From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 29, 21 July 1941, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
Two discussion articles, both advocating a defensist position with respect to the Soviet Union, have appeared to date in Labor Action. That of Jack Wilson is, in its essentials, a repetition of the traditional Trotskyite position and is based on two premises: (a) the character of the present war has changed; (b) defensism is a necessary revolutionary task due to the existence of a nationalized economy in the Soviet Union. As for the article of Comrade Lund, we fail to understand the reasoning for its publication since it consists SOLELY of assertions and prophesies of doom if the party retains its present position. It completely lacks any argumentation.
Both these articles contain an attack on the fundamental internationalist position of our party; both ignore our revolutionary strategy which is based on the creation of the Third Camp of independent workers’ action against the imperialist war. No comrade can ignore for a moment the seriousness of the situation thus created in the ranks of the party. I shall not repeat the arguments contained in the statement of our Political Committee or the further explanation given by Comrade Shachtman in his speech to the New York membership. Both can stand on their own merits. What has been done is to re-affirm our basic approach to World War II in the light of a sudden and admittedly unexpected change of events. But this has been no reaffirmation in the bureaucratic style of the Cannon group.
The article of Comrade Wilson assumes that which it is necessary to prove, namely, that the character of the war HAS changed. The PC has given its explanation of why it believes this is not the case. The burden of proof rests upon those who believe otherwise and would therefore have us become defensists, To quote from Shachtman’s December article in The New International is totally irrelevant since the quotation starts by saying “SHOULD” the character of the present war change, etc.
Those who have suddenly become defensists must prove two things: (1) That the war has changed from inter-imperialist to “mixed” – that is, reactionary with respect to the struggle between imperialist camps, but progressive with respect to the Soviet Union’s participation. They must explain why, WHY! Because Stalin has changed his war camp? Obviously not, nor do we expect any comrade to suggest that. Because nationalized economy is in danger (which it clearly is)? But this can never be THE decisive factor in determining the character of the war. Was not that the most important lesson to be drawn from our struggle in the ranks of the SWP? Our attitude toward a given war can be determined by looking at it as a whole; by considering the various political and social factors involved and their possible consequences. Nationalized economy, which did not exist, had nothing to do with our defensism in Spain or Ethiopia. Contrary to Lund’s veiled implication, we are still defensists in China (although we certainly won’t be if the Anglo-American imperialists succeed in subordinating this nationalist war to their imperialist objectives; nor will the Chinese workers) – despite the fact that there is no nationalized economy.
Defensists must prove likewise the following: (2) That the international working class would gain by a victory of the Soviet Union in the present war. The purely negative answer that this would mean the defeat of Hitler does not suffice because then we must be defensists in the “democratic” capitalist nations for the same reason. So far we have read no efforts to prove this point.
Soviet Russia and the Stalinist bureaucracy at the moment are conducting an IMPERIALIST WAR. My reasons for this statement can be put under two headings.
While rejecting any policy of defensism at present, we must nevertheless recognize the rich revolutionary potentialities inherent in the conflict. The Workers Party is one of the few revolutionary groups left that retains an optimistic view regarding the revolutionary potential. Perhaps the statements that have appeared so far in our press have given too little attention to the possibilities that exist in the Russo-German war. At any rate, that is my opinion.
In the first place, we must recognize the fact that there STILL exist strong elements within the British and American capitalist classes that are decidedly favorable to converting this war into an anti-Soviet crusade. We should not lightly dismiss their existence! In bourgeois politics it is ONLY this fascist-minded group that can come into power if the present ruling section of the bourgeois has to be turned out. Concretely, the VANGUARD expression of this tendency is to be found in the attitude of vulture Japanese imperialism which appears to be preparing an attack on the Far Eastern regions of Soviet Russia.
Secondly – and in line with our revolutionary perspectives – we must remember that the Russian working class is the most heroic, experienced and class conscious of any in the world. With its vast tradition and knowledge, accompanied by the earthquake that the war has let loose under the clay legs of the Stalin bureaucracy, is there not ample reason to look forward to a revolutionary revival of this working class – including the creation of mass, independent Soviets, etc.? I find it hard to believe that the workers of Leningrad and Moscow will abandon or refuse the struggle as, for example, did the workers of Paris last year. It is precisely, our position – for the Third Camp and independent workers’ action – that allows to, no – LOOKS FORWARD TO – such a development.
And finally, I hope that those who advocate defensism will at least be clearer than our friends of the Cannon group as to what they mean by it specifically; that they will not say (as did Editor Morrow of The Militant) that defensism means “now more than ever must the Stalin bureaucracy be overthrown.” Heaven forbid – that’s what we defeatists say!
Last updated: 27.1.2013