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Gertrude Shaw

Out of the Night, Into the Fog

Giving Him Benefit of Doubt, Valtin Is Still a Badly Muddled Man

(31 August 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 35, 31 August 1942, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The name Jan Valtin may not be too familiar to the average worker. Yet he has merited a certain amount of attention because of a book he wrote entitled Out of the Night. Among other things, this autobiographical work described both the Nazis and the Stalinists in action in Germany. The open brutality against the workers by the Nazis was fully matched by the unscrupulous betrayal by the Stalinists not only of the workers at large but of their own party members.

What Valtin did not intend to emphasize in his book but which nevertheless sticks out like a sore thumb, is that he himself cleaved to the crooked Stalin line through all its treacherous zig-zags. Only when he personally became the victim of Stalin’s disloyalty to his own party did Valtin start squawking. Whether this delay was due to stupidity or complicity, the result is the same.

However, judging by an article written by Valtin in the last issue of the American Mercury, it may well have been colossal stupidity. At least this article warrants giving him the benefit of the doubt. For this sample of muddle-headedness cannot be surpassed.

Lack Understanding

An analysis of it deserves precious space in Labor Action only because the confusion of mind there displayed is typical of those Stalinists who are not conscious traitors of the working class in the interest of Stalin. The lack of understanding of important issues disqualifies the former for working class leadership – as does treachery disqualify the latter.

The subject of Valtin’s article is revolt in Europe – indeed a very important one. Valtin undertakes no less a job than to teach “America and Britain” a few lessons in “the science of revolution.” Why? So that “America and Britain” may engineer the European revolution against the Nazis.

And Valtin isn’t writing about a make-believe revolution. He wants “America and Britain” to impart to the European underground movement “the science of revolution – tested, specific laws formulated by Karl Marx and first successfully applied by Lenin in the Bolshevist Revolution of 1917.”

There is no doubt at all that this is the kind of revolution and the technique of revolution that the European masses will have to employ to gain their freedom. That is a certainty in this world of uncertainties.

Where, then, does the muddle-headedness of Valtin come in? In that he thinks there is even the remotest chance of “America and Britain” engineering such a revolutionary movement. For by “America and Britain” Valtin means none else than Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, Queen Wilhelmina and the other ex-rulers of the United Nations.

It would seem, therefore, that Valtin, having presumably spent many years of his life waging the class struggle, knows absolutely nothing about classes. Otherwise, he would understand the essence of the European situation. Churchill, Queen Wilhelmina and the other representatives of the ruling classes of the United Nations pace the floor, crack their knuckles in worried apprehension and render up prayers to the Almighty that the European masses may not do the very thing that Valtin wants “America and Britain” to help them do.

When the European masses use the science of revolution, as taught by Karl Marx and as applied by Lenin, to gain their independence from the Nazis, it will also be to gain their own independence. They will not do so simply to exchange masters. They will sound the death-knell of the capitalist system of the world. This is the very last thing that the American and British rulers wish and they are acting accordingly.

A Muddled View

Nevertheless Valtin naively complains that “not nearly enough is being done” to organize the revolt within Europe. He is fussed because “there are no schools in democratic countries teaching revolutionary technique.” Does he think the ruling class is going to teach the working class how to take power? Valtin asks that “the potential strength of millions of anti-Nazi trade unionists in Germany and the conquered countries” be not ignored. Nor is it being ignored! The bosses of Valtin’s “America and Britain” are in a blue funk over the potential strength of these revolutionary workers.

That is why they “simply promise the patriots of Europe succor and liberation” instead of giving them “continuous education in revolutionary techniques” and instead of “putting weapons of deliverance into their hands,” as Valtin urges them to do.

Under what bushel does Valtin hide his muddled head that he does not see what is going on in the world? The rulers of the United Nations have all proved themselves very adept in the science of CRUSHING revolutions. For instance, Britain is right now busy trying to crush in blood the Indian movement for independence. Or would Valtin call this ruthless act of imperialist aggression an innocent phase of the war for “democracy”? And how about Stalin – Valtin’s erstwhile leader? He has used his evil power to destroy the revolutionary movements of Germany, France and Spain – to say nothing of his extermination of the Russian revolutionists.

Very generously, however, Valtin gives his unasked-for advice to the enemies of revolution on how to engineer the European revolution. He tells them not to “overlook the fundamental fact that when oppressed people are subjected to protracted famine and terrorism they gradually lose their fitness to revolt. Fatigue and bleak resignation then replace their fighting spirit.”

What Rulers Want

As if modern rulers do not know this – and not only the Nazi rulers. The rulers of the United Nations also do not trust the fighting spirit of the European masses. They want a military victory over the Nazis by force of arms, and a Europe fatigued and resigned will fit into their post-war plans for dividing the spoils of war much more easily than a Europe freed through mass revolt. A Valtin may impress the “cultured” ladies who attend his lectures and worship anyone who has written a book. But a worker who feels the currents of class society in which he lives must laugh out loud at the idea of American and British bosses and politicians engineering a European mass revolt for freedom.

The European masses will rise up and fight for freedom from all masters. But it will be IN SPITE OF their imperialist “friends;” And though Valtin, who supposedly worked for the German workers’ revolution, writes now as if there is no such thing as a German working class, the odds are overwhelming that the German workers will be fighting shoulder to shoulder with their fellow workers to free Europe from all oppression.

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