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Susan Green

Russia’s Role in the War

(28 July 1941)

Pre-Convention Discussion Articles, Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 30, 28 July 1941, p. 2
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

I don’t think anybody in the party holds the view that because Hitler had to get the swag in Russia before continuing with Britain the character of the war has changed. It’s still the same bloody imperialist war. It is not necessary to stress this point as hard as the comrades who hold the PC position do.

Rather the question is: In this Imperialist World War, what is our position toward the USSR attacked by one of the imperialists and fighting for its life?

We cannot answer this question by uttering, through tightened lips and from rigid minds: “Imperialist war – QED.” We could not characterize the Russian-Finnish episode by the simple expedient: “Nationalized economy – QED.”

We then applied the test of whether Stalin was fighting a progressive or a reactionary war in Finland. Our opposition to the Stalin invasion was based on our principled opposition to invasion, conquest and annexation of territory as reactionary. We also considered the spread of the domination of the Stalin bureaucracy over more peoples and the extension of bureaucratized, nationalized economy as against the revolutionary interests of the working class. The character of the Russian state did not determine whether the attack on Finland was to be supported by the working class or not. We were merely concerned – to repeat – with whether the war was progressive or reactionary – the yardstick being the revolutionary interests of the workers of the world.

By that yardstick – which has two sides to it: the direct furthering of the world revolution and, by weakening imperialism, the indirect furthering of world revolution – we must now gauge the fight of the USSR against Hitler’s attack. But first I want to show how we apply this same yardstick to Chiang Kai-shek in the war against Japan.

The Case of China

We consider that he is waging a progressive war. About Chiang we have no illusions. He is not fighting for the liberation of the viciously suppressed and exploited workers and peasants of China. The butcher of the masses at the height of the Chinese revolution would sooner capitulate to Japan than let power go to the workers and peasants. Today, not threatened by internal revolution but as a matter of fact forced by the militancy of the Chinese people, he and his gang put up a fight against Japanese imperialism.

We know that the criminal Chiang Kai-shek is just as reactionary now as before. This is especially true because the next item on the historic agenda for China is not a pure and simple nationalistic struggle, but the workers’ and peasants’ revolution long overdue. There is no doubt that as between the revolution and Japanese imperialism, Chiang will have no hesitancy in choosing. Yet we consider that the murderer of the Chinese revolution is waging a progressive war.

Our ground is that by curbing the appetite of Japanese imperialism, whose existence depends on gobbling up the Asiatic colonial and semi-colonial countries, Chiang Kai-shek measures up on one side of our yardstick.

In connection with the Chino-Japanese war, it may also he claimed that China, by engaging Japan in a fierce struggle, is aiding British American imperialism. Furthermore, China receives a measure of military assistance – material and personnel – from the Allies. The struggle in China is also part of the worldwide war whose predominant nature is imperialist. But these reasons have not yet compelled us to withhold our military support of the war Chiang Kai-shek is waging against Japanese imperialism.

Suppose, by some fantastic twist, it had been expedient for Japan first to make a fluky treaty of non-aggression with China in order to get China’s assistance in an assault on Indo-China, the Dutch East In dies, etc. Just suppose. And then later Japan had turned on China, as Hitler did on Russia. That sequence of events would not have changed our estimate of the war China would be waging against Japan, even though China at first would have been actually helping Japanese imperialism – as Russia was at first helping German imperialism.

Progressive Aspects

With the example of China before us, let us take up the German-Russian war now raging.

It doesn’t solve anything to bring out the whole bag of Stalinist crimes. Yes, Stalin is fighting to retain his power and pelf. Yes; the bureaucracy is fighting to retain its enslavement of the Russian masses and its exploitative hold on the national economy. True. True also that only by the revolutionary overthrow of Stalin can the Russian masses resume their march toward socialism.

But it is also true that :the USSR is not a field of international imperialist exploitation – only a field for exploitation by its own bureaucracy. And it is likewise true that a German victory will transform the USSR into a new pasture for the immediate feeding of the German war machine and for the ultimate division among the ultimate victors in the world war. In other words, the defeat of Stalin at the hands of Hitler can only mean more of vitamin B1 in the diet of world imperialism.

Therefore, measured by the same side of the yardstick that we use for China, the reactionary, counter-revolutionary Stalin today wages a progressive war – even as does his first cousin, Chiang Kai-shek.

Just how much actual help Stalin will get from London-Washington remains to be seen. Kiplinger’s letter of June 28 has this passage: “Will the US aid Russia? On the record, yes. By gestures, yes. By backing up British aid to Russia, yes. But actually, effectively. NO. The physical means for rendering much material aid really do not exist.” (Kiplinger’s emphasis) Of course, England’s aid to countries invaded by Hitler has heretofore been rather flimsy. England will “aid” Russia only when and if it will aid England to do so. In a words, there is a good chance that Russia will be fighting alone.

Of course, whether or not Stalin gets more than lip service from the Allies, the fact remains that, willy nilly, by the mere act of engaging Hitler in a major war, Stalin is aiding the Allies. But so is Chiang Kai-shek.

By What Criterion?

Even to a greater extent than a Japanese victory in China will a German victory in Russia strengthen world imperialism. Whereas China before the war was already a feeding ground for the imperialists of all countries, the USSR will only become one if Stalin loses to Hitler. (And by Stalin I mean to include anybody who may succeed him, but be fighting the same kind of war he is fighting.)

I have purposely kept out of this article a consideration of the nature of the Russian state, of the revolutionary importance – if any – of USSR nationalized economy, of the remnants – if any – of the October revolution. These are all very important questions. But I believe that if we were right in our approach to the Russo-Finnish war, and to the Chino-Japanese war, our position on the Russo-German war need not depend on our answers to the above questions. I also omit the beclouded question of a mixed war as unnecessary to my line of argument.

In conclusion, there was a time, now passed; when we admitted that the Stalin bureaucracy, reactionary as it was, was yet performing a progressive role in Russian industry. Today we perhaps have to admit that this same despicable bureaucracy is performing a progressive role in the imperialist war – by fighting to keep the USSR from becoming the happy hunting ground for imperial ism. Within the limits of time and circumstances, a reactionary regime may be performing a progressive role.

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