Max Shachtman

Continuing a Reply to a Reader —

On the Question
of Russian Morale

(October 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 41, 11 October 1943, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The world military situation in which Russia recovered and began to beat back the Germans is radically different from, the situation in June 1940. Then, Germany had nobody to worry about in the West. Now, it is faced with a recovered and growing British power and with a tremendous and growing American power. Then, it was beginning the bombing of England. Now, it is itself experiencing the disruptive blows of unprecedentedly heavy bombings from England.

There are many other factors to be considered. Stalin has been preparing Russia for war for some fifteen years, including the setting up of a vast war industry (with the aid of forced labor and slave labor!) deep in the interior of Russia. All this work was done in a condition of totalitarian secrecy and totalitarian, super-concentrated and super-centralized control; and we are only now beginning to see how extensive the work really was. Then, as now, the last drop of energy of the people was ruthlessly squeezed out by the bureaucracy which was and remains intent, above all, upon preserving itself in power.

Fear of Foreign Rule

At the same time, let us remember, the Russian people have been under the sway of this totalitarian rule and kept within hermetically-sealed borders for the same long period. It is hard for us, in this country, to realize fully the power over mind and body that a super-totalitarian regime like Stalinism can exert over a people, at least for a period of time.

When such factors are added to the fact – which is quite natural and highly justified – that the Russian people do not want to be ruled by foreign overlords, and that they have a deep-seated, healthy hatred for the particular system that this foreign invader represents, namely, fascism, there is not much reason for surprise at the spirit of resistance and sacrifice of the masses. However much they may despise their own rulers, they do not want to see them overthrown by the Hitlerites and, in the process, to have the rule of Stalin & Co. replaced by the rule of Hitler, Himmler & Co.

There is still another factor. It is rarely referred to in the press, although it is of tremendous and most decisive significance. However one may argue about the feelings of the Russian masses toward their rulers, there can be no doubt, especially now, about the feelings of these rulers themselves. THEY most certainly do have much to lose by a victory of Germany – in fact, they stand to lose everything.

Preservation of the Bureaucracy

The bureaucracy stands to lose its complete domination of the government and industry. It stands to lose its tremendous power, its exceptional privileges, its mastery of the most populous modern country in the world, its prospects for even further expansion of its territory and therefore its power. What is astonishing, then, if it fights tooth and nail to defend the power that German victory would obliterate? What is astonishing, then, if, like the Czars of old, it callously pours millions upon millions of troops into battle?

They are not a mere handful, these bureaucrats. Their number, including those in high position and low, including their retainers, henchmen and would-be replacements, has been estimated at between fifteen and twenty-five million. No ruling class in history has ever enjoyed power to such a degree as the Stalinist bureaucracy. Naturally, therefore, they form the spinal cord of the fight, for they have no intention of yielding their vast powers without a fight, be it against an imperialist rival or against the people they themselves exploit. They run Russia’s war, and Russia’s war is run for them.

But what about the masses? Do they not have the idea, as our reader says, that all the land and the factories belong to them? Of course they do. At least, it is certain that many of them have this idea. But, unfortunately, the idea is not a reality at all, but only a myth of the bureaucracy. The American (and all other) masses have had many wonderful ideas driven into their heads by their ruiers, and even believe in them intensely and deeply. But that does not make them true.

What Do the Masses Have?

The land and factories belong to the Russian people even less than the American capitalist government belongs to you and me. The Russian people have nothing, absolutely nothing, to say about the land or the factories or the government; everything is said FOR them and TO them by the reactionary totalitarian dictatorship of the Kremlin. Indeed, it should be obvious that if the Russian government (and land and factories) did belong to the people, or was under their control, there would be no need whatsoever for the brutal dictatorship which exists and which is directed against the masses of workers and peasants.

In actuality, the masses are fighting to maintain and expand the power of their oppressors, whether they realize this today or not. Willy-nilly, they are fighting to keep the bureaucracy at the top and on their backs. They are fighting to maintain the imperialist partnership that the bureaucracy has concluded with its Anglo-American allies. They are fighting so that the bureaucracy may extend its rule over Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, the Balkans or parts of them, over Iran, over Sinkiang and other northern and northwestern parts of China, and whatever other riches the Russian ruling class can tear away for itself as war booty, in exchange for supporting the no less imperialist claims of such allies as Britain in India and elsewhere.

Do the Russian people understand this yet? Probably not. No doubt many, or most, of them believe differently. But that is precisely where the tragedy of the war lies – in the fact that the people in every country do not yet realize the real significance of the war, that they do not yet understand what they are really fighting for while their ruling classes continue to rule.

Let us conclude, for today, with some profoundly wise and appropriate words from a great revolutionary leader, Lenin. When he returned to Russia after the overthrow of the Czar, he delivered a simple speech on the war which was still going on (in 1917), and which many of the people thought was a just war, inasmuch as Czarism no longer ruled, inasmuch as a revolution had just taken place, inasmuch as the conquests of the revolution were being threatened by the German invader of those days. It is a long quotation from this speech delivered in Petrograd on May 27, 1917, but it is worth printing because it is so applicable to the present day, provided the necessary minor changes are made:

“I will never forget the question that one of them (one of the soldiers) put to me after a meeting: ‘Why do you talk about capitalists all the time? Am I a capitalist? We workers are defending our freedom.’ It is not true – you are fighting because you are obeying your capitalist government; the war is not being conducted by the people, but by the governments. I am not surprised when a worker, or a peasant who has not studied politics, who has not bad the good fortune, or misfortune, to study secret diplomacy, to see this picture of financial plunder (this oppression of Persia by Russia and England, for example) forgets this history and naively asks: what have capitalists got to do with it? I am fighting. He does not see the connection between the war and the government; he does not see that the government is conducting the war, and that he is a tool in the hands of the government.”

It is so, also, in the present war. It is so, also, in Russia today, except for the fact that the word “capitalists” now has to be changed to read “Stalinist bureaucracy.” But it will not be so forever. The workers learned better in Russia twenty-six years ago. They must learn all over again now. They will, and we will help to see that they do.

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