Max Shachtman

A Reply to a Reader —

On the Question
of Russian Morale

(October 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 40, 4 October 1943, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The question of the fight that Russia is making in the war continues to be a subject of lively interest. It has aroused much admiration, wonderment, perplexity and confusion. In different circles, and for different reasons, it has also caused a lot of concern.

A letter to the editor from a reader in El Segundo, Calif., gives us another opportunity for setting forth our own point of view on the question. Here is the letter in full:

The Letter to the Paper

To Labor Action:

I am a constant reader of Labor Action, and note in reading it that you are very much anti-Soviet. However, there is one question I fail to understand. That is the splendid morale and fighting ability of the Soviet people in the present war. What is behind it and how do you account for it? If the Soviet people are slaves, as you claim them to be, why do they not turn on their masters and do away with them? Every man, woman and child, it seems, is now fully armed. Why could they not use all these weapons in getting rid of their rulers if they desired to do so?

My impression is that the people, army and rulers, are all united as one, and seem to have complete confidence in one another. That, I assume, is one reason for their magnificent morale. All the people of the Soviet Union also seem to have the idea that all the land and productive machinery therein belongs to them, which is perhaps another reason for their incredible morale.

The Soviet people have demonstrated to an astonished world that they have the morale to fight and win against overwhelming odds. Whatever the reason is, they appear to have what it takes, and I would appreciate your opinion as to the cause of their superhuman morale and strength.

Thanking you for an early reply,


Yours truly,

This friendly letter deserves a friendly reply, and we shall try to make it as much to the point as the complicated subject permits.

What Is Anti-Soviet and Pro-Soviet?

In the first place, our reader has gained an entirely false impression from Labor Action, unless he is trying to say something different than the words “you are very much anti-Soviet” actually express.

Labor Action is no more anti-Soviet than it is anti-Russian or anti-German or anti-American. It is, however, ANTI-STALINIST, and most decidedly so. It is opposed to the ruling bureaucracy, which exploits, oppresses and terrorizes the Russian people. It champions the principles and institutions upon which the great Russian Bolshevik Revolution was based, including the institution of the democratically-elected and democratically-controlled Soviets of workers and peasants which once ruled Russia.

One of the main reasons why Labor Action combats so irreconcilably the Stalinist bureaucracy is precisely the fact that the latter destroyed the Soviets and along with them all semblance of working class rule and working class democracy in Russia.

Under Stalinism, the Russian workers and peasants have no right to participate in free elections. The only “right” they enjoy is to vote for candidates appointed by the bureaucracy. Even these candidates, after being “elected,” can be and have been removed from the top and even shot without trial, by pure and simple secret police order. The meetings of the representatives to the so-called Soviets have no more meaning than a meeting of Hitler’s Reichstag.

Rights the Workers Have Lost

These are some of the things accomplished by the ruling bureaucracy, which has wiped out the achievements of the Russian Revolution. They represent some of the reasons why we are anti-Stalinist, and not anti-Soviet but pro-Soviet. We are for kicking out the reactionary bureaucracy and all its works, and restoring Soviet democracy.

Why They Fight So Well

But if the Russian workers and poor peasants are slaves, how is it that Russia has fought so well? How account for what is called the “high morale” of the people? That is the real question in the mind of our reader and of many, many others.

It is not a simple question that can be answered glibly in a simple phrase. It is many-sided, complicated, and even contradictory.

Let us first bear this in mind: Heavily oppressed people and even slaves have fought well before this and are fighting well even now, for their oppressors and against a foreign foe.

The Greek people fought with bravery against the foreign invader of their land, even though they lived under and were led by the brutal military dictatorship of General Metaxas.

The Japanese soldiers, who are not much different from slaves of a reactionary dictatorship, fight with terrible tenacity, even though they are themselves invaders of foreign lands.

Much the same may be said about the Germans.

The morale of the British, who are themselves an oppressor people but who were threatened with invasion and subjugation, has been fairly high both in defeat and in victory.

No people that has reached any significant level of consciousness wants to see its land overrun and itself enslaved by another nation or people. This is usually true even when its own ruling class enjoys no popularity among the people. All other things being equal, and as a rule, a people will fight bitterly, courageously, with great devotion and many sacrifices, to beat off the invader, even though it may mean fighting under the rule of tyranny at home.

Experiences in History

History is strewn with such, examples, and many more can be seen in the present war. When the invader attacks, especially when the invader has the rightly notorious reputation of fascist Germany, it is anything but unusual if the people should rally behind whatever government they have, be swept or appear to be swept into a close national unity, and create a situation which impresses others with the idea, as our reader puts it, “that the people, army and rulers are all united as one.” That has happened in Russia; but it also happened in Greece, and it has been more or less the case in Finland from the day it was drawn into the war.

What is “unusual” is when the opposite is the case, as in France, for instance. A “special” explanation is more called for in France than in Russia!

To be sure, there are important supplementary reasons for the situation in Russia. National morale is not like a cow, which is pretty much the same animal in all countries. It differs from country to country, from time to time, from situation to situation.

Germany could make a blitz-advance into France for a few hundred miles in various directions, and France was practically finished before it could get started or draw a second breath. But in Russia, the German blitz could and did advance once and twice and three times the distance of the whole of France without achieving the victory it gained in France. The geographical difference between the two countries was one of the most decisive factors in maintaining Russian resistance and in facilitating Russian recuperation from heavy defeats and even routs.

There are many other problems involved in this decision. These will be considered in another article next week.

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Last updated on 11 July 2015