Max Shachtman


On the Russian Question

(October 1939)

From SWP Internal Bulletin, Vol. II No. 3, 14 November 1939, pp. 1A–23A.
Copied with thanks from the Workers’ Liberty Website.
Marked up by A. Forse for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

In order to have a clear understanding of the present dispute, it is necessary to start with an account of how it originated and developed. It might have been possible to dispense with this aspect of the question if Comrade Cannon had not presented a completely distorted version of it.

Our differences did not develop out of thin air nor as a result of an arbitrary whim on the part of any comrade. It can, therefore, be understood only by a knowledge of the actual circumstances in which it arose.

The question now in dispute originated in reality at our last convention. As will be seen later, it is important to bear this date in mind.

As you know, prior to the convention and during its sessions we had no specific Russian discussion or special resolution. Formally the question was dealt with only to the extent that it was referred to in the program of transitional demands which the convention formally adopted. Apparently nobody deemed it necessary to raise the Russian question in the manner in which it had been discussed in the past.

However, it was raised in a new form, at least in one of its aspects, during the discussion on the international report which I delivered. Comrade Johnson in his speech dwelt on the question of our attitude towards Stalin’s policy and towards the Red Army in the event of an encroachment upon or an invasion of Poland, the Baltic countries, and other lands adjacent to the Soviet Union. This question was assuming an urgent character because of the negotiations between Stalin and England and France. Stalin was demanding that he be given the right to “guarantee” the Baltic countries and Poland from German attack. I emphasize the fact that this was at the time of the Soviet alliance with France and what appeared to be an impending al1iance with Anglo-French imperialism, that is to say, with the “democracies.”

Comrade Garter was the only delegate who took up the discussion on this point, and I referred to it in my summary, As I recall it, I said that it would be necessary to consider the question seriously, especially as it became increasingly pertinent, because the masses in Russia’s border states undoubtedly looked with the greatest suspicion, fear and hostility upon Stalin’s proposal to “guarantee them from aggression”. Nobody else took the floor on this point. I don’t know whether Cannon was disinterested in the question or did not consider it important at the time, but he did not say a word about it, either privately or on the convention floor.

Nothing came of this matter in any concrete form at the convention or immediately afterward because the issue was still somewhat vague. It was still in the realm of secret and obscure diplomatic discussion in the European capitals and chancelleries. In any case, it had not taken on such concrete form as to require from us an answer or perhaps even to make it possible for us to give that answer. But at least one important thing to bear in mind is that the very fact that it was raised at that time is sufficient by itself to dispose of the slanderous falsehood new disseminated by Cannon, and repeated in the internal bulletin by Goldman, that our resolution and standpoint implied a rejection of Stalin’s policy only because he is linked with fascist imperialism, and an acceptance of the policy if he had been linked with the democratic bandits. The question, I repeat, was first raised in the period of Stalin’s alliance with French imperialism, and if we did not present a concrete resolution it then it was only because it had not yet assumed concrete form.

It was only after the Stalin-Hitler pact was signed and the invasion of Poland had passed from the realm of possibility and speculation into the realm of living reality that the question assumed the most urgent importance and actuality. It is not correct that everybody took the events in his stride. The fact is all the leading comrades were greatly disturbed. At the August 22 meeting of the Political Committee, I moved, “That the next meeting of the P.C. begin with a discussion of our estimate of the Stalin-Hitler pact as related to our evaluation of the Soviet State and the perspectives of the future.” Nobody argued that there is nothing new in the situation. Nobody proposed a mere reaffirmation of our old line, My motion was carried unanimously, as a matter of course, so to speak. So that the record is given in full and no wrong impressions created among you, I point out that Comrade Cannon was not present at this meeting. His supporters were not so intransigent on the question then as they are now.

The next meeting of the P.C. took place after I had left on my brief tour on the Pact. That was September 1. The second world war had to all intents and purposes broken out and we were faced with enormous tasks and responsibilities. Comrade Gould, who was acting for a week or two in my place, made a series of motions for an immediate plenum, the aim of which was to put the party on a war footing, on the alert, for speeding the preparations to qualify the party for its multiplied tasks. Some of his motions were perhaps not feasible – that is possible, But the general line of them was absolutely correct and in order. Everybody present was in favour of an immediate plenum. The difference revolved only around the date a week earlier or a week later.

But it is most interesting to note that everybody agreed to put the Russian question on the agenda, and that Comrade Burnham was unanimously assigned to make the report on this question!

Now Burnham’s position on the Russian question is no secret to the party, even less so to the P.C. It was as well known in the past as it is now. His editorial in the New International, about which there has since been so much clamour, was already out. If the P.C. majority really and honestly thought there was nothing new in the situation, and if they really were ready to defend their old position without further ado, why in heaven’s name was Burnham assigned to make the report? It is entirely unprecedented in our movement to act in this way. If, for example, I am known as an avowed critic or opponent of the official party position on the trade union question, I would never be assigned by the Committee to report on this question to a plenum or a membership meeting. The Committee would assign a supporter of its position to report on it, and in a discussion I would be assigned to deliver a minority report. Why was a contrary procedure followed in the case of Burnham and the report on the Russian question?

The talk about our having created a crisis or a panic is completely absurd. In actuality it was these comrades who maintain that their political line is so clear, so unaltered, so uncompromising that they must have an organizational stranglehold on the N.C. and the P.C. – it was these comrades who showed themselves completely disoriented and incapable of giving the leadership they boast about. On precisely that question which they now claim marks the dividing line between the hard Bolshevik and the vacillating petty-bourgeois they demonstratively acknowledged their bankruptcy by failing to put forward one of their number to report and assigning it instead to Burnham. Again to keep the record accurate, Cannon was not present at the meeting.

Two days later, a special meeting was held to consider the question, this time with Cannon present. Although I was still on tour, I venture to speak from hearsay because his arguments were subsequently repeated upon my return. Cannon charged that the comrades were creating a panic for nothing, that they were hysterical, that there was nothing new in the situation. As for the plenum, he was against its immediate convocation for the above reasons and because, he said, it had to be prepared documentarily. Good. Two days later, at the September 5 meeting of the P.C., Burnham submitted his document on the character of the war and Russia’s role in it. Apart from this document, from my resolution, and Johnson’s statement, no other document was submitted for the plenum. Cannon submitted nothing, absolutely nothing, in the form of a resolution or thesis on the question, or for that matter on any other question on the agenda of the plenum; nor did anyone else. Was that because other comrades thought there really was nothing new in the situation? In my opinion, no. For on September 3, Cannon moved that Crux [Trotsky] be asked officially “to express himself on the Russian question in the light of recent events.” Furthermore, that Crux be familiarized with “the material submitted in the question” and that we “request his opinion before a decision is taken by the plenum.”

Now it seems to me that an obvious contradiction is present here. If there is nothing new in the situation, if all that is needed, as Cannon contended, is a reaffirmation of our previous position, then a decision of that kind could be taken without requesting Comrade Crux’s opinion and without making it dependant upon this opinion. The opinion would be, as it was, valuable, enlightening and important, it would be what you will, but yet it could not be of such a nature as to necessitate holding up a vote by us on the question.

The fact is that everybody was disturbed by the events and felt that the old line, even if correct, was not adequate. At the very least, something had to be added to it. And that was the only serious meaning contained in Cannon’s motions on Crux. It goes without saying that the request for Crux’s opinions was adopted unanimously. But I at least voted for the motion precisely because there was “something new” in the situation, and I was very anxious to read Crux’s analysis of it. Yet, I say that the motions were in conflict with Cannon’s views because at the very next meeting, on September 8, Cannon and his supporters came forward against a discussion of the Russian question – against any discussion. There is nothing particularly new in the situation, said Cannon, in the circular he sent out to the N.C. members commenting on Burnham’s resolution. A discussion at this time is a luxury we cannot afford, he said, in just those words. When Cannon says now that a discussion of a position such as Burnham put forward would be fruitful and educational, it simply does not square with his statements a month ago that a new discussion would be a luxury we cannot afford.

On September 12, at the first P.C. meeting to be held after my return from the speaking tour, there was a turnabout face. My motion on the plenum was carried without objection. I did not propose, as is stated, to call the plenum on the Russian question. The four points I proposed for an agenda – the war crisis, the work of the International, the Russian question, and the organization-press drive – were adopted virtually without discussion. Why? Because, I believe, among other things I reported that every N.C. member I spoke with on the road was also “panic-stricken”. Clarke and Solander in Detroit, comrades in Chicago, all were for an immediate plenum. In Minneapolis I signed a joint telegram with all the local N.C. members pointing out their readiness to come to a plenum almost immediately. There is not the slightest doubt that every responsible leading comrade outside New York felt that a plenum was urgently required to discuss the questions I mentioned.

In the middle of September the events precipitated the problem directly and concretely without waiting for us to get together a plenum. Stalin invaded Poland in alliance with Hitler. What was the party to say? What was its mouthpiece, the Appeal, to say? It is utter nonsense to argue that the membership of the party went blandly about its way, unmoved and uninterested in the events. They were intensely interested in the position the party would take on the invasion and there is not the slightest doubt in the world that the readers of the party press were equally interested. It was, of course, impossible for me to write in the Appeal on the basis of my personal opinion alone. I, therefore, called together all the available members of the staff and of the Political Committee. By its very nature the gathering could not be anything but informal. it could not adopt decisions on such a matter of policy and I announced both before and at the end of the meeting that I considered it a consultative body, that is to say, only the Political Committee could decide the line of our articles. After as through a discussion of the question as we could have under the circumstances it was generally agreed that an emergency meeting of the P.C. would have to be held to decide the question, if possible before the Appeal went to press.

That same evening, September 18, a special meeting was held. We were of the opinion that whatever the party’s basic estimate of the class nature of the Soviet State might be, a specific answer had to be given to the specific question. Comrade Burnham moved that the Appeal take the line that through its invasion of Poland the Red Army is participating integrally in the imperialist war, that is to say, that we condemn the invasion. That point of view was rejected by the majority of the Political Committee. Comrade Goldman presented the following motion: “Under the actual conditions prevailing in Poland, we approve of Stalin’s invasion of Poland as a measure of preventing Hitler from getting control of all of Poland and as a measure of defending the Soviet Union against Hitler. Between Hitler and Stalin, we prefer Stalin.” Comrade Goldman was the only one to vote for his motion. Yet his position was entirely consistent, consistent in particular with the traditional position of the party and the interpretation we had always placed upon it. But with his motion defeated, Goldman voted for the motion of Cannon.

And what was Cannon’s answer to the problem raised by the Polish invasion, the answer that the Political Committee adopted? Here is his motion in full: “The party press in its handling of Russia’s participation in the war in Poland shall do so from the point of view of the party’s fundamental analysis of the character of the Soviet State, and the role of Stalinism as laid down in the fundamental resolutions of the party’s foundation convention and the foundation congress of the Fourth International. The slogan of an independent Soviet Ukraine shall be defended as a policy wholly consistent with the fundamental line of defending the Soviet Union.”

Now I contend that this was no answer at all, or rather that it made possible a variety of answers. On the basis of this motion, a half dozen members of the Political Committee could write a half dozen different articles. We would repeat time and again that the Soviet Union is a workers’ state and that we are for its defence, but that did not answer the question uppermost in the minds of everybody: Do we support the invasion of Poland, or do we oppose it? Cannon categorically refused to give a reply to this question. His point of view was that it is purely a military question and that we were in no position to express ourselves affirmatively or negatively on it. Our task, said Cannon, is merely to explain. In support of this view, Gordon, for example, placed the invasion of Poland in the same category as the invasion of Belgium in 1914, and argued that there, too, we merely “explained” the invasion as an “episode” in the war as a whole but did not say that we were for it or against it. (It might be remarked parenthetically that even in this comparison Gordon was wrong because the internationalists did not hesitate even in the case of Belgium to condemn the invasion by Germany, even though the invasion of Poland by Stalin is not on the same footing.)

At the same meeting I moved that the Committee “endorse the general line of the September 18 editorial” in the Appeal which I had written. Cannon and his supporters rejected the motion Cannon voting against it and the others abstaining. Why? For the simple reason that I condemned the invasion in the very mildest terms. I had characterized the reports that Stalin was moving to the aid of Hitler as a “sinister plan.” Cochrane took objection to this phrase. He motivated his abstention on the basis of it. He considered it too strong. The very next day the press carried reports of a statement made by Trotsky in Mexico condemning the invasion as shameful and criminal.

At the meeting we pointed out that the inadequate and evasive motion of Cannon would meet its first test twenty four hours later at the mass meeting which Goldman was scheduled to address and at which questions would undoubtedly be asked about the party’s attitude towards the invasion. But the Committee refused to take any steps to deal with this matter. The result was that when Goldman awoke the next day, September 19, he not only declared at a public meeting that there was a dispute in the party on the subject and that we were calling a plenum to settle it, but also that the Political Committee disagreed with Trotsky in condemning the invasion. And as you know, in the article which Cannon was assigned to write for the Appeal on the subject, he carefully refrained from characterising or condemning the invasion and confined himself merely to rejecting the Stalinist contention that the result of the invasion would be the liberation of the Ukrainians and the White Russians.

Finally we came to the P.C. meeting on the eve of the plenum. The document which we awaited from Comrade Crux had not arrived. We had the Burnham resolution on the subject, but the majority, which had insisted on the need of preparing material prior to the plenum, had no resolution whatsoever to offer. I could not subscribe entirely to the Burnham resolution, and I announced that I would offer one of my own on the invasion of Poland. When the question of reporters arose, Burnham announced that he would either write a different resolution or support one that would be introduced. This announcement occasioned no astonishment or criticism at that time. At the same meeting, confronted with the fact that the majority had no document at all to present to the plenum on the Russian question, Cannon presented the following motion as his resolution: “We reaffirm the basic analysis of the nature of the Soviet State and the role of Stalinism, and the political conclusions drawn from this analysis as laid down in the previous decisions of our party convention and the program of the Fourth International.” This was the sole contribution made by the majority.

To sum up, therefore, the Political Committee confined itself to a simple-reiteration of the traditional party position not as a basis for giving concrete answers to concrete questions, but as a substitute for these answers; that is, it failed and refused to give an answer to the specific questions posed by the events. To the extent that it tried to give one, it was false and spread confusion or else left matters hanging in the air. Cannon’s article in the Appeal is one example. Goldman’s speech at the New York mass meeting is another. If that is the meaning of revolutionary leadership on the issues of the day, I have nothing in common with it.

Now as to the actual contents of the dispute. One way of approaching the question is from the angle of the so called unprincipled bloc that we have formed. The argument runs about as follows: Burnham says that the Soviet Union is not a workers’ state. Shachtman says he does not raise this question. Consequently, the minority is a bloc and an unprincipled one. I regard the charge as unprincipled bunk. While I have not and do not raise the question of revising the party’s fundamental position on the nature of the Soviet State, I was and am ready to discuss the question. The fact is that I requested such a discussion and the minority supported me in this request. We proposed that the pages of the New International, our theoretical organ, be opened up for such a discussion. This was at first refused and granted only at the plenum. Why am I not in favour of centring the present discussion around that question here? Because I do not think it is necessary. In fact, under the circumstances I do not think it would be fruitful. The way in which the discussion has already been started indicates to me that it would only serve to obscure the real issue and dispute at hand. In what sense do I mean this? (Burnham is new being condemned for having withdrawn his document. But this withdrawal actually occurred on the basis of the advice of Comrade Crux and on my advice).

In a brief letter to the Political Committee which arrived before his main document, Comrade Crux pointed out that in so far as the dispute was “terminological” no practical political question could be altered by changing the formula “workers’ state” to the formula “not workers’ state” or “bureaucratic caste” to “class”. He said, granted that it is not a workers’ state: granted that it is a class and not a caste. What change would then be introduced into our political conclusions? The opponents, as Crux pointed out, would have gained an “empty victory” and would not know what to do with it.

I do not begin to deny the importance even of the “terminological dispute” if only because we must strive for the strictest scientific accuracy in our characterizations. But under the circumstances, that is, of the need of answering the questions raised by the Polish invasion, such a dispute could very easily degenerate into a sterile and purely terminological discussion. That can already be seen by the manner in which the question has been presented. A workers’ state is defined as a social order based upon nationalized property. On that basis, many comrades conclude that the whole problem is exhausted. That being the definition of a workers’ state, the Soviet Union is a workers’ state. Thus we do not advance an inch.

Why would such a discussion be sterile at the moment? Because it would not and does not necessarily alter one’s political conclusions. Trotsky pointed that out and so do I. The political question is: Will you defend the Soviet Union? Whereupon it must be asked: What do we defend? The only remaining conquest of the Russian Revolution is nationalized property. Now there is not a soul in our party who stands for the denationalization of property in the Soviet Union – not Burnham, not Cannon, not Shachtman, not Johnson. The only question that can possibly be in dispute is – How do we defend nationalized property?

Let us take the question from another angle. The fundamental position of the party, no matter how often reiterated, does not provide us automatically with an answer to the concrete questions. For example, Goldman, Cannon, Trotsky, all proceed from the fundamental conception that the Soviet Union is a workers’ state. Yet Goldman approved the invasion, Cannon was indifferent to it, considering it a purely military question which we were incapable of judging, whereas Trotsky denounced the invasion. It was for such reasons that Burnham was, therefore, prevailed upon to withdraw his thesis from the present discussion, to withhold it for another and more suitable occasion and place, to confine the discussion of the questions that he and others have raised to the the theoretical organ of the party.

In this connection I was challenged by Cannon: Why don’t you propose to expel Burnham as a defeatist? I made a motion two or three years ago declaring defeatist views are incompatible with membership in the party, and Cannon supported me in that position. I do not propose such a motion now. Cannon says that I speak equally well on both sides of the question. By the same token, he can speak well on one side of the question at one time and be silent on it at another. Why doesn’t he propose the expulsion of the defeatists? But, it is argued, you make a bloc with Burnham against Cannon and Goldman, with whom you are in fundamental agreement. The argument is not valid.

In 1925–26 the Sapronovist group of Democratic Centralists declared in its platform that the revolution was over. The Thermidor had triumphed. Russia was no longer a workers’ state. Yet when the opposition bloc was formed in 1926 by the Moscow and Leningrad groups, the Democratic Centralists entered into the bloc. If they broke from it later, it was on their initiative – “artificially”, said Trotsky, and not on his initiative. He opposed the break, as he pointed out in 1929 in a letter to one of the supporters of the Democratic Centralist group. If he joined with them in one bloc, it was because all supporters of the bloc jointly gave the right answers to the concrete questions before the party. In my opinion, that is what we have to do now. I could vote a hundred times over, just as Goldman does, for the “fundamental motion” of Cannon. So can Abern and Erber and others. But I cannot give the same answer to the problems that Goldman gave or that Cannon gave. And that makes it impossible for me and all others to join with the them just as it makes it mandatory for me and all others to join with these who give the same answer.

But does not that deprive you of a fundamental position from which to derive your policies? Not at all. There are fundamental criteria for a revolutionary Marxist which are just as valid now as they were a year ago and twenty five years ago, even before the Russian Revolution. The first is the fundamental and decisive character of the war in question, and we say that the decisive character of the present war is imperialist. And secondly our policies in all questions must be derived from the fundamental conception of the interests of the world socialist revolution, to which all other interests are subordinate and secondary.

Before I can return to this question I find it necessary to deal again with the point: Is there anything new in the situation to cause us to change our policy? Yes! And in reality everybody acknowledges it, if not explicitly then tacitly.

Is it because of the pact with Hitler? If so, then you are a People’s Fronter. No, that is a slander. I have already pointed out that the questions we now raise were first raised three months ago, at the time of the Soviet alliance with the democratic imperialists. No, it is not the pact itself that changes the situation. I have pointed out a hundred times in articles and speeches that an isolated Soviet State not only may but often must conclude commercial, diplomatic, and even military agreements with imperialist powers, and that there is not a particle of difference in principle between an agreement with a democratic country, a fascist country or a feudal country. So it is not the pact itself that necessitates a change in our policy. It is the concreteness of the events and it is doubtful that we could have foreseen them in their actuality. And the actuality, if only because of its concreteness, is different from our necessarily limited prognoses as different as arithmetic is from algebra.

As I understand it, that is how Lenin dealt with the reality of the democratic revolution in Russia. His prognosis about the “democratic dictatorship” did not and could not conform with the concrete reality. He had no hesitation in altering his political conclusions to suit that reality. I can give many other examples. It is argued that there is no need to be surprised at the events and no need to modify our policy because we foresaw them. Before 1914 Lenin foresaw the degeneration of the Second International. But it was only after August 4, when the Second International ranged itself openly and, so to speak, dramatically on the side of imperialism that he proposed a change in policy, that is to say, to withdraw from the Second International to which he had belonged and to call for a Third International.

Another example. Trotsky saw and foresaw the degeneration of the Third International. In Germany Stalinism betrayed the proletariat and the revolution no more than it had betrayed them in China six years earlier. Yet although we retained our fundamental views on the principles of revolutionary Marxism, we broke with the Comintern not on the occasion of the Chinese betrayal but on the occasion of the German. It is argued against us now that we propose a change in policy only because the alliance is made with the fascist imperialists and that we did not propose such a change when the alliance was made with the democratic imperialists four years ago. One could just as legitimately argue that we considered it all right for the Stalinists to betray Chinese coolies but not to betray the superior white workers of Germany. Both arguments are equally wrong. What was involved in both cases was an accumulation, precipitated in the form of a concrete event or a series of events.

Similarly in the case of the invasion of Poland and the Baltic countries. In the period of the pact with France, the question was essentially theoretical and we could put forward only hypotheses. It is true Stalin was then also an agent of imperialism. But the war and the concrete events attending it had not yet broken out. Years ago the Stalinist regime indicated that it might or would act in the way it has now really acted, just as before the war of 1914 the social democracy indicated that it might or would act the way it finally did when the war broke out.

The challenge to present some fundamental change in the situation is in this case either superficial or irrelevant. As I understand our basic position, it always was to oppose separatist tendencies in the Federated Soviet Republics. Now I ask: what fundamental change occurred, what was the nature of this change, and when did it occur, to cause us to raise the slogan of an independent united Soviet Ukraine, that is to say, a separatist slogan?

Another example: when and why did we decide in favour of a political revolution in Russia? Because of the imprisonment or the shooting of Zinoviev? No. That is so much nonsense. We changed our policy on that question because an accumulation of things dictated that change.

Take the question from still another angle. I do not have to be instructed on the admissibility of a workers’ state extending the revolution to other countries, even by military means and without regard for frontiers laid down in imperialist treaties, or for that matter any other kind of frontiers. I have taught that to thousands of people. But I point out that throughout the early years of the Bolshevik movement we hailed the advances of the Red Army into other countries. when the Red Army marched into Poland in 1920, then regardless of whether or not it was tactically correct, we hailed its progress enthusiastically. We called upon them to weaken and destroy the Polish army and to facilitate the victory of the Red Army. We took the same position when the Red Army invaded Georgia; We said then that “democratic” considerations about which international menshevism howled so much were entirely subordinate (if they were involved at all in the Georgian case) to socialist considerations. We denounced the opponents and critics of the Red Army. We justified the entry of the Red Army into Georgia.

Now, if there is nothing new in the situation, why does not the majority propose to hail the advance of the Red Army into Poland, into the Baltic countries, into Finland? Why don’t we call upon the workers and peasants of these countries to welcome the Red Army, to facilitate its victory, to help destroy all the obstacles that stand in the way of this victory?

Again we endorsed Stalin’s seizure of the Chinese Eastern Railway in 1929. We defended the action from all varieties of democratic and “revolutionary” critics who pointed out that the railway was Chinese or partly Chinese, and that the Chinese were not consulted about the seizure. Why don’t we by the same token endorse the seizure of Poland and other countries by Stalin today? What is new in the situation? The refusal even of the majority to take the same position today that we all took in 1920 and even in 1929 indicates that at least in this respect the burden of proof about what is new in the situation rests upon the majority.

I cannot take seriously the argument of the majority that the only thing really new in the situation is that people in the party are succumbing to “democratic pressure.” That there is an enormous democratic pressure being exerted upon the labour movement and even our movement is undeniable. That it is necessary to guard against yielding to that pressure is equally true. But it is necessary not only to guard against that pressure but to fight against it. How? We must first recognise that the whole policy of Stalin facilitates the work of democratic demagogues. As in the past they exploit Stalinist crimes and the resentment against them felt by the working class in order to bring the working class more completely under the sway of imperialist and anti-Bolshevik ideology. We can combat the efforts of the democratic imperialists’ agents only by a correct and unambiguous policy of our own and not by mere denunciation. We can combat them only by pointing out that Stalin’s course has nothing in common with ours. Only by condemning the Stalinist invasion as an act which is contrary not only to the interests of the international working class but to the interests of the Soviet Union itself. We cannot combat it – the workers will rightly turn their backs on us – if we endorse Stalin’s action, if we condone it, or even if we appear to do so.

Now as to the slogan of unconditional defence which we must now abandon, in my opinion, unless we mean to keep the formula and by means of sophistry to fill it with a new content. What did this slogan mean to us in the past? Goldman says now: “I repeat. It was taken for granted that the slogan of defending the Soviet Union applied only in case of war by a capitalist nation against the Soviet Union.” Let us grant that for a moment and we shall see who it is that unwittingly yields to the pressure of democratic patriotism and to the pacifist distinction between wars of aggression and of defence.

What we really meant in the past when we said we were for unconditional defence was this: We are for defeatism in the enemy country and patriotism in the Red Army. In the Red Army we are the best soldiers. we are for the victory of the Red Army and for the defeat of its enemy, and that regardless of who “started the war.” We never asked who struck the first blow or who first crossed his own frontiers. By Soviet patriotism we also meant that we call upon the soldiers and population of the enemy to give active support to the Red Army; that we call for sabotage in the country and in the army of the Red Army’s enemy. Isn’t that what we always said and meant in the past by our slogan?

Now why didn’t we and don’t we say that in the case of Poland, or tomorrow, in the case of Finland? Isn’t Poland a capitalist country? Isn’t it an imperialist power? Isn’t it an ally of the democratic imperialists opposed to Russia? In accordance with our old conception, we should have called upon the Polish masses to welcome the Red Army. Why didn’t we? Was it because Russia was the military aggressor? But we have not ever and we should not now draw any basic distinctions between defence and aggression, and Cannon was a thousand times right in pointing out that Marxian platitude, as he so very often is.

Further. Why don’t we take that line in the ease of the Baltic countries – Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia? They are capitalist countries, they are tools of one or another imperialist bloc. If they are engaged in any kind of struggle – regardless, I repeat, of who fired the first shot or who first crossed frontiers – it is obviously a question of war between the Soviet Union and a capitalist power. In that case, by unconditional defence we must mean, as we always did in the past, that we are for the victory of the Red Army. Surely we never took the position in the past that we gave unconditional defence of the Soviet Union only when the troops of a capitalist power take the initiative in the struggle and cross into the territory of the Soviet Union. By virtue of our old position, we should fight for the victory of the Red Army and simultaneously for the defeat of the opposing armies. The majority is simply not consistent with itself. While holding to the old conception, it has adopted a document which says that we are opposed to the seizures of new territory by the Kremlin. According to Comrade Trotsky, the Stalinist invasion was shameful and criminal, that is to say, we condemn it. Now we would not condemn Russia for invading Germany, would we? And if Poland had first attacked, militarily, the Soviet Union, I do not believe we would condemn Stalin or the Red Army for repulsing this attack and pushing the Polish Army back to Warsaw or further. Why would we? Would it be because in that case Poland was the “aggressor," whereas in the actual case Russia was the “aggressor”?

Again. Comrade Goldman said his error, which he now acknowledges, consisted in supporting the invasion under the impression that it was not done in agreement with Hitler. When he became convinced that it was done in agreement with Hitler, he opposed it. It seems to me that Comrade Goldman replaces here one error with another. If that is his motivation for opposing the invasion, then at the very least we overlooked an important problem in failing to oppose a similar step when Stalin sought to take it in agreement with Daladier and Chamberlain. That was precisely the point that was dealt with by Comrades Johnson, Carter and myself at the last convention. Certainly the reason we failed to act at that time could not have been based upon the fact that Stalin planned his action in alliance with the democratic imperialists.

You give no answer to the concrete questions! Trotsky says: “We were and we remain against seizures of new territories by the Kremlin.” Goldman says now: All right, but it’s all over now in Poland; consequently, the basis for the dispute has been removed. Unfortunately this is not the case. If we are against such seizures, we are against them not only after they take place but also before. It is radically false to think that Poland was an incidental or accidental episode in the war, an episode of no characteristic importance. Yesterday it was Poland and today the Baltic countries, tomorrow and the day after, Finland, Rumania, Afghanistan, India, China, and other countries. The same problem will arise continually and with it the necessity of giving an answer far more concrete than we were systematically given by the majority of the P.C.

Do not think for a moment that you can dispose of such questions the way Cannon tried to do today. I was shocked when I heard him say half jokingly, “off the record”, that the best thing that could happen to Finland would be to wipe it off the map altogether. That is a piece of first-class political cynicism. I am not a Finnish patriot any more than I am a Polish patriot. But as a revolutionary Marxist I am at the same time a consistent democrat. I am ready to subordinate democratic considerations only to socialist and internationalist considerations. I have no hesitation at all in saying that I am concerned not only with the socialist revolution but also with the national and democratic rights of Finland and the Baltic countries. I am prepared to subordinate even these rights to the interests of the socialist revolution if and where the two conflict. I am not ready to subordinate them to the interests of the Stalinist bureaucracy.

Decisive in politics is not only the “what” but also the “who.” I am damned particular as to who “liberates” countries like Danzig or the Sudetenland. Under Hitler the right of self-determination “triumphed” in appearance. In actuality reaction triumphed. And when Stalin invades Poland it is the Stalinist counter-revolution that has triumphed.

Your policy or rather your lack of policy makes it impossible for us to talk intelligibly or effectively to the masses of these countries who are threatened by Stalinist seizures or invasion. I want to see the party and the International adopt a policy which enables us to advance the cause of international revolution in these countries. We say in our international program that the anti-Hitlerite patriotism of the masses in the bourgeois countries has something potentially progressive in it. I want to be able to say to the masses of Russia’s border states:

“Your anti-Stalinist patriotism has something potentially progressive about it. Your fear of a Stalinist invasion, your hostility to it, is entirely justified. You are not so ignorant that you do not know what Stalin’s rule over you would mean. You must resist any attempt, military or political, to establish that rule. You must fight against the Red Army and not for its victory, if it seeks to establish Stalin’s domination over you. But I say to you, your present patriotism is only potentially progressive. You cannot and must not fight against Stalinism under the rule of your own bourgeoisie, be it in Poland or Latvia or Finland, because that bourgeoisie is imperialist or the agent of imperialism. You must resist being driven into slavery under Stalin. So fight for power in your land. Win over the army and establish an army of your own, the people’s militia, and fight for your own socialist cause.”

It is true that by this line I will not succeed in having a revolution in Poland or Finland overnight. But if I reach two workers with it I will have brought them one stop closer to the goal they must attain, and that is what should be the purpose of any political line. The majority says: We will not approve and we will not condemn. We will merely “explain” the invasion. I say: Resist. Fight the Stalinist army under your own independent class banner. Fight them because they have imposed upon them the execution of an imperialist policy.

At this point the majority objects. The term “imperialist policy” cannot be applied to the Stalin regime. Comrade Goldman adds that while the term may be used in a broad or journalistic sense, it is incorrect because it may be deduced from this term that the Soviet Union is a capitalist imperialist state. That may well be. I do not deny it. But it does not necessarily follow, for otherwise many of our characterizations would have to be rejected on the same grounds. In the first place I am not the first one to have used this term in our movement. Only a couple of years ago, in a discussion with a Chinese comrade about the dangers of Stalinist intervention in China, the question was asked by the comrades: does that mean that Stalin can follow an imperialist policy in China? To which Trotsky replied: Those who are capable of perpetrating the Moscow frame-ups are capable of anything. Could not a “capitalist imperialist Soviet State” also be deduced from this entirely correct statement?

We say that Stalin has adopted the political methods of fascism. Stalin’s regime is closer to the political regime of fascism than to any other we have ever known. From this statement, often repeated by us, some people have deduced that fascism rules in Russia. But this has not altered our characterization of the Stalin regime. We say in one and the same breath that Hitler’s regime is totalitarian, Mussolini’s regime is totalitarian, Stalin’s regime is totalitarian. I still believe that this is entirely accurate. The false deductions that some make from these statements do not mean that the statements are wrong.

We say that there is a Bonapartist regime in Germany and in Russia. I recall that when Trotsky first presented the formula of Soviet Bonapartism, he was criticized by many comrades. They argued that his Bonapartism covers too many different things. He replied that while neither Marx, Engels or Lenin had ever applied the term Bonapartism to the workers’ state that was not to be wondered at; they never had occasion to, although Lenin did not hesitate to apply terms of a bourgeois regime with the necessary qualifications to the workers’ state, as, for example, “Soviet state capitalism.” Bonapartism, said Trotsky, is an exact, scientific, sociological characterization of the Soviet regime. Yet it may very easily be objected that it follows from this characterization that the Soviet Union is a bourgeois state.

Again. Trotsky points out – and I think it is right even though Comrade Weber characterized it as stupid – that in one sense the Soviet Union is a bourgeois state just as in another it is a workers’ state. Elsewhere he says that the bureaucracy which has the state as its private property is a bourgeois bureaucracy. Shouldn’t we reject these characterizations because of what some people may deduce from them as to the nature of the Soviet State?

It is in accordance with this spirit that we say Stalin is pursuing an imperialist policy. In two senses. In the first place, he is acting as a tool of imperialism, an agent of imperialism. To that characterization nobody seems to take objection. Stalin crushed Poland jointly with Hitler. The spoils of their victories are being jointly divided throughout eastern Europe. But also, in another sense, he is pursuing an “independent” imperialist policy of his own. To my characterisation, Comrade Weiss among others answers that there is no such thing and can be no such thing as imperialism except as a policy of decaying monopoly capitalism. That reply is correct only in one sense; namely, that the policy of monopoly capitalism is the modern form of imperialism. But there was imperialist policy long before monopoly capitalism and long before capitalism itself. “Colonial policy and imperialism,” said Lenin, “existed before this latest stage of capitalism and even before capitalism. Rome, founded on slavery, pursued a colonial policy and realized imperialism.” It is entirely correct, in my opinion, to characterize the Stalinist policy as imperialist, provided, of course, that one points out its specific character, that is, wherein it differs from modern capitalist imperialism. For, as I have insisted on several occasions, I do not identify Stalin with Hitler, Chamberlain or Roosevelt.

Stalin has showed himself capable of pursuing imperialist policy. That is the fact. The Kremlin bureaucracy has degenerated beyond all prediction. when we say it has interests all its own, we do not only mean that they are diametrically opposed to the interests of the proletariat but that these interests are very specific. They also have a specific economic basis. Like every bureaucracy, the Stalinist is interested in increasing the national income not in order to raise the standard of living of the masses but in order to increase its own power, its own wealth, its own privileges. In its struggle for self preservation not only from the living forces of the proletariat and peasantry in the Soviet Union, but also from the consequences of the chronic economic crisis in the country, it is now seeking new territories, new wealth, new privileges, new power, new sources of raw material, new trade facilities, new sources of labour power. A policy of expansion which under Lenin and Trotsky would mean extending the basis of the socialist revolution means under the Stalinist bureaucracy, degenerated and reactionary to the core, a policy of imperialism. That is, it has an imperialist policy peculiar to the Soviet regime in its present stage of decay.

Now, that is as close to a characterization of it as I can come. How do you characterize this policy? What is your political or sociological definition of it? You do not give any. Bonapartism, too, is not 100 per cent exact. The analogy upon which it is based is like all great historical analogies a limited one, but it is close enough; it is an approximation and no improvement upon it has yet been made. Similarly with the term imperialist. Until a better term is found to describe the present Stalinist policy and you have proposed neither a better one or any at all I shall persist in using the one which I have put forward.

These are the considerations which in our opinion make it impossible for us to continue employing the slogan for the unconditional defence of the Soviet Union in the sense in which we construed it in the past. It is that sense which dictated the attitude of the majority, most explicitly, consistently and not accidentally expressed in the position taken by Comrade Goldman.

It is, of course, entirely true that a fundamental line is required for a correct approach to all concrete political problems. That fundamental line must be in general the interests of the world socialist revolution. In so far as the war itself is concerned, we must proceed from the fundamental and decisive character of the war, and judging it by that standard it is necessary to characterize the war as imperialist in its decisive aspects. I say, “in its decisive aspects,” because in all modern wars there are, so to speak, conflicting elements. Let me take a well known example: In the last world war, Lenin contended in 1914 that if the struggle had been confined as to a duel between Serbia and Austro-Hungary, on the part of Serbia the progressive element of struggle for national unity would have been decisive, that is, revolutionists would have wished for the victory of Serbia, even of the Serbian bourgeoisie. But scarcely had that war started than it was extended throughout Europe. The progressive element represented by Serbia’s national aspirations was lost in the midst of the struggle for imperialist mastery between the two big blocs. That is, the character of the war changed. In its decisive aspects it was imperialist. Serbia was nothing more than part of one of the imperialist camps.

Another example is furnished by the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Bismarck’s struggle against Napoleon III for the establishment of a united German nation was historically progressive. But when Bismarck proceeded to take Alsace-Lorraine, the character of the war changed, so to speak, and was condemned by Marx and Engels. Now the present war may and in all probability will also change. Our resolution foresees that and provides for it. If the character of the war changes into a war of imperialist attack upon the Soviet Union, the position of the revolutionary party must change accordingly. Comrade Cannon notes that this is contained in our resolution, but instead of recognizing it for its real and simple significance, he devotes himself to scathing remarks about the phrase “bourgeois counter-revolution is on the order of the day.” For this obviously true statement I am denounced as a pessimist. Why? Trotsky used exactly the same phrase more than two years ago. As far back as then he said that if Franco wins in Spain, the bourgeois counter revolution will be on the order of the day in the Soviet Union. I deeply resent the attitude which accepts without a word a phrase or formula or concept uttered by Comrade Trotsky, and for purely factional reasons condemns those who merely repeat the phrase as pessimists, if not worse. If the character of the war changes, I repeat, and if the bourgeois counter revolution has not triumphed in Russia, we will defend the Soviet Union from imperialist attack.

It may be asked: How can you defend a country that has pursued an imperialist policy? The class struggle is not as simple as it is implicitly represented by that question. Under certain circumstances, we have done that in the past; we will do it in the future. Even in the case of Spain, which none of us believed to be a workers’ state of any kind, we were for the “defence” of Azana and his regime in our own way and by our own methods, even though that same regime was openly imperialist and still claimed imperialist domination over the colonies of Spain. With all the greater reason, with all the greater force, will the policy of defence apply in the case of an imperialist attack upon the Soviet Union.

I have said that Stalin is following an imperialist policy in two senses, in that he is a tool of imperialism, rather an agent of imperialism, and that his own policy is imperialist. I have at the same time denied the foolish charge that we consider this policy identical with the imperialism of Hitler or Chamberlain. No, there is imperialism and imperialism, just as there is Bonapartism and Bonapartism.

As a matter of fact I believe that the key to the imperialist policy of the Stalinist bureaucracy is to be found in the historical analogy with Bonapartism. The analogy between the Stalinist regime and the old Bonapartist regime has been used repeatedly by Comrade Trotsky and by our press in general. Given certain limitations, and allowing for the necessary changes, the analogy is both correct and illuminating, Bonaparte came to power to safeguard the social rule of the bourgeoisie by expropriating it politically. The bourgeoisie admitted, in Marx’s words, that in order to preserve its social power unhurt its political power must be broken. Yet though Bonaparte came to power to preserve the social rule of the bourgeoisie, Marx pointed out that the third Napoleon represented an economic class, the most numerous in France at that time, the allotment farmer. To be sure, the farmers then as now, were a class only in a limited sense. Like Bonaparte Stalin represents not what is revolutionary but what is conservative in the farmer and in all other groups upon which his regime rests. In order to perpetuate his domination, Bonaparte carried out a policy which Marx characterized as the “imperialism of the farmer class,” that is, the policy or hope of opening up new markets at the point of the bayonet, so that with the plunder of a continent the dictator would “return to the farmer class with interest the taxes wrung from them.”

Now it may be argued that imperialism is a class policy. In the interests of what class, it may be asked, does Stalin carry out this so-called imperialist policy? Let us assume the legitimacy of this question for a moment. Here, too, we can find illumination in the analogy with the Bonapartist regime. Like the second Bonaparte, Stalin “is forccd to raise alongside the actual classes of society, an artificial class, to which the maintenance of his own regime must be a knife and fork question.” I do not believe that the Stalinist bureaucracy represents a new class, in any case none comparable with the great historic classes of society like the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. But in the sense in which Marx used the term to describe the Bonapartist bureaucracy, so, too, the Stalinist is an “artificial class.” It seeks new resources of labour and of raw materials, markets, seaports, gold stores, and the like. It is compelled in life to recognize what it denies in theory, the impossibility of constructing a socialist society – even that caricature of socialism represented by the present regime – in one country. As a bureaucracy, increasingly separated from the masses because increasingly threatened by them it is interested in a growing national income only for its own sake. Only in order to enhance its privileges and power – economic, social and political. But its own existence, its own rule, constitutes the greatest brake on the development of the productive forces and consequently on the national income. Hence, its growing urge to expand and to resolve its crisis abroad. And where the earlier Bolsheviks sought to resolve the crisis abroad in a socialist internationalist sense, by spreading the revolution, by raising the spirit of the class struggle abroad, the Stalinist regime seeks to resolve its domestic crisis by a policy which we cannot characterize as anything but imperialist. It is substantially on the basis of this analysis alone that we can consistently oppose what Trotsky calls “new seizures of territories by the Kremlin.” It is on the basis of such an analysis that we are able to tell the masses or their vanguard what to do both before and after the Stalinist invasions.

And what policy shall we advance for the Russian masses? There, too, I do not believe we advance very far by the simple reiteration of the formula of unconditional defence. I would say to the Russian worker or soldier: The Stalinist bureaucracy is hurting Russia. It is discrediting the revolution in the Soviet Union throughout the working class of the world, which it is driving into the arms of the imperialist bourgeoisie. It is using you as tools of imperialism. The task that you are performing now under Stalin’s command is an ignominious and reactionary one. Unite with the Ukrainian workers and peasants in the territory you have been sent to conquer and jointly overturn the Stalin regime in order to establish a genuine Soviet power. And I would say this to them tomorrow in the case of an invasion of Finland or India.

But I am now asked by Goldman and Cannon: You give no answer in your document to what should be our policy towards the defence of property nationalized by Stalin after the invasion. Is it progressive or reactionary? I cannot characterize this question, considering who are its authors, as anything but impudence. The majority refused to give an answer to any concrete question. We at least tried to give an answer to some of the concrete questions. However, in so far as the question has an independent merit of its own, it presents no difficulties for us. Naturally nationalization of property is progressive as against private property, just as the freeing of the serfs by Alexander III was progressive as against the enslavement of the serfs. I would resist any attempt to reduce emancipated peasants to serfdom again. And it goes without saying that I would defend nationalised property. But I must continue to emphasise that the questions of today are not answered or successfully evaded by necessarily hypothetical questions about tomorrow. However important the latter undeniably are, they do not eliminate the urgency of today’s problems and the problem of a Hitler attack against the Ukraine was and is the question of tomorrow.

The question of Stalin’s invasion of Poland and of the Baltic countries is the question of today, and that is the one we must answer first and that is the one the majority failed and still refuses to answer.

I find very interesting and important the formulation in Comrade Trotsky’s latest document that we subordinate the overthrow of Stalin to the defence of nationalized property and planned economy, and we subordinate the defence of planned economy and nationalized property to the interests of the world revolution. I should like to ask a question about that formula. What is meant in it by “subordinate,” especially in the phrase dealing with the subordination of the defence of the Soviet Union, that is, of nationalized property, to the interests of the world socialist revolution? Now my understanding of our position in the past was that we vehemently deny any possible conflict between the two. The defence of Russia was always and unalterably in the interests of the world revolution, and especially against the Stalinists we maintained that the would revolution was the best way to defend the Soviet Union. But I never understood our position in the past to mean that we subordinate the one to the other. If I understand English, the term implies either that there is a conflict between the two or the possibility of such a conflict. If there is a possibility of such a conflict, and I believe there is (it has already been shown in life), that indicates again that we cannot continue maintaining the slogan of unconditional defence of the Soviet Union. By that slogan in the past we meant nothing more than this, that we place no conditions to our defence of the Soviet Union, that is, we do not say we will defend the Soviet Union on the condition that the Stalin regime is first removed. If I understand the meaning of Comrade Trotsky’s new formula, it is this: we defend the Soviet Union on the condition that it is to the interests of the world socialist revolution; that it does not conflict with those interests; and that where it does conflict with those interests, the latter remain primary and decisive, and the defence of the Soviet Union is secondary and subordinate.

I should be very much interested in having the comrades of the majority give me concrete examples of conditions under which they would subordinate the defence of the Soviet Union to the interests of the world revolution. Give me one or two, and by an example I do not mean the case of, let’s say, a political revolution of the workers and peasants in Russia against the Stalin regime. How can that be interpreted as subordinating the defence of nationalized property to the interests of the world revolution? We have said in the past at least that the political revolution against the Stalin bureaucracy is not a blow against its economic foundations but that it is the best way, and, in fact, the only really sound and fundamental way in which to defend these economic foundations. The two concepts in that case are not in conflict. There cannot be in that case any question of subordinating the one to the other. The interests of both are identical.

Until concrete examples are given by the majority, and until the other questions I have raised are answered, and answered objectively and convincingly, I continue to contend that our slogan of unconditional defence of the Soviet Union has been proved by events, by reality, to be false and misleading, to be harmful, and that therefore it must be abandoned by our party. we must adopt in its place a slogan which is clear, which is defendable, and which makes possible a correct policy in harmony with our revolutionary internationalist position.

I want to turn now in my concluding remarks to other questions raised in the discussion on the Russian question and related to it. We are accused of many things.

We create constant crises, we are panic-stricken at every turn of events, and so forth. These charges I have already taken up in my presentation, and upon another occasion I will take them up in even greater detail.

Our charge against the majority, however, is of a different nature and we describe it politically as bureaucratic conservatism. There have been numerous manifestations of this in the past and especially in the recent past. We have found that whenever a proposal is made for implementing the party policy or for establishing a new line of policy or action, we are immediately confronted with the accusation that this creates a “crisis”. We had that at the last national convention, where a perfectly normal and proper, and, in my opinion, still necessary proposal to establish an organizational department with an organization secretary was met with a barrage of attack. Instead of a calm discussion on the proposal, the convention was thrown into a turmoil in which we were accused of not understanding the A.B.C. of Bolshevik organization. To the extent that the discussion on the proposal was taken out of this “theoretical” realm, it was rejected on the grounds that no qualified comrade was available for the position in question. Our proposal that Comrade X be considered for the post was condemned, and we were condemned along with it because of our alleged lack of appreciation of the importance of trade union work, work in the field, and so forth. To shift that comrade to direct organization work for the party was allegedly light minded and God knows what else. Less than a month after our proposal was rejected, the same comrade suddenly did become available, and this time the proposal was made not by us but by these who had originally opposed it, and it was hurriedly approved and adopted. It suddenly ceased to be a scatterbrained idea; it suddenly ceased to be the occasion for creating a crisis.

When the war broke out, we confronted a similar inertia. In this case, too, our proposals for immediate action to prepare the party for its tasks were answered with the assurances that there is nothing new, that we had always foretold the war, that we should not be panicky because it broke out, and more of the same. Yet although this was the position of the majority of the Political Committee, I found during my tour that the reaction of the minority to the war [one line of text is missing] crisis, which was described as panic-mongering, was nevertheless the spontaneous reaction of all the non-resident National Committee members with whom I came in contact.

Again, more recently on the question of the Russian invasion of Poland. The record establishes the fact that the majority was not only not prepared to give an answer to the new problems but denied that such an answer was required. And when that which was qualified by the P.C. as a concrete answer was finally written, it proved to be more of an evasion than an answer. And even this article, which appeared in the Appeal over the signature of Comrade Cannon, was and could be only a personal opinion of its author for the simple reason that the motion of the Political Committee on the subject, as I quoted it to you before, was so general as to admit of a variety of purely individual interpretations. The Political Committee simply did not show a serious attitude towards the problem.

At the plenum the majority presented for a vote the document of Comrade Trotsky which had arrived only a few hours earlier. There could not have been an opportunity for any comrade to reflect on this document. Some of them had not even had a chance to read it. Moreover, it was physically impossible for anybody to have read it in full for the simple reason that one page of the manuscript was accidentally lost in transit. Nevertheless, read or unread, studied or unstudied, complete or incomplete, the document was presented for a vote and finally adopted by the majority on the grounds, as comrade expressed it, of faith in the correctness of Comrade Trotsky’s position.

Faith is a very good thing, and a prompt support of Comrade Trotsky’s position on various questions has justified itself on more than one occasion in the past. But faith is no substitute for arriving seriously at a thought-out position. This was all the more so the case with this document. Even a hasty reading of it must convince any serious person, as it convinced me, that it is one of the most audacious and breathtaking documents in Marxian literature. In it Comrade Trotsky deals not only with these questions which we have long been familiar with and on which we have had a traditional and thoroughly discussed position, and also with a number of matters and viewpoints which I contend are new to our movement. The question of the inevitability of socialism is not, in my opinion, dealt with in this document as we have dealt with it in the past. In any case, it raises the question from a new angle. Similarly with the question of the nature of our epoch which we have hitherto characterized as an epoch of war and revolution. Similarly with the point raised in the document about the possibility of a new type of state which is neither bourgeois nor proletarian. These are questions which I do not want to deal with here and now but which are, to my view, so obviously a matter for deep reflection and discussion as to exclude so light minded a treatment as is represented by a motion to adopt the document a few hours after it has been given to the members of a party plenum.

When Trotsky raised the slogan of a united independent Soviet Ukraine a few months ago and proposed to submit it to an international discussion, not the slightest objection was raised. When we proposed to open up a discussion on the Polish invasion and problems related to it, the majority raised the most vehement objections. We are not a debating club, they said. The question was settled fundamentally at our last convention, and the convention before, and twenty two years ago. Up to the plenum even our proposal for a theoretical discussion of the questions in the pages of the New International was rejected. Discussion had become, in Cannon’s words, a luxury that the party could not afford. I point to the fact that even at the Tenth Congress of the Russian Party held under the threat of the guns of rebelling Kronstadt and of peasant uprisings throughout the country which menaced the very existence of the Soviet Republic, the same delegates who condemned the views of the Workers’ Opposition as incompatible with party membership, and which prohibited the formation of factions, nevertheless adopted at the same time a resolution which provided amply for the continuation of the discussion on a theoretical plane in special discussion bulletins of the party and at special meetings. Discussion was not a luxury that could not be afforded by the Russian party, even under these acutely dangerous circumstances. For our party we were told it was a luxury we couldn’t afford. And in addition, these comrades who insisted on discussion were sneeringly and demagogically dubbed “independent thinkers” who believe that they are wiser than Trotsky.

The political passivity of the party leadership has as its counterpart an organizational rigidity and a super-sensitivity and brusqueness towards all critics, and regardless of the merit of the criticism. This is especially and notoriously the case in its attitude towards the youth. This fact has been observed and commented upon more than once and I will not elaborate on it here except to say that the truth about it cannot and will not be eliminated by repeating the commonplace formula that “we must not flatter the youth”.

At the last national convention Cannon and his supporters demanded in their slate an organizational majority on the new national committee. On what political grounds? At the plenum at least the claim was presumably based upon the political differences over the Russian question. What was the political basis for this organizational majority at the convention? There simply wasn’t any. At the preceding convention in Chicago two and a half years age, a more or less united leadership was established. Yet Comrade Cannon could come to the convention in New York and declare that he would not assume responsibility for one single member on the Political Committee. We insisted at the convention, as you know, upon including in the new National Committee a number of young comrades. The slate presented by Cannon’s friends completely excluded the youth except for the one direct representative to which they are constitutionally entitled. The convention gave the party leadership what was tantamount to a mandate on this point by voting into the N.C. a number of youth comrades whom we proposed.

After the convention a Resident Political Committee was established by the majority, a committee that was presumably satisfactory to this majority. That was only three months ago. At the last plenum, this committee was drastically reorganized and so reorganized that we refused to take any responsibility for its recasting. The national labour secretary of the party was eliminated from the committee. All the youth comrades elected at the convention were dropped from it, including Comrade Gould and Comrade Erber, as well as Comrade George Breitman. That is, the committee was reorganized on a purely factional basis. I deny that this had an established political basis. I deny that it was reorganized on the basis of positions taken on the Russian Question. I deny that it was reorganized in order that the fundamental position on the Russian question, about which the majority speaks, might prevail in the party leadership. If that was the only ground for the reorganization, why were not comrades like Bern and Erber and others who voted for the original Cannon motion on the Russian question invited to the caucus meeting that was openly convened at the plenum for purpose of deciding on the reorganization? I do not agree with the steps taken for a single minute.

I do not agree either with the conception of leadership growing among the majority and even openly advocated by many of them, at least in informal conversation. I do not agree that any one man must under all circumstances be guaranteed the leadership of the party or the control of that leadership. I do not agree that if you approve that concept you will have a democratic regime in the party. I want a genuinely collective leadership, one that operates, discusses, and decides collectively. And a leader cult which we have had flagrantly expressed by a number of responsible members of the Political Committee is a bad substitute for a collective leadership.

I freely admit that these questions were not brought up, at least not brought up fully, at the July convention. In the first place, the pre-convention meeting of the NC plenum decided against discussing such questions at the convention. The majority argued that “the membership can’t settle these questions ... They must first be settled by the leadership.” There is a kernel of truth in this and that is another reason why I did not bring the matter before the convention in all its amplitude. It has not been my custom because I do not believe it is correct to precipitate every dispute and disagreement among the leadership into the ranks of the party. I am not a professional “rank and file” demagogue who rushes into a membership discussion on the slightest provocation or no provocation at all, and it was with the intention of exhausting the last and remotest possibility of resolving these problems among the leading comrades themselves that I hesitated to bring them before the convention. Yet the situation demanded that the convention be given an opportunity of exercising an influence and pressure on the leadership, if only on a limited scale. That is probably the reason why there was a certain confusion and bewilderment during one part of the July convention. And while I am willing to take my share of the responsibility for it, I cannot take it all or even the major portion of it because it does not belong on my shoulders.

I believe also that it is imperative to change that alien spirit of arrogance and contempt for the membership which is manifested by responsible representatives of the party leadership in organizational and literary posts, which rightly irritates and angers the comrades but which is considered by those responsible for it as a good characteristic of “hard Bolsheviks.” Repeated manifestations of this ugly spirit continue to go unrebuked, particularly by these whose main responsibility is to rebuke and eliminate them.

These phenomena and many others that could be referred to create a distinctly unhealthy and harmful situation in the party. The indispensable and preliminary condition for restoring a healthy state in the party is a frank, sober, calm and objective discussion, not envenomed by personal and factional recriminations and insinuations. This alone can create that free atmosphere in the party which will permit an intelligent and fruitful discussion of the multiplicity of questions now raised again so acutely by the war and the new stage of degeneration of Stalinism. Only that way can we arrive at decisions; adopt policies which will be a firm and lucid guide to our party and, through it, to the working class. In that sense and in that spirit, as a contribution to that desirable end, we submit our resolution to the discussion of the party.

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Max Shachtman
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Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 23 December 2014