Ted Grant

An Analysis of the Social Basis of the Soviet Union

— and why we defend it

Written: August 1941
Source: Workers’ International News, vol. 4 no. 8 (August 1941)
Transcription: Harry 2007
Markup/Proofread:: Emil 2007

The Russo-German war is now entering its second month, and this gives us the opportunity to measure the relation of forces. It is clear that the heroic resistance of the workers and peasants has for the first time stemmed the blows of the German blitzkrieg machine. The bitter resistance of Soviet soldiers has completely upset the Nazi time-table. Already the German soldiery have had to pay the price for their territorial gains in such measure that the soviet claim to have inflicted a million casualties on the German army cannot be far short of the mark.

In addition to this the “scorched earth” policy announced by Stalin completely deprives the Nazis of any immediate economic gains in the territory occupied by their troops. They conquer only blackened ruins and desolation. Banking on the experience of the campaigns in the West, Hitler had anticipated a relatively cheap and easy victory. Moreover the experience of the Finnish war which had been decidedly unpopular among the masses of the Russian people had led the German imperialists to completely underestimate the powers of resistance of the masses when defending themselves against imperialist attack. Napoleon, whom Hitler has desired to render a tyro in the field of world conquest, could have explained in advance to his would-be imitator that the moral factor stands as to the physical in the relation of three to one.

Basing themselves on the oppression of the Russian workers and peasants by the uncontrolled bureaucracy, the German capitalists, and for that matter world imperialism, deluded themselves into the belief that the Russian People could be overwhelmed without too costly an effort. Trotsky had predicted that the idea of the Japanese militarists and German Fascists, that the Russian people were only waiting for the armies of the Mikado and Hitler to “liberate” them, was fantastic delirium. The capitulations of Stalin in the past two years encouraged this belief in the minds of the German military clique. In spite of the ravages of the bureaucracy, the basic conquests of the October Revolution still remain: the capitalist class has never regained its possessions and private ownership in the means of production has never been restored. It is this that the masses, despite their aversion for the bureaucracy, have rallied to defend, just as the British workers would rally to the defence of their Trade Unions against capitalist attack, in spite of their aversion for the Bevins and Citrines.

Up to now the Nazi army has not had a serious test to face. In France the bourgeoisie were concerned only with saving their property, and the moment the Germans had broken through, they capitulated. The French soldiers and workers had been demoralised by the Stalinists and the actions of the bourgeoisie, and rendered morally prostrate, which resulted in only half-hearted resistance. Likewise in the other countries the bourgeoisie sold out, and the German military machine marched over Europe as if on military manoeuvres. It was this which gave the Nazis the illusion of invincibility.

But today Goebbels is forced to admit that the Russian soldier fights to the death. “When the machine guns are knocked out by tanks, the Mongol soldier does not surrender; he fights on with a revolver.” And behind the German lines of advance the population remains bitterly hostile, and conducts guerrilla warfare. It is this wave of enthusiasm and self-sacrifice that has served to stem the German advance. And with a correct policy would guarantee the victory of the Russian workers and peasants over the Nazi military machine and the establishment of a Socialist Europe. But as was foreseen, Stalin cannot wage a revolutionary war.

The bureaucracy in Russia is fighting Hitler because he leaves them no alternative, and thus, they do, in a distorted bureaucratic fashion defend the Soviet Union. The Soviet bureaucracy—the army officers, managers, technicians, artists and higher officials, numbering about 10,000,000, intend to continue to devour four-fifths of the goods produced for consumption, while the rest of the population consume one-fifth, and this is what they are fighting for. But in spite of the fact that Stalin desires the defeat of Hitler, he does not wish for a proletarian revolution in Germany, because a Socialist revolution in Germany would mean a Socialist Europe. And a Socialist Europe would mean that the victorious Russian workers and peasants, imbued with self-confidence by their victory, would return home and soon settle accounts with the Kremlin usurpers by immediately restoring control into their own hands. Stalinism only came to power on the basis of the defeats of the world working-class. A victory of such titanic proportions as the seizure of power by the German proletariat would sweep Stalinism aside!

The organic needs of the bureaucracy in internal policy find expression in the foreign policy of Stalin. If they had placed their confidence in the European and world working-class, by consistent day in and day out leaflets and radio appeals to the German workers, explaining the real character of the war on the part of their Nazi rulers, urging them in fraternal collaboration to establish a Socialist Germany—this, coupled with the unyielding resistance of the Russian workers and peasants, would have been the signal for transforming the whole world situation and would have sounded the death knell of world capitalism. Instead of this irrefutable Leninist position, we see the reliance upon Churchill and Roosevelt, the “democratic” imperialists. Not only is the Comintern deceiving the Russian masses as to the nature of the voracious imperialists of Britain and America, but is spreading the illusion among the entire world working-class that they are fighting for the liberty of all nations. On the Moscow wireless we hear:

“When the German fascist hordes appeared on the shores on the Straits of Dover and the English Channel, and prematurely celebrated their victory over democratic Britain, the British showed in the moment of mortal danger that they were capable, under the leadership of their far-sighted statesmen, of developing the gigantic strength latent within them.”

In the Times of July 17th we read:

“As happened during the lesser crises of recent years, resolutions have come pouring into Moscow from factories and farms throughout the Union. A word from Moscow can usually bring such resolutions at any time. In the past they have not been wholly spontaneous: but their wording is now significant. The Anglo-Soviet Alliance is applauded not merely in the Moscow newspapers; it is being welcomed and praised in all these resolutions, proof that the Soviet Government is not afraid of letting even the most isolated centres know that it has joined forces with the Power which until lately was denounced as imperialist and capitalist.”

And we are told by Stalin in his speech:

“In this connection the historic utterances of the British Prime Minister, Churchill, regarding aid to the Soviet Union, and the declaration of the United States Government, signifies readiness to render aid to our country, which can only evoke a feeling of gratitude in the hearts of the peoples of the Soviet Union, are fully comprehensible and symptomatic.”

Thus we see the deliberate deception of the masses in the Soviet Union as to the real aims of Anglo-American imperialism, the aims of world domination for the continued exploitation of the people of the entire globe and, above all as a long-term perspective, the re-introduction of capitalism in the Soviet Union.

On the other hand, Churchill and the bourgeois statesmen have openly proclaimed their detestation of Communism and by innuendo have made it clear to the class they represent that they intend to settle this account at a more propitious time. Mr. Churchill does not withdraw a word of what he has said about Communism in the past. And Churchill has expressed his preference for Hitler’s Nazism to Bolshevism. The support which Churchill will give is based only on the knowledge of the world bourgeoisie on the counter-revolutionary role of Stalinism, which the nationalist charlatanism emanating from Moscow has wholly justified. Were it not for this, Churchill would be clutching at Hitler as a saviour from the menace of Bolshevism.

Confident of the role of the Stalinist bureaucracy within and without Russia, Churchill and Roosevelt are calculating on the mutual exhaustion of Germany and Russia. As a Turkish journalist expressed it: “Wouldn’t it be fine if Hitler and Stalin would knock each other out?” Anglo-American imperialism will then be enabled to destroy the Soviet regime and emerge masters of the world. The resistance of Russia has been as much of a surprise to them as to Germany. A protracted resistance and its inevitable threat of revolution in Europe would compel Hitler to seek terms at the expense of Russia, and Hitler would be compelled to play the role originally allotted him by world finance.

The internal development of the Soviet Union

But what will take place within Soviet Society? To save himself Stalin must appeal to the revolutionary energies of the masses and arm once again tens of millions of workers and peasants. Not for long will these masses be fobbed off by the crimes and stupidities of the bureaucracy. The baneful effects of mismanagement, inefficiency, and corruption which are characteristic of the ignorant and uncontrolled bureaucracy will be even more glaring under the stress of the war. Meanwhile, war will impose a terrible strain on the industry and transport of the Soviet Union, and the privations of the masses will inevitably become worsened, in the interests of “Everything for the Front.” This policy can only be carried through without provoking sharp legitimate dissatisfaction, if, as was the case in Lenin’s day, the sacrifices are more or less spread equally over the entire population.

In the course of the war the wasteful extravagance and corruption of the generals, admirals and other high bureaucrats will arouse extreme resentment and hostility among the masses. This is the reason for the unparalleled chauvinist appeals on the basis of “national unity.” Lenin taught us always to look beneath formulae and slogans for the social content. In capitalist states the appeal for “national unity”, “union sacrée”, in time of war, is a cloak to gloss over the antagonism of interests in the given society. Of course, in Russia today it is correct to appeal for the defence of the fatherland—but in Lenin’s day the emphasis, as always, would be the workers’ fatherland. The defence of the Russian workers’ state would be the defence of the entire world working-class, especially of the workers in Europe and Germany!

Under the fire of British guns in the wars of intervention, both in the internal and external propaganda, the Bolsheviks appealed to the Russian soldiers fighting against the British: “We never forget while English guns and English bombs and English soldiers are raining death upon us that there are two Englands, the England of the workers, and the England of finance capitalists.” The reason why the Soviet bureaucracy cannot make this simple and true call, internally and externally, is because of the profound gulf which has opened out between the people and the avaricious officialdom. This is the social content of the appeal for “national unity” within the Soviet Union

If, as we hope, the Nazis fail to score a decisive success—which is the best that can be hoped for with Stalinism in control, the war will become a bloody war of attrition and exhaustion, and the contradictions within Soviet society will reach their extreme limit, beyond which there must be an explosion.

Like all doomed regimes, Stalin’s preoccupation with preserving his position is shown by the measures which he has dictated for the army. The splitting of the front into three commands is not dictated by the military needs of the Soviet Union. In war a unified command is obviously the best means of conducting operations on the fronts as a planned whole. Stalin’s reduction of Timoshenko from Commander-in-Chief is dictated by fear that the reins of power will slip out of the hands of the civil bureaucracy into the hands of the army caste. After the Finnish war the abolition of the control of the political commissars, which were in reality the G.P.U. guards of the civil bureaucracy, was a victory for the army caste. Stalin was compelled, by the disastrous consequences of the G.P.U. control and purges which led to military reverses, to give a freer hand to the generals. But now fearful of his position, even in the face of the mightiest foe in world history, Stalin once again has introduced the G.P.U. in order to ensure his control, from below as well as above, in the army. But in any event, this will not prevent at a later stage power passing into the hands of the military bureaucracy as in all Bonapartist regimes.

In industry and transport, through the disruption of economy, the heads of the trust will be compelled more and more to act as if they were the owners of the enterprises. Planned economy, which pre-supposes the conscious co-operation, activity, and control by the masses, managed in spite of the bureaucratic straight-jacket, to maintain a semblance of unified progress in time of peace. In time of war, the bureaucratic strangulation means that planned economy as a whole must crumble. The “Fifteen Year Plan” of 1941 is automatically scrapped. Under the aggravation of these contradictions, the processes speeded up by the war, a section of the bureaucratic tops will tend to seek the assistance of the capitalist “allies” to solve the contradictions by the restoration of capitalism.

On the other hand the workers and peasants who bear the main brunt of the war will now be armed and organised (it is true under the control of the G.P.U.), and while they have tolerated in the past the Old Man of the Sea on their backs for fear of a worse alternative in the form of capitalist intervention, they will not look with any too indulgent an eye on the excesses and inefficiencies of the bureaucracy. As time passes it will become more and more evident that the bureaucratic control is paralysing the organisation of the defence of the Soviet Union. It will become apparent that only restoration of workers’ control in the factories, the restoration of Soviets and Soviet democracy can save the workers’ state from disaster. At that time the programme of Lenin and Trotsky will be rejuvenated.

The utopian character of the dream of “Socialism in One Country” has been destroyed, in passing, by the Nazi attack. Whatever the outcome of the struggle it is obvious that the economy of the Soviet Union will be terribly shattered and weakened. The policy of “scorched earth,” with a revolutionary perspective, is, of course, the only correct one. Nevertheless it is a policy of desperation. Tens of millions of people will flee to the interior of the Soviet Union and the devastated regions will require years to build up again. Even a victory would find Soviet economy more and more dependent upon the rich and mighty “Democracies” of the West.

Even under Czarism the bourgeois democracies bled Russia white in man power and economically. In the salons of St. Petersburg the bourgeois joked that “England is prepared to fight to the last drop of blood of the Russian soldier.” At that period, while fighting German imperialism in alliance with Russia, the allied bourgeoisie were not loath to try and transform Russia into an Anglo-French colony. This at a time when they were propping up Russian Czarism as a bulwark of European reaction. Today it is clear that Washington and London regard the attack of Hitler as a gift of Providence to simultaneously bleed their mighty German rival and at the same time obtain an advantageous position for the throttling of the workers’ state. The antagonisms between collective ownership in Russia and the capitalist world is the most fundamental of all antagonisms within present-day society.

That is why, in spite of all the concessions and cringing of the bureaucracy, the Soviet regime, even in its emasculated form, cannot be saved unless the intervention of the workers in the capitalist states takes place. If world capitalism manages to survive the present bloody conflagration it has let loose on mankind, regardless of the victors, Russia will not escape the engulfment like the rest of the world, of fascist barbarism, and the bourgeois counter-revolution in Russia will be heralded.

The end of the Comintern as an international

This austere, but sober, calculation of the development of events plays its part with the Churchills and Roosevelts. Stalin is assisting them with all his might to transform their calculations into reality. The prostituted Comintern, from being sold together with oil and manganese to placate Hitler, is now bartered for Promises of machine tools and Spitfires. Not only in the allied countries, but in the occupied territories too, the Comintern is dancing to the tune of Churchill. In France and Czechoslovakia, where the Communist Parties probably have the support of the majority of the working-class, they are now placing their followers under the banner of De Gaulle and Benes, who represent London, and nothing else.

But the calculations of world imperialism are built on quicksand. In Germany and Europe, far more than in the Soviet Union itself, the contradictions between the Nazi bureaucracy and the German imperialists on the one side, and the German workers and peasants on the other, and the contradiction between German imperialism and the oppressed workers and peasants of the conquered nations, are being strained to breaking point. The development of the war will bring all five continents into the harvest of “blood, toil, tears and sweat” which capitalism has sown. The violent reaction of the masses to this bloody and senseless slaughter will come with absolute certainty. And on this optimistic perspective the Trotskyists base their programme.

In Britain the bourgeoisie is chuckling at the exorcising of the “red menace” by the betrayal of the Communist Party. The Times notes with satisfaction that Hitler’s move into Russia has “placed the dissident Communist minority behind the national effort.” This, it is to be hoped, will be the final turn of the already dizzy Comintern. The revolutionary element within the Communist Party will not for long allow themselves to be dragooned into support for Churchill. Perhaps it has been fortunate that the Comintern has not managed to penetrate and corrupt the decisive section of the British working-class. In Europe the lash of fascism is the price which the working-class has paid for the crimes of Social Democracy and Stalinism. But we in Britain have the opportunity to profit from the lessons of the past decades. The British working-class can play a decisive role in the destruction of the European reaction and salvage and regenerate what remains of the October Resolution, but only by waging an ever more implacable and irreconcilable struggle against the government of finance capital. The programme of the Fourth International alone advocates such a path and the revolutionary elements of the Communist Party, who are already voting with their feet, must be drawn to our banner.

The fate of the workers of Europe and the world has been tied in one knot by the imperialist war. Either a socialist Britain and a Socialist Europe, or a Fascist Britain and Europe and the destruction of the U.S.S.R. as a workers’ state.