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Capitalism, Stalinism & War

New International, April 1949



Capitalism, Stalinism, and the War

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III. Marxists and the Third World War

(65) The imperialist nature of the present struggle between the two colossi is evident in the sight of all. More and more, even liberalistic apologies for social-patriotism do not attempt to deny the imperialist basis of the clash but only argue that one or the other of the imperialists is worthy of support as the lesser evil. The basis of all these anticipatory rationalizations is the old and well-worn one, marked by not the slightest originality or freshness: namely, the thesis that one or the other of the combatants is, if not less imperialist, at least more democratic or more peace-loving than the other. In every essential respect, the character of the looming world war, as we see it developing now – will be as thoroughly imperialist as the second and first.

The Independent Socialist attitude toward this threat of war is founded firmly on our analysis of the character and direction of development of the two social worlds facing each other in enmity. We declare that, as in the first and second world wars, support of either camp amounts to a betrayal of the interests not only of socialism and the working class but humanity. This view has never been so firmly founded in experience as it is now that the aftermath of the second of the great wars of our era is present before our eyes.

(66) The Second World War and its outcome did not fulfill the pre-war expectations of the Marxists that it would be followed by working-class revolutions, after the model of 1917–1921. But the essential reasons given by our movement for refusing to support it have been fully and terribly confirmed by post-war events.

  1. There can no longer be the slightest doubt that the war was imperialist on both sides and on the part of all its participant nations – both in motive and consequences. On the part of the United States in particular: it has been proved that it did not enter the war merely in self-defense against Japanese attack; the demagogic war aims put forward by Roosevelt (the Atlantic Charter) became a laughing-stock even before the war was over; as the result of its dominant role in the war, American imperialism has extended its interests into every corner of the globe, is feared by the peoples of every country as a new bidder for worldwide mastery, is attempting to subordinate the economies of Western Europe to its own capitalists’ interests through the Marshall Plan, has bases and troops throughout the world, and is the chief support of reactionary regimes everywhere as long as they are aligned against its rival Stalinist Russia.
  2. As after the First World War, there is less democracy in the world, not more; less freedom, more hunger and poverty, less hope of permanent peace. The imperialist who waged the second war “for democracy” had no difficulty in dividing up the world with totalitarian Russia at Yalta and Potsdam in secret deals the full details of which are not yet known. If the added power and influence which Russia thereby gained is being decried now, it is only because Russian imperialism is now the main threat to America’s full enjoyment of her victor role.
  3. There is not only less democracy in the world, there is less democracy in the United States itself. It is possible freely to admit that the propagandist predictions made before 1939 – about the onset of war meaning totalitarianism at home – were exaggerated. But what was not exaggerated and is all-important is the direction of development set up by America’s victory. During the war itself the government refrained from launching any general attack on civil liberties and permitted the labor leaders themselves to hamstring labor’s rights, this being possible in view of the lack of mass antiwar resistance while the world conflict was going on. It is with the end of the war and the arrival of that period which was supposed to see the fruits of America’s victory for democracy, that the militarization of America and the drive against democratic and working-class, rights has been gaining strength. A series of “firsts” have been chalked up in short order: the first draft in peacetime; the first attack in over a quarter century on the basic rights of collective bargaining and the right to strike; the revival of government strikebreaking through injunctions; “subversive” lists and “loyalty purges” on a scale never before seen in the United States, more and more resembling adaptations of Gestapo and GPU procedure and based upon the totalitarian precept that anyone under suspicion is guilty until proven innocent, and on the principle of “guilt by association.” While the social-patriots rationalized the war with the argument that its imperialist content was overshadowed in importance by the difference between capitalist democracy and fascist totalitarianism, it has turned out that the victory even of the “democratic” imperialists drives another nail into the coffin of democracy. The consequences of the victory of the “democracies” in the Second World War have been reactionary and retrogressive through and through. While the victory of the lesser evil is always posed as necessary for a “breathing spell” for the working class, one more such “breathing spell” won and democracy may cease to breathe.
  4. While the war did not end with the defeat of both sides by the socialist revolution of the proletariat, this only progressive denouement of the war was aborted precisely by the fact that the working-class forces had been led to place their trust in the victory of one or the other of the imperialists – in the Stalinists and their Russian myth or in American democracy and its illusion- makers. The promises of the left-wing defensists with regard to the progressive consequences of Allied victory have been tested and have led only to cruel deception. The policy of the third camp – opposition to both sides in the imperialist war – was the only line along which any progressive outcome was at all possible, and in this lies the vindication of the Marxist anti-war policy. The only hope for a reversal of the world trend to destruction lies in pursuing the line of the third camp consistently and rallying the new undeceived masses around it.
  5. While in the period from 1918 to 1939 it was freely predicted from all quarters that the “next war” would mean “the end of civilization as we know it” with “no victors and no vanquished,” the Second World War has been gotten through without any such definitive consequences. “Civilization as we know it” still exists in Europe, albeit in the midst of unprecedented shambles and destruction and lapped by the barbaric totalitarianism of Russian Stalinism. But with the atomic bomb in existence, there are few people now reluctant to accept the darkest predictions a second time. It cannot be expected that the Third World War, even if there is a victor and even if the “lesser evil” (American capitalism) is that victor, can lead to anything but another “breathing spell” marking another step in the breakdown of civilization and civilized values, not to speak of untold destruction, unless it leads to the overthrow of the present rulers of the world.

For a Third Camp!

(67) The Marxists reject with scorn the vulgarized notion often ignorantly or maliciously ascribed to them according to which in an imperialist war there is “no difference” between the two sides. This was not true of the revolutionary Marxist attitude in the First World War and still less true in the Second World War. The main combatants were: fascist capitalism on the one side and bourgeois-democratic capitalism on the other. The question posed before socialists was not whether one side, taken statically, was a “better” or more desirable form of capitalism than the other – a question long before answered in the affirmative by the Marxists – but whether this real difference justified socialists in supporting one camp.

The Third World War now being prepared between America and Russia will be, as we have already pointed out, not merely between two imperialist rivals, and not merely between a totalitarian and a bourgeois-democratic state, but between two different social systems. Far from making for any softening in the Marxist third-camp position, this fact underlines the necessity for the strictest adherence to it. Already in the Second World War, this new element – the involvement of a bureaucratic-collectivist state in the capitalist war – played a role, although a secondary one. The Workers Party, predecessor of the ISL, was in fact born through the struggle against the conception that when there are two different social systems at war we are perforce required to choose between them. In 1939-40 this struggle was directed against the view that it was Russia that was to be defended against the capitalist world. Today, in the ranks of American socialism and labor it must be directed against the equally anti-socialist view that it is degenerating capitalism that must be defended against Stalinism.

“Breathing Spell”?

(68) Given the fact that the DIRECTION of development of capitalism, itself is toward bureaucratic degeneration and totalitarian collectivism in proportion as the system disintegrates without a revolutionary overthrow, the victory in a third world war of unprecedented physical destruction by the capitalist world can only hasten that process of bureaucratic degeneration – while the working class is disarmed by its support of its own capitalist master and unmobilized for the only struggle which can save humanity, the struggle for socialism.

In not the best but the worst case, in any long-drawn-out atomic war under modern conditions in which the victor is as badly wrecked as the vanquished, the working class is certain to be dragged to destruction along with the ruling class unless and until the proletariat strikes out on its own independent road of fighting for its own power instead of for the ever-elusive breathing spell.

(69) On this question the thinking of American workers, and even of American socialists and Marxists, is seriously retarded and old-fashioned precisely because of the experience of the recent war, in which continental United States for the second time escaped physically unscathed. That this cannot happen again is a platitude; but the consequences, having not yet been acted out in life here as they have been in Europe, have not been absorbed.

Thus it is that proposals for preventive war – i.e., calculated unleashing of the bomb – are so much more freely thrown around in American circles. Thus it is too that American social-patriots, apparently relieved by the difference in degree between the predictions and the actual aftermath of World War II in the United States, seem willing to assume that the aftermath of World War III will be qualitatively comparable and measurable in the same terms.

(70) There is one basis and only one basis on which the political difference between America’s remaining bourgeois democracy and Russia’s totalitarianism can be made the ground for supporting the former’s victory as the lesser evil: that is, if the goal of socialism is abandoned, explicitly or by implication, as unrealizable in our epoch, and a longer or shorter “breathing spell” posed as the best of possible goals. On the other hand, whether socialist victory interrupts the war or follows it by a longer or shorter interval, as long as it is recognized as the only road out of the blind alley of capitalist-Stalinist degeneration, there is still no other way to fight for its victory, except by consistent adherence to the third-camp struggle.

(71) The political problems in international relations thrown up by the “cold war” now being waged revolve around the same issues and considerations, fundamentally, as the question of the war itself. The cockpit of the cold war today lies in Germany and here is displayed in miniature not only the methods but the traps raised by the United States-Russian struggle for the world. As in the supreme test of war itself, there is no Marxist solution for the resolution of the conflict short of the struggle for a workers’ government.

The German Occupation

(72) The main problem facing the German people is the restoration of unity and national independence; no fundamental economic or political problem can be solved without this prerequisite. The working-class and socialist movement in Germany can be restored only through making this struggle the center of its political program. The road to socialism in Germany and in Europe lies through the most militant and consistent fight for these elementary democratic demands.

The power of this struggle for democracy resides in the fact that it is directed at one and the same time against both Stalinist and Western imperialism; and against all conservative and reactionary elements in Germany who – if not now reconciled – could easily become reconciled to foreign occupation for the purpose of keeping down a revolutionary people at home. Since the reconstruction of the European Continent is inconceivable without the restoration of German national unity and independence, the struggle for this goal becomes simultaneously the task and duty of the whole European working class.

(73) In fighting for an Independent and United Germany, we do not make our demand for United States withdrawal conditional on simultaneous and similar action by the Russians – a proposal which in any case comes up against the difficulty that Russian withdrawal may or may not be a fake, and therefore tends to turn into the demand that the United States keep its troops there regardless, in order to guard against Stalinist “peace” maneuvers. Such a policy can have only the effect of inculcating dependence upon the armies of American and British imperialism as the bulwark against Stalinist expansion in Europe, for the same reason that the bourgeois and reformist leaders now look to America’s atom bomb as the bulwark against Stalinist expansion in the world.

On the other hand, an independent and united Germany, created wholly or partly through the awakening of a popular anti-Allied and anti-Stalinist mass movement under the leadership of the working class in a struggle against the foreign oppressors, would not only be able to rally behind it all of the revolutionary forces of Western Europe but would also be able to wield the only weapon (other than the atom bomb itself) capable of disintegrating Russian Stalinist power over its subject peoples: namely, the contagion of revolution. The biggest “demonstration in the West” capable of firing the revolutionary spirit of Europe’s working class would be the demonstration by the German masses that there is a third way outside of submission to either of the imperialist giants.

(74) Just as any watering-down of the socialist struggle against American imperialism in Germany is a down payment on support of American imperialism in war against Russia, so also is this true in the case of the socialist attitude toward the Marshall Plan. In this connection the convention endorses the analysis and conclusions laid down by the National Committee in its statement on the Marshall Plan at the July 1948 plenum. [See text in Labor Action for July 19, 1948.] We note in particular the necessity for socialist opposition to any plans for the channeling of Marshall Plan aid toward military supplies and arms instead of economic aid or for the setting up of a separate government program toward this end.

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