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Albert Gates

Stalin and the Kurile Islands

(17 September 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 38, 17 September1945, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Every speech made by Generalissimo Stalin during the war indicated a progressively increasing adoption of the language of reactionary imperialism. For the new “Czar of all the Russias” this is inescapable. Pursuing an imperialist policy of aggression, expansion and exploitation, the language used by Russia’s ruler necessarily conforms to the practice.

Therefore, each speech on Russian foreign policy is filled with lies and falsifications of history to justify an imperialist policy. The latest evidence of this fact is Stalin’s “victory address” announcing Russia’s intention to seize the whole of Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands.

Following Stalin’s announcement, Secretary of State Byrnes in a neat exhibition of doubletalk, disclosed that these seizures were agreed upon at Yalta. No, they were not really agreed upon, but an understanding was reached and a final decision of Russia’s permanent occupation of the islands is still to come. One by one, the secret compacts of Yalta, which the Big Three leaders declared did not exist, are coming to light.

What is of tremendous interest to the world political labor movement, however, is not so much the imperialist division of the world decided on at Yalta, as the reasons Stalin gives for Russia’s share in this division. The politically advanced and conscious worker knows what to expect from the capitalist imperialist rulers. He is not surprised by anything they do. But Stalin still has a reputation as the leader of “socialist” Russia, a leader of the oppressed and exploited people of the world, a man who wants to establish the true freedom of world socialism.

The New Nationalist

The reactionary, extremist spokesmen of capitalism help to strengthen this fiction. But that Stalin and his Russia are not socialist can be proved in a hundred different ways. He represents the power of the new class of exploiters in Russia. He is the spokesman and personification of this new class which lives by exploiting Russia’s millions of workers and peasants and now seeks to extend this exploitation beyond the borders of Russia. Russia has ceased to be internationalist in its aims and policies.

Why is nationalist policy reactionary? Because it is based upon the retention of national borders, national antagonisms and national exploitation in a world which has outlived national boundaries, where the retention of national boundaries and all the antagonisms they evoke are a hindrance to the future development of human progress.

The Bolsheviks under Lenin’s great leadership were internationalists. They understood that the future of the world, the progress of civilization and the advancement of mankind depended uponthe eventual abolition of national boundaries in order to guarantee international collaboration of the peoples of the world. Another reason why the international socialists were ardent internationalists is that the continued existence of national boundaries, national antagonisms led to jingoism, reactionary sentiments in the thinking and feelings of the people and, in turn, strengthened the rule of capitalist imperialism.

Lenin never subordinated the international interests of the workers to any national party. Specifically in the case of Russia after the Revolution of 1917, he did not subordinate the interests of the workers of the world to narrow Russian interests. On the contrary, Lenin always declared that the long-term aim of the Russian Revolution was to advance the international struggle for socialism.

Falsifying History

Does this contradict the support socialists give to movementsof national independence? Not at all. Movements for national independence are progressive in that they represent the struggle of oppressed peoples against their oppressors whether such struggles occur in Europe, Africa or Asia. A victory of nationally oppressed people against imperialism is a defeat for and weakening of imperialism. Thus it advances the struggle for socialism. It is impossible for nationally oppressed peoples to fight for socialism without fighting for national independence. National independence of nations is a preliminary condition for the true international freedom of all humanity.

Stalin’s aims and practices are directly opposed to those of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. Listen to what he said about the Russo-Japanese war, the Sakhalin and Kurile Islands.

“Japan began her aggression against our country as far back as 1904, during the Russo-Japanese War ...

“As is well known, at that time Russia suffered defeat in the war with Japan, and Japan took advantage of czarist Russia’s defeat to wrest southern Sakhalin from Russia, to strengthen her hold over the Kurile Islands ...”

Stalin, speaking as a great Russian Nationalist, identifies himself with the imperialist history of Czarism. The falsifications are many.

1. The Russo-Japanese war was not the result of Japanese aggression alone. That Japan was an aggressive imperialist power at that time is, of course, true. But so was Russia. So was England, the United States, France and Germany. They all sought to carve up the Far East, principally China, in their own national interests, that is, in the interests of the profits of their financial and industrial ruling classes,

In the case of Russia and Japan, Russia was clearly theaggressor. Her expansion into China and Korea threatened the imperialist interests of Japan. Japan’s attack on Russia came only after months and months of negotiations between these two imperialist powers and at a time when the czar stalled negotiations in the hope of seizing disputed territory and confronting the Japanese with accomplished facts.

The Japanese countered with an attack on the Russian fleet and then declared war. Supporting Japan in this war against Russia were England and the United States who then greatly feared that Czarist Russia would establish such powerful interests in China as to bar them. Japan was not only fighting in her own imperialist interests; she was fighting for England and the United States.

That is why, despite the obvious exhaustion of Japan in this short war and the threatening mobilization by Russia of all her resources which would have resulted in a defeat of the Nipponese Empire, England and the United States forced peace upon the two contenders for Empire. That Japan acted the hog in the peace negotiations and demanded more than the other imperialists thought she should have, is not in the least surprising or interesting. In doing that Japan acted as do all imperialists.

What is important is that the Russo-Japanese war was not a local war between two countries. It involved all the big powers at that time; the peace treaty was underwritten by all the powers.

Two Horse-Traders

In the case of the Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands, we are dealing with pure and simple horse-trading by two imperialist powers. Sakhalin and the Kuriles did not belong to either country. Their occupation by the Russians and the Japanese came as a result of empire race between them. The Sakhalin Island which lies off the coast of Siberia and is part of the Japanese archipelago, and Kurile, which is also an extension of the Japanese archipelago, were for many centuries, so far as is known, inhabited by native islanders, neither Russian nor Japanese.

In the peace treaty of Portsmouth in 1905, the Japanese based their demand for Sakhalin and the Kuriles on the ground of geographical identity with the homeland. With regard to Sakhalin, they demanded the island on the basis of prior exploration and settlement. This was disclosed in the peace negotiations. The Japanese presented the uncontradicted position that they had settled on the island in 1624 while the Russians in their eastward expansion did not reach it until 1803. Count Witte, head of the Russian peace delegation, stated that:

“... in the main Russia could do without Sakhalin, but as a matter of principle she could not make territorial concessions.” (Pre-War Diplomacy, by J.J.Korostovetz)

The peace negotiations following the Russo-Japanese war, revealed that 30 years before, in 1875, Russia and Japan had reached an agreement which permitted the Russians to occupy Sakhalin, while the Japanese annexed the Kurile Islands. Thus, two imperialist powers trade off territory which belonged to neither of them!

The Japanese diplomats, answered Count Witte by saying that in the thirty years during which the Russians held Sakhalin, they had not decided what to do with it, while the Japanese felt it necessary to own the island as a matter of national security.

These then are the facts about the disputed islands. None belonged to Russia or Japan. They were seized by them and changed hands in accordance with the changing fortunes of war.

The workers and peasants of Russia and the workers and peasants of Japan had no interest in these territories, gained nothing from them and had only to shed their blood in two wars. The only ones to gain from these imperialist rivalries and wars were the ruling classes in Russia and Japan, when Stalin claims them as Russian territory he is merely falsifying history in order to justify his imperialist policy.

(Concluding article next week)

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