss the question there are divergent views with regard to the character of the present regime in the Soviet Union.” Some consider it, we are told, as still retaining the character of a “progressive workers state.” Others, that it is no longer a workers state, that the bureaucracy is a new exploiting class and that therefore the workers should be for its defeat.

Some regard as motives for the war: the desire to strengthen the defense of Leningrad and to find other military-strategic guarantees for defense against Germany as well as the Allies – without excusing in the least Stalin’s procedure in realizing these motives. Others think that the invasion of Finland is part of a great plan of conquest agreed upon by “Berlin-Moscow imperialism.”

Some recall the counter-revolutionary character of the Finnish bourgeoisie under Mannerheim. Others regard the “resistance of the Finnish people against the Russian attack as a progressive national war”. They believe that “the Finnish proletariat must participate actively in the defense of Finnish independence, maintaining their class independence in doing this, and desire the defeat of the Red Army.”

After setting forth the existence of the divergent views in its ranks, the I.F.A.W. presents a resolution which contains the following main point: “Regardless of our opinions about the character of the present Russian state (!) and the motives for its invasion of Finland, that the methods employed by Stalin against the Finnish people must be condemned and attacked as counter-revolutionary ... the Russian workers can not therefore be for the victory of the Russian (!) Army in Finland, but must desire the immediate cessation of the war. For a peace without, annexations! For the immediate Withdrawal of Russian troops from occupied territories!” etc., etc.

How Do They Do It?

How anyone who still regards Soviet Russia as a workers state and considers Mannerheim’s Finland as an outpost of world imperialism can consistently be “against the victory of the Red Army” in a struggle between the two is not explained. Nor can it be explained. For the centrists are here trying to reconcile two opposing class points of view.

How untenable this position is has been revealed by subsequent events. While the January resolution strained itself to avoid characterizing the Soviet Union in the terminology of Marxism, and in order to avoid commitments, speaks of the “Russian” state and the “Russian” army a resolution published by the same people in February throws all caution to the winds in this respect.

In Independent News, the English language bulletin of the I.F.A.W. for February, we read something entirely different:

“By appealing to the argument of ‘strategic advantage’ as a justification for a wanton attack against a small neighbor, Stalinist Russia puts itself in the category of imperialistic powers ...”

Logical Result of Their Theory

Whoever says “A” must say “B”. Having discovered that Soviet Russia is an imperialist state, the I.F.A.W. now finds:

“Because we sincerely believe in the principles of national self-determination, because we recognize the disastrous effects of Stalin’s invasion from the standpoint not only of the Finnish people but also of the Russian people and of the international working class generally we sympathize with the Finnish struggle against the Russian invader. Of that there can be no doubt.”

The new line permits their American section (the Lovestoneites) and the Dutch (Sneevliet) to howl in chorus with the bourgeois press against “Soviet imperialism” and to identify the Communist Party with the German-American Bund, and to call for funds to be sent to Finnish “labor organizations”, that is, to the social democracy which is in one bloc with Mannerheim. However, it does not yet prevent the Scottish Independent Labor Party from adopting a resolution which goes against the grain of this whole line: the latter, adopted at a conference on January 20–21 says:

“This conference, reviewing the events which led up to the present situation in Finland, condemns the foreign policy of the Russian government.

“We warn the workers, however, to be on guard against the intensive propaganda in which world capitalism seeks to canalize opinion against Russia ...

“We therefore resolve to oppose the formation of a capitalist block against Russia and consider that we can best assist the workers and peasants of Russia by concentrating our energies against the capitalist, imperialist enemy at home.”

The Finnish-Soviet war is concluded. But the imperialist war goes on. In this war, the class lines come boldly to the forefront. Within the workers’ camp, in this war, is the Soviet Union which, despite Stalin and his degenerated bureaucracy, still retains the main economic conquests of the October revolution. Any attempt to slur over this fact, any attempt to find compromise formulas that reconcile two opposing class attitudes, are bound to shatter on the rocks of living reality. That is why centrism is doomed to disintegration. That is why one wing of the I.F.A.W. must of necessity go over to the camp of the treacherous social democracy. That is why another wing must approach ever closer the positions of the Fourth International. The actions of the Lovestoneites, Sneevliet and company, on the one hand, and of the Scottish I.L.P. on the other, are merely portents of this trend.

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