Max Shachtman

What Class in Russia Owns
the Nationalized Property?

(September 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 38, 20 September 1943, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Cannonites (the Socialist Workers Party and The Militant, which expresses its views) are not in a happy position with regard to the famous “Russian question.” We refer specifically to the careful silence they feel obliged to preserve about our criticism of Trotsky’s theory, which they share, that Stalinist Russia is a “degenerated workers’ state.”

In the party dispute in 1939, they would discuss nothing apart from the question of the class character of the Russian state. We, who were members of the SWP before the Cannonites expelled us, were not at that time challenging Trotsky’s views on that question. Since then we have not only challenged it but worked out a criticism and our own positive position in a dozen published documents. But not a word of comment, much less critical discussion and refutation, has come out of the Cannonite camp.

Silence or Confusion

The fact is that, against our criticism, their position is untenable. That is demonstrated both by their silence on the fundamental questions we have raised, and by the hopeless confusion into which they fall when they try to deal indirectly with our views on Russia – indirectly being the only way they have tried so far. Here is the latest example: In the July 1943 issue of The New International, the writer dealt with several aspects of the question under the title of Notes on Russia in the War. The most important “note,” particularly from the standpoint of Trotsky’s final development of his theory, uncritically accepted by the Cannonites, dealt with his characterization of the Stalinist bureaucracy as one that carries out what can only be called the “counter-revolutionary socialist revolution.” This position of Trotsky is treated in some detail in The New International and the interested reader is referred to it.

But, as usual, not a word from the Cannonites, who are not coy about calling themselves the only genuine Trotskyists.

In the August 21 issue of The Militant, however, M. Morrison comments on my article. On the important section of it, on the section dealing with the fundamental question, the question of the “class character of the Soviet state,” which the Cannonites insisted was the beginning and the end of everything? Not for a moment. He ignores that as if it had never been mentioned. Instead, he spends two columns dealing with an altogether secondary question, namely, the question of the morale of the Red Army and the Russian people, about which his information and ours is not as extensive as it might be.

Question of Russian Morale

In my article, I argued that the apparently high morale of the Russians may be explained on many grounds, some (but not all) of which are mentioned. In any case, I wrote, it is preposterous to claim that their high morale is any kind of proof that Russia is, a workers’ state, for with such an argument you could likewise prove that Germany (or Japan or England) is also some kind of a workers’ state.

This observation seems to have upset my somber critic violently. He writes that “it could be no other than Max Shachtman who would make a superficial wisecrack” like that. None other, you see, absolutely none other; and not only a wisecrack but a superficial one. This is not his most crushing answer. He has heavier ones.

“The morale of the Red Army,” continues Morrison, “does not, of course, prove that the Soviet Union is a workers’ state. The suggestion that someone said something to this effect is one of Shachtman’s debating tricks, to make the opponent look ridiculous.”

Well, now, let us see just how ridiculous the opponent really looks.

Here is a quotation from The Militant exactly one issue earlier, August 14, 1943:

“The morale of the Soviet people, the recovery of the Red Armies from devastating defeats and now their tremendous victories testify to the unbounded vitality of the October Revolution.”

By the “unbounded vitality of the October Revolution” the editor of The Militant, of course, means the “fact” that Russia is still a workers’ state. Isn’t the quoted sentence saying that the “morale of the Soviet people ... their tremendous victories” PROVE (“testify to”) that Russia is a workers’ state?

An accidental article, perhaps. But here is Joseph Andrews, in The Militant of January 9, 1943:

“This offensive testifies to the continued high morale and great vitality of the Red Army and the workers and peasants of the Soviet Union – a vitality such as no capitalist nation can summon, and a spirit such as no imperialist army can bring forth.” (My emphasis, here and below – M.S.)

In plain English, isn’t this a claim that the “high morale and great vitality” of the Russians are proof of the working class character of the Soviet state? “The suggestion that someone said something to this effect is one of Shachtman’s debating tricks,” wrote Morrison. Debating trick, or embarrassing fact?

But perhaps both quotations are isolated, and due only to “ridiculous” individuals. We fear not: Here is what the official political resolution “unanimously adopted by the convention of the SWP” has to say on the subject in question (The Militant, October 17, 1942):

“Those who deny that the Soviet Union is a workers’ state cannot explain the unprecedented morale of Soviet workers and peasants.”

Was Morrison present at the convention? Did he vote for this resolution? Did he at least read it? Or was he content then, as now, to let Cannon have his resolutions so long as he himself has his column in The Militant?

Unfortunately, there is more – by Morrison, and about him.

In the same article, he points to the difference between the fighting morale of the Russians in 1914 or 1917, and in 1942.

“What is the factor that explains this difference? Not because the Russian masses know that they own the factories and the state. They. know too well that this is a fiction of the bureaucracy.

Whether the Russian masses know that it is a fiction or not, the fact is that the Cannonites DO NOT know it. Proof? Here it is – not “debater’s tricks,” but proof!

Some Bureaucratic Fictions

George Collins, in The Militant of September 12, 1942:

“But the workers and Red soldiers of the Soviet Union fight with a bitterness unmatched in this war because they are defending the socialist achievements of a workers’ revolution. Factories, mines, mills, railroads, workshops belong to those who work them. The soil belongs to those who till it.”

Editorial, in The Militant of July 31, 1943, on Russian morale:

“Why? Because they [the Russian workers and peasants] have something to fight for: nationalized property, the land and factories which belong to them, their planned economy.”

Again, straight from the fountain-head of the last SWP convention resolution, as printed in The Militant of October 17, 1942:

“The Soviet masses have something to fight for. They fight for their factories, their land, their collective economy.”

What are these statements? According to Morrison, and he is of course as right as two and two make four, they are simply the repetition of a bureaucratic fiction, that is, a fiction of Stalinism. Who has been spreading these Stalinist fictions? Morrison’s comrades, Morrison’s party, the party resolution for which Morrison and all the other absolutely genuine and one hundred per cent Trotskyists voted. Debater’s trick, or embarrassing fact?

But if it is a Stalinist fiction to say that the Russian workers’ own the factories and the state, what is not a fiction? In other words, what is the truth? If they have NEITHER the means of production NOR the state, what DO they have? The “nationalized means of production”? But these are entirely in the hands of the state, which the masses do not have but which the counter-revolutionary bureaucracy does have – and has exclusively. The masses, then, have nothing.

Excuse us. They do have something: a vast prison. The Militant once wrote literally (and correctly) that the Russian factories are a prison to which the workers are sentenced for life. Trick or fact?

The statement that the Russian “factories, mines, mills, railroads, workshops belong to those who work them. The soil belongs to those who till it,” is not the only bureaucratic fiction the Cannonites are guilty of spreading.

More Fictions

The Militant has written that the Stalinist army pursues “working class aims.” Fiction. It has even called this instrument of counter-revolutionary Bonapartism in Russia “Trotsky’s Red Army.” Fiction. It has said that this army “is fighting for a socialist Europe as well as a socialist Russia.” Fiction. It went so far a few months ago (February 6, 1943) as to say that “the self-sacrificing Russian workers [are] producing under socialist methods.” It was not the Daily Worker that wrote this, but The Militant.

Wisecrack? Trick? Distortion? No, we state the simple, sickening facts.

But these are, after all, merely aspects of the biggest of the bureaucratic fictions: the theory that Russia is still some kind of workers’ state. This theory can be tested only in practice. It would pass the test if it could be shown that in some meaningful way the Russian masses do own or control or have their interests represented by the state which has the means of production in its hands. That’s just what cannot be shown.

Hence the confusion arid embarrassment of the Cannonites. Hence their, swinging from the dissemination of Stalinist fictions to Morrison’s “repudiation” of the fictions. Hence the “ridiculous opponents.” And hence their shyness at debating the question openly and directly with revolutionary critics.

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