Max Shachtman

What Is the Trotskyist Position on Stalinism?

The Victories of the “Red” Army
and the Struggle for Socialism

(March 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 11, 15 March 1943, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

There seems to be no end to the nonsense, and the downright fraud, that is written about Russia and her army in the war. When these scribblings appear in the capitalist or the “liberal” press, it is not very surprising. The writers and editors are either sublimely ignorant of what Russia really is and really is doing and aiming to do, or else they do know but will not say, because to tell the truth about Russia would help dispel some of the myths they have so carefully created about the war in general and the so-called United Nations in particular.

What is not so easy to understand is nonsense – complete and very dangerous nonsense – about Russia, when it is written in a paper that calls itself Trotskyist. For Trotskyism – that is, the consistent program of revolutionary, socialist internationalism, to which we firmly adhere – is the irreconcilable enemy of Stalinism, simply because working-class socialism is utterly incompatible with totalitarian tyranny.

In the report of a speech made in New York on The Class Meaning of the Soviet Victories by Felix Morrow, the February 27 issue of The Militant says:

“The stranglehold of the Stalin bureaucracy, Morrow stated, has progressively weakened with every new Red Army victory and its consequent rise of morale among the Soviet masses. The Red Army is fighting for the socialist Europe as well as a socialist Russia, he declared, and they will never submit to any underhanded deal to preserve capitalism in Europe for the benefit of the very same imperialist powers that attempted to overthrow the October 1917 Revolution.”

It would, we suppose, be possible to compress into a few lines even more errors than are contained in the seventy words of the above quotation. But that would require a supreme effort, exerted by the organized collaboration or more than one person. To point out the errors, however, requires very little effort.

“The stranglehold of the Stalin bureaucracy has progressively weakened with every Red Army victory.” Where, when, how? We are careful readers of The Militant, and we look through more than one other paper. Nowhere, thus far, not even in the pages of The Militant, have we read of a single important (or for that matter, unimportant) FACT to support this absurd contention. A WEAKENING of the stranglehold of the bureaucracy would manifest itself in any number of concrete ways: sharp divisions in the upper circles, concessions of one kind or another to the masses, a moderation of the terror regime, increased independent class activity of the workers, etc.

WILL such things, especially the last-named, take place? Whoever understands the real situation in Russia is certain that they WILL. But AS YET, there is no sign, no evidence, for Morrow’s assertion.

What is more important is the radically wrong linking of the weakening of the bureaucracy with the victories of the army. In general, a totalitarian regime is weakened in wartime when it suffers military setbacks. For example, there IS objective evidence that such was the case in Russia in the period when the army was standing still or losing ground in the first war with Finland (John Scott’s book on Russia makes interesting reading in this regard). To speak now, especially now, of a weakening of the bureaucracy’s stranglehold on the country and its people is, at the very best, wishful thinking. More simply, Morrow is talking up a spout.

This applies essentially to his words about the “consequent rise of morale among the Soviet masses.” What, pray, is the evidence for this statement? If by “morale” Morrow is referring in general to the readiness of the masses to fight, to make sacrifices, then there is at least some evidence to warrant making the statement. But substantially the same thing could be said about the “morale” of the Germans and the Japanese, for instance. Didn’t their morale hold up, and rise, with the big victories of their armies? And isn’t it still pretty high, according to most reports? What does this fact, by itself, prove about Russia that it does not prove about Germany or Japan?

Class Morale

But Morrow spoke on The CLASS Meaning of the Soviet Victories. If so, he should have dealt with the CLASS MORALE of the Russian workers. If that is what he had in mind, his second statement falls into the same category as the first: nonsense. There is no evidence – again we emphasize, AS YET – of any rise in the CLASS MORALE of the Russian workers.

Such a rise would show itself in the development of a class understanding of (and therefore opposition to) the Kremlin’s alliance with imperialism; in the development of organized opposition, however primitive, to the counter-revolutionary regime; in the development of an independent class movement, of a socialist consciousness, of internationalist spirit. That will come, we are utterly convinced. But where is there a single Sign of it now? We, and others, would be obliged for a little information on this score. Until we get it, we must continue to say that Morrow’s lips are still glued to a spout.

“The Red Army is fighting for a socialist Europe as well as a socialist Russia.” What a gift he has for breath-taking, sweeping phrases! Not only is the “Red” Army fighting for a socialist Russia (which does not exist except in the lying propaganda of the Kremlin) but also (you really must believe this, for Morrow says so himself) for a socialist Europe. With all deference to the delicate eardrums of our readers, we say again: Nonsense! But this time, especially dangerous nonsense.

In the first place, there is no such thing today as a Red Army. It once existed. It was organized by Trotsky and the Bolsheviks. It was the army of the workers, of the people, of the socialist revolution. That is the spirit in which it was trained; that is the spirit that was drilled into every member of it, from commandant to raw rookie. That is the spirit in which it won its really great victories against the domestic and international counter-revolution. But Stalinism destroyed that army! Hasn’t Morrow heard? If he hasn’t “read it in the papers” in the last dozen years, he can find the whole story told and analyzed in Trotsky’s writings.

What is “Red” (that is, socialist, internationalist, democratic) in the Russian army today? It would be interesting to know the answer. We disagreed with Trotsky on the question of the “defense of the Soviet Union” and on whether Russia today is a workers’ state. But one thing we learned from him and we haven’t unlearned it, namely: the Stalinist army is the army of the Bonapaftist counter-revolution. Does Morrow get this? – the army of Bonapartist counter-revolution, not the army of socialism! It is CONTROLLED by the Bonapartist counter-revolution which is in power in the country; it is DIRECTED by it; it has been imbued with the poison of Stalinist chauvinism and Great-Russian nationalism; its program is the program of the counter-revolutionary bureaucracy; its Praetorian “colonels” and “generals” and “marshals” (and its “orders of St. George”) differ in no important respect from their opposite numbers in the armies of capitalism; its discipline differs from that of a regular imperialist army like one egg from another. These are the truths that Trotsky taught. What Morrow says is, at the best, apologetics for Stalinism.

IF it is “fighting for a socialist Europe as well as a socialist Russia,” that is welcome news. But that would be a little more than just welcome news, it would be a miracle – and we don’t believe in miracles. What IS undoubtedly true is that there are many WORKERS in the ranks of the Russian army who want socialism as much as they do not want Stalinism, who are revolted by the rule, the leadership, the aims of Stalinism because they are socialist internationalists, who hate capitalism, chauvinism and slavery of all kinds and who want freedom not only for the Russian masses, but also for all the people of Europe and the rest of the world. But how in the name of all that makes sense does this make the Stalinist army a Red Army, “fighting for a socialist Europe as well as a socialist Russia”? There are hundreds and thousands of workers in the British army who hate fascism, who hate imperialism and imperialist oppression, who want an end of their own ruling class and of capitalism, who want a socialist society for themselves and their brothers throughout the world. Does this indubitable fact make the British army an army of democracy? Does this indubitable fact make it possible to say that the British army “is fighting for a democratic (or socialist) Europe as well as a democratic (or socialist) Britain”?

The British masses will really be fighting for a democratic and even socialist Britain and Europe when they have first broken the control and fetters of imperialism in their own country, and established their control over the country, over the state, the government and the army. The Russian masses will really be fighting for a socialist Russia and Europe when they have first destroyed the rule of bureaucratic totalitarianism, rid themselves of the poison of Stalinist chauvinism, and taken control of the country, of the state, the government and the army. Not before!

To disseminate the idea that the Stalinist army is fighting for a “socialist Europe as well as a socialist Russia” is to disseminate the most vicious pro-Stalinist propaganda, and thereby help destroy the prospects of a truly socialist Russia and Europe.

Rule of Slavery

Morrow evidently does not know that the rule of Stalinism is the rule of slavery. Morrow evidently does not read The Militant, which so rightly said not long ago that Russia is a prison to which the workers are condemned for life. Morrow evidently does not read Trotsky, who wrote that the victory of the “Red” Army in Poland (which it divided with the Hitlerite pirates in 1939) meant the subjugation of the “liberated” masses to Stalinist slavery. Or if he did read it, it meant as little to him as the brash phrases he flings about with such abandon.

A person who writes about Russia like Morrow deserves any name you want – apologist for the expansion of Stalinist slavery, for example – but not the name of revolutionary socialist

Precisely because of the dangerous illusions created among some workers here and in Europe by the “victories of the Red Army,” the revolutionary socialist should and will emphasize: The extension 0f Stalinist rule means the extension of a new slavery. Call it bureaucratic collectivism, as we do, or “degenerated, counter-revolutionary workers’ state,” as Trotsky did, it is nevertheless a totalitarian slavery that Stalinist rule represents, a slavemaster oppression which crushes everything that is noble, progressive, democratic, socialist and internationalist in the working class that comes under its heel.

The revolutionary socialist will emphasize: Socialism is the only hope of the world, and of the workers in particular. Be irreconcilable toward imperialism, be it in the form of fascism or “democracy.” But be no less irreconcilable to Stalinism. Its maintenance or extension means a terrible setback to the inevitable socialist revolution, and not an aid to it. Neither the Stalinist bureaucracy nor its army will bring you socialism, or promote it by so much as a hair’s breadth. The emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself, and there is not and cannot be a substitute for it. Whoever teaches differently is either an outright enemy of socialism, or a well-meaning obstacle in its path.

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