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Jack Wilson

A Reply to Shachtman

(July 1941)

Pre-Convention Discussion Articles, Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 30, 28 July 1941, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Comrade Shachtman and the Political Committee changed erroneously the Workers Party line on the Russian question, thereby committing a tragic blunder in disorienting the party and the workers precisely at the time and wider the circumstances when our party’s position should and could have been clear, correct and effective in mobilizing the struggle against world imperialism.

Changes in party line are important when they either advance the struggle of the workers to a higher plane by new ideas, or bring a false orientation which derails the workers.

The Workers Party foresaw the possibility of a change in the World War of such an important character that the workers of the world would have to shift their strategy, to accomplish their main aim: destruction of world imperialism. The failure of the Political Committee to apply the strategy worked out by us in the past, since it is the correct strategy, constitutes the terrible mistake those comrades made.

When Will It Change? The whole present discussion of the Russian question becomes crystal clear, as do the points made above, by re-reading the Workers Party resolution printed in the March 1940 issue of The New International.

When would the character of this present World War change? Assume a dual form, so to speak?

“However, if the character of the war changes from one of inter-imperialist conflict, in which the Red Army acts as a pawn of one imperialist power and as an instrument of bureaucratic expansion, into a war determined by the capitalist imperialist politics of destruction of the Soviet state power and the reduction of Russia to a colony – that is, determined by the world antagonism of capitalist imperialism and Soviet nationalized economy -- our position would change correspondingly to the change in the character of the war.”

The character of the war changes when the destruction of Soviet state power and the reduction of Russia to a colony is directly involved. Then our party becomes defensist, so the resolution says.

Shachtman grants, to use his term, what is obvious to everyone who has read any newspaper or heard any radio report in the last two weeks: the destruction of Russia is directly and primarily involved.

What Kind of Defense?

Our party was committed in advance to defensism under the circumstance of Soviet Russia fighting primarily for its self-existence. The circumstance is present, clear and obvious to everyone.

But Shachtman now adds some words about the role of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Won’t it still play reactionary role?” the comrades ask, and isn’t this decisive?

“In such a war, the Stalinist bureaucracy, despite the fact that it continues to defend, in its own way. its power and revenue, would be conducting a progressive war,” the Workers Party resolution correctly pointed out.

In essence, I can place Shachtman’s warning about the role of Stalin and the bureaucracy only in the category of those ultra-left critics of the Marxist movement who objected to our support of China’s struggle for independence because Chiang Kai-shek was the “butcher” of the Chinese revolution.

The resolution continues. “The revolutionary working class would in this case adopt the position of the defense of the Soviet Union.”

Why? Even though nationalized property is involved, some comrades have asked.

“Our position would be dictated by which COINCIDE with the struggle to defend Soviet nationalized property from liquidation by ANY IMPERIALIST POWER or powers.”

Now Shachtman insists, if I understand his argument as printed in Labor Action, that he can be for defense only if all imperialist powers are against Soviet Russia, thereby missing the whole point, which is that what matters is that Soviet nationalized property be saved from liquidation, and not whether one or three powers try the liquidating.

How would we conduct the defense of the Soviet Union? This to answer the comrades who say you’ll be identified with the Stalinists in the eyes of the workers by being for defense, as though by itself that were a decisive argument.

“The defense of the Soviet Union would be conducted by us independently, without for a moment abandoning the political struggle against the counter-revolutionary bureaucracy.”

Re-read the entire Workers Party resolution on the Russian question. The comrades will see again what I point out here. Our party has a position on defensism in a mixed war such as exists today, that is down on black and white.

China and Russia

Let us hope that no comrade now proposes to revise the Marxian concept of mixed wars and our strategy as related thereto. It is succinctly stated in War and the Fourth International, another must on one’s reading list these days.

Since Shachtman points out that he is for the defense of China today against Japan as a representative of world imperialism, it is clear he doesn’t use the argument I’ve heard elsewhere that since Germany, England, America, etc., predominate on the world scene and they fight an imperialist war, therefore all related wars or struggles are secondary and don’t deserve support.

Just as Stalin’s military victory over Hitler would aid Britain, so would China’s successes against Japan weaken it in fighting American imperialism. But what is decisive in each case is that world imperialism gels a blow. Its unceasing attempts to find new markets to exploit, thereby prolonging its existence, are smashed down.

The revolutionary possibilities from Hitler’s defeat, or for that matter, Japan’s defeat in the Far East, as we at least always agreed on the Chinese question, make imperative the material support of the Soviet Union today, and also China.

If at a later stage in the war, Stalin’s armies go down to disastrous defeat, and he becomes a puppet of Anglo-American imperialism with decisive sections of the Soviet Union in Hitler’s hands, then the character of the war once again would change. Just as American influence over China can become so decisive that China functions solely as a puppet of American imperialism in its struggle against Japanese imperialism.

When that disastrous turn of the war takes place – and it is possible in both Soviet Russia’s role and China’s role – then the revolutionary movement will work out another strategy for defeating world imperialism. But for each day, the labor thereof.

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