Max Shachtman


Socialist Policy and the War

A Discussion of Position on the Third World War – Part II

(July 1951)

From New International, Vol. XVII No. 4, July–August 1951, pp. 195–207.
Transcribed & marked up by
Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

(Concluded from last issue)

The powers that will dominate and direct the Third World War are those that are dominating the preparations for it, the United States and Russia. Their relations make the conflict irrepressible. The conflict is imperialistic on both sides, and that is what determines the predominant character of the war they will be (and in a sense are already) waging.

How can the United States be called an imperialist power? Does it possess colonies or seek to acquire them? Does it not freely give other countries of its wealth instead of exacting theirs for itself? These questions are asked by many, some innocent and some not so innocent. The fact that American imperialism assumes a form different from that of other imperialist powers, even a unique form, blinds many to the substance, but the substance is not changed because of that.

American imperialism is of a type specific to the concrete conditions under which U.S. capitalism rose to power at a given stage of development of world capitalism. The United States does not have and has never had a colonial empire in the sense of the old colonial empires of Britain, France, Holland, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Germany and Russia. Its colonial possessions were never numerous; they were isolated or incidental cases and not decisive in its economic development.

As a great power, United States came upon the scene long after the colonial world had been divided among the powers of Europe. But it became a great power as a result primarily of an extraordinary development of its internal resources and economic organization taking place under the most favorable – indeed, all but ideal – circumstances for capitalist accumulation. These were virtually unhampered expansion over the vastness of the West; comparatively speedy and easy liquidation of pre-capitalist economy represented by chattel slavery; stupendous domestic natural resources; political democracy; lavish and continuous supply of cheap labor power through unrestricted immigration; an insignificant landlord class; an insignificant parasitic bureaucracy; more than a century of freedom from bloodletting foreign wars of consequence; more than a century of freedom from the burdens of conscription and a standing army; attraction of constructive capital investments from abroad under favorable – that is, non-colonial – conditions; etc., etc.

No other nation offers a parallel to this most exceptional development, which still forms the material basis for the ideology of the "American way of life.” The junction of these two conditions – its extraordinary domestic development and its isolation from colonial power – determines essentially the specific character of America’s role and policy in international affairs. It is at once intensely and imperialistically aggressive and anti-colonialist; it is the one because it is the other.

The very vastness of the capital accumulation of the United States has forced it out of its borders and into all the corners of the world. Broadly speaking, American exports of capital and commodities have been able to compete with the rivals of the U.S. in world economy, all other things being equal. But all other things are not equal where rivals occupy the privileged and even monopolistic positions they confer upon themselves in the colonies they hold. To establish its own economic dominance over the backward (the colonial and semi-colonial) countries, the United States requires political equality there with its rivals. To achieve this equality, it has generally followed a specific “anti-colonial” policy of its own. What this policy has meant concretely, in the different forms it has taken on at different times and in different places, should be familiar to all.

Latin America was closed to the colonial expansion of all other countries by the unilateral decree of the United States, the Monroe Doctrine, not, by the way, on the basis of the more or less radical republicanism in which it was originally conceived but of the increasingly chauvinist and imperialist interpretation given it subsequently (we, North American, arrogate to ourselves a protectorate over the lands of Latin America, without their approval, but as God is our witness, for their own good). For China, long monopolized by the European powers that divided it, the United States adopted its traditional position of the “Open Door” (that is, equality of right to exploit the country). Indian efforts to throw off British rule, Indonesian efforts to throw off Dutch rule, met with the open or covert sympathy of the United States. In a word, the general rule of American foreign policy in this respect, modified only when other considerations have had to be taken into account, has been: Independence for all countries now under the rule of our rivals for world power!

But why does not the United States seek simply to transfer outright possession of its rivals’ colonies to itself, and thereby disclose the imperialistic trait of striving not merely for equality with rivals but for privileges and superiority over them. The true reason is not too obscure.

The closer two imperialist rivals come to equality of economic (and therefore military) strength, the more they are driven to take over each other’s colonies outright and by force, in order thereby to achieve the desired objective – economic supremacy. Germany was moving toward economic equality with England early in the twentieth century. For Germany to attain equality and then supremacy, she had to take over the political positions which kept England at the top, namely, rule of the Empire’s colonies. Independence for these colonies would have left both England and Germany in, roughly, an equal position. A politically independent colony (or rather, ex-colony) could then maintain itself more or less, and extricate itself from many of its difficulties, by playing off one of the imperialist powers against its equally-situated rivals. So long as this could be done, the question of supremacy, as between the imperialists in question, would remain undecided.

However, the greater the economic difference between powerful imperialism and an enfeebled imperialism, the easier and cheaper it is for the former to attain its international objectives by means of independence for the colonies of the latter. Once the special political privileges enjoyed in the colonial possession by the weak or declining imperialism are removed by independence, the economic superiority of its rival immediately asserts itself in the colony-of-yesterday which, being still dependent upon economic aid or collaboration from abroad, tends to come under the influence of the new imperialist power. For example, declining British imperialism was not noted for its friendliness toward independence for India; rising American imperialism however, was not noted for its hostility toward Indian independence. The calculation was not a complicated one, from the U.S. standpoint: given equal terms on Indian soil, it could easily outstrip its British competitor in the field of supplying India’s need for capital and for commodity imports and exports, and thereby gradually bring the newly-independent country under its own political influence or dominion.

As it stands, this analysis, which we consider ABC for any objective political observer, nevertheless suffers from an abstractness and one-sidedness which can be grossly misleading. It assumes, so to speak, a “chemically pure” situation, unaffected by other forces and considerations. It is abstracted from the political situation in the colonies themselves, and from the desperate worldwide conflict of the forces of capitalism, of Stalinism, and of the working class.

One of the profoundest changes in the world since the First World War began in 1914, has been the appearance of national and anti-imperialist mass movements throughout the former colonial world – in Latin America, in Africa and above all in Asia. The degree to which people raised in modern imperialist countries have purged themselves of chauvinistic and imperialistic poisons which their ruling classes instill in them every day, can be measured with almost mathematical exactness by the degree to which they show full respect for these movements, for their authentic aspirations, for their unalienable rights. In other words, the democratic (to say nothing of the socialist) professions of any American, or Englishmen, or Frenchman, or Hollander – or Russian! – can be judged perfectly by the extent to which he acknowledges and defends the democratic claims of the peoples of the colonial world of yesterday and today. The imperialist is clearly marked out by his hostility to these democratic national movements of the backward countries, by his indifference toward them, or even by his counsel that they subordinate their aspirations to the “needs” of his own country. In so far as they are genuine popular movements, all of them have this in common: they seek national sovereignty and independence not only from the foreign ruler of yesterday and today, but from all foreign rule that may be imposed upon them, whether that rule appears in a political or in an economic form. Hence their attitude which, in the eyes of “friendly” imperialist countries (like the U.S.A.!), appears to be “prickly,” “over-sensitive,” “over-suspicious,” “super-nationalistic,” “consciousness of inferiority,” etc., etc.

To this should be added the fact that not a single one of yesterday’s colonial countries that has formally solved the national question by attaining political independence (we refer particularly to countries like India and Indonesia) has achieved social stability at home. On the contrary, the class struggle at home has tended to sharpen. This only serves to render more difficult any peaceful economic infiltration of the land by American capital. It requires the social calm that can insure returns on its investment; it meets, instead, the active suspicion and antagonism of politically mobilized millions. The United States is the country, pre-eminently, of the overproduction of capital, that absolute guarantor of economic crises under capitalism. It can be employed in one of two ways: in the permanent war economy, which is an exceedingly dangerous form of existence for capitalism; or in profitable investment abroad, which is the “normal” way for an expanding imperialism. The latter, however, demands “order” in the world, above all in the backward, that is, the economically still undeveloped countries of the world. No “order” is possible in these countries where conditions are, as the American press always points out, so “turbulent” and “chaotic,” until the democratic national movements and the democratic social movements have been suppressed, or at least firmly curbed. It is therefore not accidental but an inexorable outcome of American imperialist policy that the only sure allies it finds in Asia (to the extent that it can have sure allies anywhere!) are representatives of reaction who are despised by their own people: Chiang Kai-shek, Syngman Rhee, Bao Dai and their like. On whom else can it count for the realization of its objectives? The people of Asia? In that respect, too, it is no accident that American imperialism cannot find a single popular movement in the colonies or semi-colonies of yesterday and today that proclaims itself the ally or even the friend of Washington.

These movements, which most truly represent the more than half the world’s population that lives on the Asiatic continent, understand the politics of American imperialism; at any rate, they understand them better than ninety-five per cent of the professed liberals in this country. If they never heard the formula that war is the continuation of politics by violent means, they nevertheless grasp its validity. Support of American imperialism in the coming war means to them what it means in reality: support of exploitive economic infiltration of their countries and the frustration of the national dignity and social progress to which they aspire.

* * *

Far overshadowing all other obstacles to the realization of the American imperialist objective – nothing less than domination of the world – stand the forces of Stalinism.

Without hesitation or ambiguity, we can say that the only greater disaster that humanity could suffer than the war itself, which would be disaster enough if it broke out, would be the victory of Stalinism as the outcome of the war.

The source of all the confusion and disorientation that exists in the working-class movement and in its socialist vanguard in particular, lies in a one-sided appraisal of Stalinism, and in the emphasis placed upon that side of it which is at once most misleading and least important to the working class. That side is represented by the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist nature of Stalinism. The French Communist worker, the official left-winger in the British Labor Party, the “official” Trotskyist leader – each in his own way sees only this side of Stalinism or, at the least, sees this side as the decisively important one. There is some excuse in the case of the Frenchman, little excuse in the case of the Briton, and no excuse in the case of the Trotskyist.

It is perfectly true that it is in the nature of Stalinism to be anti-capitalist, and not just episodically but fundamentally. This determines the irreconcilable and irrepressible class antagonism between the Stalinist parties and the Stalinist world and the capitalist classes and states, and their inability to live together peaceably. The capitalist class the world over, with living experience stimulating its class instinct, has finally learned this. The Fourth International, ignoring living experiences and trusting only to its theory, has yet to learn it. (This does not prove the superiority of instinct over theory, to be sure, but only the superiority of good class instinct over very bad theory.) Stalinism expropriates the capitalist class and destroys it and its social system wherever it has the physico-political power to do so; and its efforts will continue to be bent in that direction so long as it exists. If this, and this alone, were the goal of Stalinism, it would unquestionably merit the support of the working class and socialist movements. But it is not and in the very nature of things it cannot be, any more than it can be or is the goal of the socialist movement itself. For the latter, opposition to capitalist exploitation and its final abolition are justified only as the means necessary for the establishment of a classless socialist society. For Stalinism, however, the abolition of capitalist rule is nothing more than the means required by the new exploitive bureaucracy to take over all state power, and therewith all economic power, in order to subject the working classes (proletariat and peasantry) to the most barbarous, totalitarian exploitation they have known in centuries.

In this sense, the statement often made, by us as well, that Stalinism is hostile both to the capitalist class and the working class, is true but really inadequate. The principal and continuing objective of Stalinism is the complete monopolization and domination of all the productive forces in the hands of the totalitarian bureaucracy, this means the complete enslavement of the working class which is the main productive force in society. It is this which, from the standpoint of the interests of the working class and its socialist advancement, constitutes the most important side of Stalinism, its basic social and historical character. Its opposition to capitalism is not and never was anything but the means of realizing itself. To support Stalinism in general or contribute to its victory in the war because of its anti-capitalist nature, is not very much different from supporting a barbarian army that assaults and destroys a prison in order to capture occupants and reduce them to slavery.

It is likewise perfectly true that it is in the nature of Stalinism to be anti-imperialist. But that holds only in a strictly limited sense: Stalinism is opposed to capitalist-imperialism. From the teachings of Marx down to the teachings of Lenin, we know – or we should know – that just as the socialist cannot support every opposition to capitalism, regardless of its nature, so he cannot support every opposition to imperialism, regardless of its nature. Neither capitalism nor imperialism is an abstraction, or an evil surpassing all other imaginable evils. Stalinism endeavors to oust the capitalist powers from their imperial positions only in order to take over these positions itself. The imperialism of the bureaucratic-collectivist states is different from that of the capitalist states. But the economic motive forces behind the one are no less powerful than in the case of the other. Only ignoramuses – people who know nothing about history and nothing about Lenin’s theory of imperialism – can conceive of imperialism as a phenomenon unique to capitalist society.

The social relations on which Stalinist society rests are such as to place upon it the stamp of reaction and not of progress. The potential for social progress contained in the centralization of the means of production and planned production and distribution, is unquestionably discernible in the Stalinist economy, but only the potential. The actual social relations under Stalinism, however, inevitably result in a destruction of productive forces, a wastage of productive forces, a strangulating parasitism which exceed anything we have ever known in history. To maintain its parasitic domination under such conditions, the ruling class is driven to replenish and increase its economic sources by the most intensive exploitation of its own working classes and by the conquest of new resources of raw materials, goods, machinery, money, and labor power beyond its frontiers. The apologists for Stalinism who claim that the “expansion” of Russia is essentially “defensive” in character, are, literally speaking, right. To defend its rule in Russia, that is, to preserve itself in power, the Stalinist bureaucracy is driven to imperial conquest, enslavement, and exploitation of other lands. The bureaucracy supplements the slave classes over which it rules at home with slave nations it rules from abroad under the same totalitarian oppression. The “anti-imperialism” of the Stalinist bureaucracy amounts to this, to nothing more – and to nothing less.

The wars it fights as a continuation of its politics are reactionary imperialist wars, conducted to maintain its rule over the countries it has already subjugated and extend it to all others it is able to seize. Wherever Stalinism triumphs, there is an end not only to the working-class movement, to the socialist movement, to any and all democratic movements and institutions and rights, but also to national independence. We repeat: no greater disaster can be expected in connection with the Third World War than the victory of Stalinism. The interests of the working class and of socialism are not represented by the slogan of “unconditional defense of the Soviet Union” in war, or by any slogan calling for peaceful and friendly co-existence with Stalinist barbarism, but only by the call for uncompromising struggle against Stalinism to the bitter end. Until it has been utterly destroyed as a political force, the victory of the working class is impossible. A less categorical statement would be an untrue one.

Does it follow that if, despite everything, the Third World War breaks out, it is necessary and proper to support American imperialism in its conflict with Stalinist imperialism? If the United States were to win the war, in all likelihood it would not mean the automatic and immediate establishment of totalitarian rule that would result directly from a victory of Stalinism. It is far from certain but it is quite probable that an American victory would leave at least some degree of democracy under which the working class and socialist movements could continue to develop with greater or lesser freedom. Does it not then follow that support of American imperialism in the war, while an evil in itself, would be the lesser of the two evils between which we are compelled to choose?

In the United States, at any rate, these questions have already been answered affirmatively by the overwhelming majority of the people, the working-class movement included. This does not yet settle the question for us. Let us see what answer the socialist movement should give.

Just as socialists cannot support every opposition to capitalism or imperialism, so they cannot support every opposition to Stalinism. The nature of American imperialism’s opposition to Stalinism must be examined for an understanding of the politics of which the war would be the violent continuation.

The Third World War will differ radically from the First and even the Second in that the two main belligerents find in one another not only imperialist rivals but class enemies representing antagonistic social systems. The war will be fought by them to decide not only which country shall dominate the rest of the world but which social order shall prevail in the world, capitalism or bureaucratic collectivism.

The propaganda campaign conducted by the bourgeoisie and paraphrased by the official labor movement in favor of the “containment” or the “smashing” of Stalinism leaves one question unanswered. It is the most important question of all: How does it happen that Stalinism has become so powerful a force, so imminent and dangerous a menace, that the most colossal efforts must be made by the rest of the world to combat it, that even the mighty United States, for all its vaunted superiority, finds itself speaking in terms of a “struggle for survival”? On this score, what is heard and read from all the official quarters is so superficial, so trivial and even ludicrous as to make it worse than no answer at all. It is understandable: for them to give the rational political answer would be to condemn themselves irreparably.

Stalinism is a powerful social force rooted and nurtured in the decay of capitalist society, which is incurable, and the decay of the labor movement, which, fortunately, is not at all incurable. We regard our own formula as adequate and, in any case, as unassailable: Where the capitalist class is no longer capable of solving the social crisis in a country on a capitalist basis, and where at the same time the working class fails to separate itself completely from the capitalist class in order to solve the crisis on a socialist basis – the new totalitarian bureaucracy develops into a power which destroys the old propertied classes altogether, converts the proletariat into a slave class and solves the social crisis in its own way – in the anti-capitalist, anti-socialist way characteristic of bureaucratic collectivism.

If we confine ourselves to the decisive factor, leaving aside for the moment secondary factors which exert their influence upon the development, it should be possible to see that: Stalinism remains an unshaken force in countries like France and Italy because the bourgeoisie is incapable of taking serious steps to overcome the social crisis on a capitalist basis and the non-Stalinist labor movement (the Socialist Party and the reformist unions in France, for example) remain appendages or allies of the bourgeoisie; whereas Stalinism is an insignificant force in a country like England because, even though the bourgeoisie could not solve the social crisis in its way, the official labor movement has taken serious, if hesitant and inadequate, measures to solve it in an anti-capitalist way. With all the necessary changes, the same explanation can be made for the difference between the situation in India and the situation in China, or even in comparing the situations in Indonesia and Indo-China.

Those who seek to enlist the support of the people, above all outside the United States, for capitalism, only help drive them into the arms of a Stalinism which appears to the masses as the only effective leader in the struggle against capitalism and capitalist imperialism. It seems impossible for an American chauvinist and champion of capitalism to grasp the fact that in virtually every other important country of the world and in most of the less important countries, the great mass of the people have lost their confidence in the capitalist social order or, as is particularly the case in the economically backward countries, have acquired a bitter and active hostility toward capitalist imperialism. Representing the majority of the world’s population, these masses refuse to fight enthusiastically or even willingly for capitalism or imperialism. The supreme incarnation of capitalism to them is the United States. They are right. Without the United States, the life of capitalism in the rest of the world would be measured by weeks.

Now, to the extent that the American struggle against Stalinism is directed at a rival imperialism, it is reactionary; it is recognized as such by the peoples of Europe and Asia (as well as Africa and Latin America). An American, no matter how sincere, must be heavily saturated with chauvinism to ask and expect the French worker, who does not even support his own bourgeoisie in its attempt to restore its imperialist power in Indo-China, to support the American bourgeoisie in a war which can only aim at establishing the supreme power of American imperialism over Asia; or to ask and expect the Indian, who does not allow his own government to send a single soldier to Korea, to support the American bourgeoisie in a far more general war all over Asia and the rest of the world. It is possible, we believe, to explain to the Indian people, if they do not already understand it, that Stalinism, especially in a world war, would threaten their national independence and freedom, too. It is likewise possible, we believe, to explain to them the importance of resisting this threat, if they do not already understand it. It will, however, be extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to convince them that they can carry on a fight for democracy if they are mobilized in the imperialist camp dominated and directed by the United States.

To the extent that the American struggle against Stalinism is directed at a class enemy, it is also reactionary; that too is recognized by most of the peoples in other countries. The war with Russia is regarded and spoken of by the American ruling class as a war against communism. From our standpoint, that is arch-stupidity, for there is nothing in common between communism and Stalinism. But from the standpoint of the bourgeoisie, it is not so stupid! From that standpoint, it makes little if any difference whether its class rule and privileged position in society are ended by a working-class socialist democracy or by Stalinist totalitarianism. The anti-“Communist” character of the American war, that is, the virtually open proclamation that the war is being fought to preserve capitalism from destruction, not only determines the character of the war it conducts and will conduct, but also the character of the alliances that the U.S. can make. It is impossible to win the masses of the other countries for support of a crusade “against Communism” and for the preservation of capitalism. These masses may not yet have finished off capitalism themselves, but they are finished with it. They will not fight for it, least of all for American capitalism. They do not doubt for a moment that the American workers enjoy exceptional economic privileges. To expect them to lay down their lives so that Americans in general and even the American workers may enjoy the special privileges which the European (to say nothing of the Asiatic and Latin-American and African) peoples cannot ever possibly enjoy under capitalism – that requires a chauvinistic blindness from which, alas, most Americans now suffer.

As if to guarantee an even deeper hostility toward American imperialism, the exceptionally idiotic and cynical statesmen of the United States (political intelligence is not an attribute of a doomed class without a future!) insists on explaining publicly that unless money is appropriated for Europe, Americans will have to do their fighting alone, without troops from other nations to fight for them, and that this country will be the bloody battlefield, not Europe. The enthusiasm created among the people of Europe for the role thus assigned to them is exactly zero. No wonder that, as in Asia so in Europe, the United States cannot count upon the support of a single popular democratic movement in any country. No wonder that to the extent that it has sure allies, the United States counts them among Franco (not the Spanish republican or labor movements); the Vatican and the reactionary or conservative Catholic political machines of France, Italy, Germany and elsewhere (not even the Social-Democratic parties); Churchill and the Tories (not the British working class, not even Attlee); the antiquarian Kerenskyite-Menshevik émigrés with their dreams of a new Russian empire (but not the revolutionary Ukrainian nationalist movement).

Because the war, on the American side, will represent a continuation of these politics and an attempt to impose their realization by force, it is impossible for a socialist to support American capitalism in the war (or, for the reasons already set forth, to support Stalinism).

It is argued that socialists and the working class should support the United States in the war in spite of the fact that it is capitalist and imperialist, because the consequences of its victory would be a lesser evil than those of a Stalinist victory. It is argued, as it were, that it is not so much a matter of guaranteeing a victory to American capitalism, as of preventing its defeat by a victory of Stalinism. The argument is specious.

What is the meaning of this demand made upon us that we support the United States in the coming war? Does it mean that we agree to serve in the armed forces when called by the state, to obey its commands while in the armed forces? We are socialists and Marxists. We are not pacifists or conscientious objectors, for all the respect we have for those who are. When drafted, we serve, along with the rest of the population. So long as we remain in the minority among the population, and even in the working class, we are obliged to abide by the decisions, in war-time or in peacetime, of the majority. We fight alongside the fighters and work alongside the workers, under the social conditions imposed upon or accepted by both. But precisely as a minority, we socialists insist upon the right to our own opinions, our own program, and to the democratic expression of our views.

Actually, the demand is not for our “physical” military support, which we have no alternative but to give. Actually, it is our political support that is demanded. It is our opinions we are asked to abandon, our program of working-class independence. That, a socialist cannot do. By support of the war, the chauvinists want the socialists and the working class to give the ruling class and its government political confidence, to support their policies, to take responsibility for them in the eyes of the people at home and the peoples abroad. Without it, they argue, innocently or with malicious demagogy, we are not helping to defend the common interests of the nation and are playing into the hands of the enemy who threatens our independence, our “way of life.”

The labor movement in this country is today a minority, politically. The socialists are a much tinier minority. We have our responsibilities; the ruling class has its responsibilities. The two are not the same, and the labor movement commits a grave and tragic mistake to renounce its responsibilities in order to take on those which are not and cannot be its own, even though the demand is made in the name of that defense of the nation to which we are not and cannot be indifferent. On this score, the view which socialists should commend to the labor movement, was admirably summed up by Leon Trotsky at the very beginning of the First World War:

Neither the nation nor the state can escape the obligation of defense. But when we refuse the rulers our confidence we by no means rob the bourgeois state of its weapons or its means of defense or even of attack – as long as we are not strong enough to wrest its power from its hands. In war as in peace, we are a party of opposition, not a party of power. In that way we can also most surely serve that part of our task which war outlines so sharply, the work of national independence. The Social Democracy cannot let the fate of any nation, whether its own or another nation, depend upon military successes. In throwing upon the capitalist state the responsibility for the method by which it protects its independence, that is, the violation of the independence of other states, the Social Democracy lays the cornerstone of true national independence in the consciousness of the masses of all nations. By preserving and developing the international solidarity of the workers, we secure the independence of the nation – and make it independent of the calibre of cannons.

The bourgeoisie is at the head of the nation. It is genuinely concerned with defense of the nation. But it conceives of it in the only way it can: as identical with the defense of capitalist property and imperialist power. That determines the policies it follows in preparing the war and it will follow in the course of the war. We have no responsibility and will assume none for these policies. For us, they determine the reactionary character of the war and our refusal to give it or its directors our political support.

The working class, too, is concerned with the defense of the nation. Unlike the bourgeoisie, it does not identify this primarily with the defense of capitalist property and imperialist power. Its patriotism is of a fundamentally different type, no matter how heavily overlaid it may be with bourgeois ideology. It identifies national defense essentially with its own class interests: with the preservation of its organizations, its relatively high standard of living, its hard-won democratic rights, as well as the right to rule as a free and independent nation. One of the outstanding differences between the coming war and the First World War is that all the things that the working class identifies with national defense are actually threatened by Stalinism. The triumph of Stalinist arms would completely change the social and political regime in the United States, a fact which we can state with as much firmness as Lenin insisted upon the opposite with respect to the main belligerents of the war of 1914. We socialists are as one with the working class in wishing to resist this threat and overcome it. We differ with the working class, as it is now, in that we cannot and will not support the American capitalist side in the war which itself aims at violating the rights and integrity of other people.

Socialist policy in the coming war, then, does not put forward any such slogans as “revolutionary defeatism” or “transform the imperialist war into a civil war.” It is necessary, we believe, to avoid any position which may convey the semblance of the idea that in carrying on the class struggle, that is, in fighting for the independence of the working class and for its economic and political positions, the military and therefore the political outcome of the war is a matter of indifference to us. We aim to replace the capitalist regime of the United States only with a working-class government. We aim to carry out our work, especially in wartime, in such a way as contributes to the advancement and victory of the working class, but not of Stalinism – of the Stalinists at home or the Stalinist armies without. To maintain political opposition to the war is correct. To continue to prosecute the class struggle is correct. But to prosecute the class struggle in such a way that it would clearly “imperil the military position of the government, even to the point where it may be defeated by the enemy and lose the war” – that, in the conditions of the Third World War, would be disastrous to the working class and to socialism.

Instead, socialist policy must be based upon the idea of transforming the imperialist war into a democratic war, that is, adopting broadly the view put forward by Lenin in 1917, with all the changes required by the differences between the situation then and now, and working for its adoption by the labor movement as a whole. That means calling upon the labor movement to champion a series of economic and political measures which would, on the one hand, “greatly enhance the military might of the country,” and which, on the other hand, could not “be put into effect without transforming the war from a war of conquest into a just war, from a war waged by the capitalists in the interests of the capitalists into a war waged by the proletariat in the interests of all the toilers and exploited.”

These measures would generally be of a type which, to use Lenin’s excellent phrase, “will not yet be socialism, but ... will no longer be capitalism.” They would provide for a radical democratization of economic and political life, above all the most thoroughgoing and extensive popular controls over production, distribution of commodities, rents, prices and profits, complete abolition of all discriminatory and segregational acts and practises against racial, national and other minorities, above all the Negro minority, a democratic steeply-graduated in come tax and a capital levy. Without proposing anything as utopian or irresponsible as complete disarmament, the measures would provide for an extension of social services, housing construction, cheap medical services for all, etc. Other measures of a similar type will suggest themselves.

Most important of all perhaps are the foreign policy measures. They would start with a breaking of all alliances and commitments with the extreme reactionary forces now propped up by American imperialism and the proclamation of the American intention to abide rigidly by the democratic principle of the right of self-determination of all nations and peoples, to be accompanied by all the political actions required to implement the proclamation. They would be followed by the adoption of a program of economic aid for the upbuilding and modernization of backward countries which would not need to be more ambitious nor would it be more modest than the $13 billion program proposed not long ago by President Reuther of the Auto Workers Union, with emphasis on the fact that no political strings whatever are attached to the program. The fact that fabulous billions are made available by the United States to peoples of other nations so that they may be armed for wars of destruction, while there is endless bickering over making available to them a miserable dole to save them from starvation (in the case of India’s famine) and while the Point Four program remains so trivial as to be devoid of positive political importance, is not lost upon the peoples of the countries which the United States seeks to enlist on its side.

The less demoralized sections of the American bourgeoisie nowadays place anxious emphasis on the indispensability of winning and keeping allies in other countries if the United States is to win the “war of survival.” They are more right than they think. Only, so long as the United States continues under the leadership of the imperialist bourgeoisie, it cannot and will not win significant allies among the masses of the people abroad. It will win Franco, Adenauer, Churchill, De Gasperi, Chiang, and the Vatican – but not the masses of the people. Them they will succeed only in driving into active or passive support of Stalinism, as they have already done to such a great extent.

But with the living demonstration of a radical change in the character of the United States as would be afforded by the carrying out of such measures as have been outlined here, there cannot be any doubt about the tremendous political change that would be produced among the peoples all over the world, the people in the Stalinist countries included. The present regime in the United States or any other capitalist regime can never win the confidence and support of these peoples. A workers’ government, no matter how modest its aims would be at the beginning, no matter how far removed from a consistently socialist objective, could carry out the measures we have indicated and, virtually overnight, alter the attitude and political conduct of tens of millions everywhere. It could mobilize such an international force – the force to which we refer as the Third Camp – as could be counted upon either to postpone the outbreak of the Third World War or, if it is precipitated by a desperate Stalinism, to bring it to a speedy, democratic and progressive termination.

This is our war program for the period of peace which is left us. It remains our war program even after the war has broken out. We count, as we must, upon the working class. To it falls the leadership in performing the great and difficult but most important of all tasks of our day: to transform the unjust, reactionary, imperialist war into a just, democratic war of emancipation – and that war into a durable democratic peace of the peoples everywhere.

Max Shachtman
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 20 November 2018