The survivors of Atlantis: Socialism in disarray, part 3

Trotsky

Author: 

Sean Matgamna

SOCIALISM IN DISARRAY, PART 3: THE FATE OF THE BOLSHEVIK REARGUARD

The terror and tragedy of the twentieth century

The twentieth century was full of terror and tragedy, and mass murder on a scale that beggars imagination and even comprehension. It was also in terms of things attempted, the most heroic in the history of humankind.

It was terrible in its murderous and enormously destructive wars of mechanised, automated, and finally automatic machines of mass murder - wars in which many millions died, by no means only combatants, and whole cities were levelled to rubble.

Terrible in its peacetime social devastation and the destruction of countless lives wreaked by economic dislocation and slump. Terrible in the recreation of the medieval Jewish ghettos in many cities, in the middle of the twentieth century, as preparation for the slaughter of six million European Jews in industrial factories designed for mass murder.

Terrible in the spawning of Leviathan totalitarian states able to use the technology of industrial society to exercise an unprecedented level of control, and without interruption for decades, over hundreds of millions of people. The East German workers who fell under the wheels of the fascist juggernaut in 1933 did not emerge from totalitarian rule for 56 years!

Terrible, in the decline of Marxism and socialism. And tragic above and beyond the many millions of individual human tragedies which the events referred to above entailed, because none of it was necessary. Better, immeasurably, better, was possible to humankind in the twentieth century.

The technology used to produce horror and slaughter was itself an aspect of an overall situation where not only better was possible, but where it was necessary and overdue, and where its retardation was the precondition for the horrors that engulfed humankind in the middle of the twentieth century.

At the core of the tragedy of the twentieth century was the tragedy of a socialist labour movement that had been built over decades to ensure what might be called an orderly historical succession - of working class socialism to capitalism - but proved unable to do that. It proved unable, despite tremendous efforts, to resolve its problems and difficulties. Was it, as it began to look to Trotsky at the end, and as the threat of it looked to Max Shachtman a decade and three decades later, a case of looming mutual ruination of the contending classes of capitalist society? The Communist Manifesto had listed such a thing as one of the possible outcomes of the class struggle.

In the 1920s Trotsky had used as metaphor for the effect of dogmatic reformism in the British labour movement, the image of chickens bred so fine that they could not peck their way out of the eggshell and stifled in it. It seemed to many by the late mid-1940s to be the very image of the working class in recent history. The man who had spent most of the 30s living with Trotsky as his secretary, Jean van Heijenoort, who had also been one of the secretaries of the wartime rump Fourth International centred on New York, abandoned politics in 1948. He declared that the working class had definitively failed as a revolutionary class able to take humankind beyond capitalism and class society. Large numbers of hitherto revolutionaries came to the same conclusion, without like van Heijenoort writing an article to explain themselves.

To the dilemma before humankind, posed by socialists as the alternatives of "socialism or barbarism", History’s answer seemed to be Stalinist barbarism spreading over much of the world and a weak and faltering bourgeois democracy in a historically privileged part of it, western Europe and the USA.

The heroism of the working class in the Twentieth Century

And with the tragedy of mid-twentieth century humanity, within it, an essential part of it, went the heroism of the working class - not all of it, not everywhere, not always, but enough of it, in enough places, enough times, to indicate what had been possible. In country after country, decade after decade, heroically the workers had risen.

Within that working class heroism, within the best of it, there was another heroism - that of the revolutionary left, in many countries, many times.

The list of working class movements, strikes, political campaigns, armed revolts, against capitalism and Stalinism, is a tremendous one. A long series of movements, aspirations and revolts against usually great, sometimes very great, and often insuperable odds.

The list is vast. A near-arbitrary selection - things I know a little about - is very long.

The Russian workers moved in great waves of strikes, from the 1890s. In the Russian Revolution of 1905, which was ultimately defeated, the workers created in the soviets - elected workers' councils - the beginnings of their own democratic system. In the same year, in the most advanced and most historically privileged of advanced capitalist countries, the USA, the Industrial Workers of the World was founded to organise the "unskilled", migrant and other workers, irrespective of race or creed, initially as a socialist and industrial-unionist-led movement. Its strikes were often small, and sometimes not so small, civil wars in which the working class side would suffer numerous casualties.

In Dublin after 1908, and especially in the great "Labour War" of 1913-14, the workers of Dublin, then the second city at the heart of the leading capitalist and imperialist power, rose off their knees to "seize the fierce beast of capital by the throat", James Connolly’s summary description of the workers of Dublin and their movement can not be bettered:

"The Irish Transport and General Workers Union found the labourers of Ireland on their knees, and has striven to raise them to the erect position of manhood. It found them with no other weapons of defence than the arts of the liar, the lickspittle and the toady, and it combined them and taught them to abhor those arts and rely proudly on the defensive power of combination…"

In Russia, in October-November 1917, the workers covered the country with a network of workers’ councils. They overthrew the man they knew as "Tsar Nicholas the Bloody" (now a saint, no less, of the Russian Orthodox Church!) and in October/November set up a soviet state. At the end of 1918 soviets covered Germany and Austria, but instead of consolidating the power of the working class, their leaders set up the bourgeois Weimar Republic.

Communists took power for a few weeks in 1919 in both Hungary and Bavaria. Even in backward rural Ireland striking workers in small dairy-produce factories, creameries, ran up the red flag and proclaimed their strike committees to be soviets, in perhaps three dozen separate cases. Limerick City was controlled for a while in 1919 by the Workers' Council (in British terms, Trades Council), which declared itself a soviet and contested control of the city with the British administration and its army.

In the 1920s the workers of China acted as a powerful independent force, fought great strike and other battles. In 1936 the workers of France organised a general strike, and won large reforms to wages and conditions. In the USA the workers organised great sit-in strikes and organised a powerful industrial federation, the CIO. In Catalonia, the workers took power in 1936/7 - to be smashed by the unwitting combination of their anarchist leaders, who did not believe in taking state power, on one side, and on the other, the Stalinists, who physically crushed them, opening the way for four decades of fascist rule.

In Britain in the mid 1940s the working class, which had its own deep-rooted parliamentary tradition, voted for the socialist transformation of Britain, and got instead very big reforms, the modern welfare state, achieved by the Labour Government. In France, in 1944 working revolt challenged the Nazi occupiers. The magnificent Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1943 was led by socialists - socialist Zionists amongst them - and workers did most of the fighting.

In the 1950s, workers in East German, Poland and Hungary rose against Stalinism. In Poland they won serious concessions, making Poland at that time the least totalitarian of the Stalinist states. In Poland, the workers moved again in 1970 - hundreds were shot down at the Gdansk Shipyards. In 1968, nine million workers seized France in a tremendous General Strike. In 1969 the Italian workers mounted great strikes. Between 1971 and 1975-6 dozens of factory occupations were mounted in Britain, where, in 1974, in waves of militant industrial action, the high point of which was a miners’ strike, the working class drove the Tory government out of office - an ill-judged appeal to the electorate against the miners led to the dismissal of the government - and put in the treacherous Wilson Labour Government.

In August 1980, the workers seized effective control of Poland and started on a struggle that eventually led to the overthrow of Stalinism - to be replaced by bourgeois democracy and capitalism. In Britain in 1984/5 the miners fought a bitter 13 month long strike in which they faced the mounted police of the Thatcher government - a strike in which a victory that would have smashed the ruling class offensive was possible.

There are many, many, many other examples of working class industrial battles, rebellions, armed risings, seizure of factories, general strikes - back to the Paris Commune of 1871, where the workers held power for nine weeks in the first workers’ state in history; back to the Chartist General Strike of 1842 in the north of England - in bourgeois history "the Plug Riots"; and beyond that, a dozen years earlier, the seizure of Lyons by the silk workers; and back beyond that…

The historical record that contains such tremendous struggles, without definitive victory, does, of course, raise many questions about the nature and capacity of the working class as a revolutionary class. It points to the great difficulties which the working class, the basic exploited class in capitalist society, faces: it cannot develop control of a portion of the means of production within the old system, as in its time the bourgeoisie did within and under feudalism and absolutism.

The working class, again unlike the bourgeoisie on its historical journey, does not develop its own culture within this system. Its class-consciousness and historical awareness and aspirations fluctuate. Habitually its leaders – its trade union as well as its political leaders - help the capitalist rich and powerful against their own people in return for personal advancement.

Though the working class has known its age of reform under capitalism, we accumulate many defeats, not all of which the working class is able to learn from. It sometimes has to live through again and learn things earlier workers knew. What the things listed, and all the other similar things not listed, indicate is that though the working class has not failed to fight, again and again, and again, there are special difficulties to be overcome if the working class is to emancipate itself. The question for socialists is: what can be done to overcome those difficulties?

But what the things listed most decidedly refute, is the idea that the working class has no inbuilt antagonism to the capitalist class and their system. They refute any suggestion that workers will never again revolt against capitalism.

As I write, the workers of France are in a great eruption of strikes and street demonstrations against capitalism’s new are of austerity. The long absence of open big-scale class battles in Britain does not point to a death of class struggle, but to the fact that the bourgeois won great victories over the working class in that struggle in the 70s and 80s. The virtual destruction of the old Labour Party by the New Labour disciples of Thatcher was part of that series of defeats

The Russian workers, led by the Bolsheviks, proved in 1917 that the working class can take and consolidate power, when certain objective and subjective preconditions are met. That is one of the reasons why the bourgeoisie sustains an ideological offensive against the memory of the October Revolution, identifying it with the Stalinist counter-revolution against Bolshevism, the Stalinism that destroyed the working class power. They conflate and identify the rule of the workers with the rule of those who overthrew the workers' power, and massacred the Bolsheviks!

The paradoxical "anti-socialist" revolutions in Russia and Eastern Europe

But, it may be argued, the greatest manifestations of the revolutionary power of the working class for the last third of a century were working-class revolts in eastern Europe and Russia, not for but against socialism and for market capitalism. Those great deeds of the working class did not point in the direction of post-capitalist socialism but in the direction of capitalist restoration in the Stalinist states.

Socialism died of shame, failure and self disgust in Eastern Europe. Socialism was tried and is now deservedly rejected as an all-round social and historical failure. The workers wanted capitalism, and socialism, "history’s great dream" - so bourgeois and ex-socialist propagandists alike say - goes the way of other ignorant yearnings and strivings, taking its place in the museum of quackery alongside such relics of barbarism as alchemy.

Yes, at the end of the 1980s, which had opened with a self-confident Russian Stalinist invasion of Afghanistan at Xmas 1979 (the last in a series of expansions during the 1970s, which even saw a Russian-financed Cuban army fighting in Africa), "socialism" seemed to die of shame and self-disgust, first in Eastern Europe and then in its USSR heartland. It was rotten and stinking for decades before its outright collapse.

Not since the Italian Fascist Grand Council met in 1943 and declared the Fascist system at an end, had anything like it been seen! "Socialism", so the bourgeoisie’s ideologists brayed, had been tried and was being rejected as a failure and a curse on those it had ruled over. And, yes if the Stalinist systems were any sort of socialism, then socialism at that point died, and it deserved to be dead.

"Socialism" was rejected most explicitly by the working class in Eastern Europe and the "USSR ". In Poland it was a working class movement, Solidarnosc, that made the anti-Stalinist revolution - the anti-Stalinist bourgeois revolution. "Actually existing socialism" melted like islands of ice in the thawing seas of international capitalism. Its most implacable enemies included the very working class in whose name the "socialist" states claimed their social and historic legitimacy.

Yes, but what was it that the workers and working farmers, the office workers and the intelligentsia, revolted against, when they revolted against "socialism"? They revolted against:

• National oppression by the USSR and within the USSR (and by Czechs in Czechoslovakia, Serbs in Yugoslavia).

• The subordination of individuals, social groups, and nations to an all-powerful state, through which a bureaucratic ruling class exercised its economic exploitation and political tyranny.

• The denial of free speech, free press, free assembly, free organisation.

• Exploitation and poverty, combined with outrageous privilege.

They wanted instead:

• National and individual freedom.

• Democracy.

• Prosperity and equality - or an end, at least, to the peculiarly glaring sort of inequality imposed on the Eastern Bloc by bureaucratic privilege. Like the Parisians seeking equality in the French Revolution, they would find that equality and capitalism are incompatible.

That the workers thought they could get what they wanted, or at least get more of them, under a market system - that it was Western Europe and the USA that gave them their positive idea of the desirable alternative to Stalinism - is very important: that determined what happened in 1989-91. But it is not the end of the story.

What had the failure of Stalinist "socialism" proved?

• That rigidly bureaucratic systems, where all power, decision, initiative and resources are concentrated in the hands of the state, cannot plan economies effectively.

• That the workers become alienated from a supposed "workers' state" when in fact it means rule over them by privileged bureaucrats.

• That socialism is impossible without freedom and democracy, without free initiative and comprehensive self-rule.

• That socialism is impossible when it is posed as a way, under a totalitarian state, driving the people, to develop backward national economies, rather as the working class seizing power in an advanced capitalism-prepared society.

The collapse of European Stalinism proved all these things. But then paradoxically the experience vindicates, rather than disproves, Karl Marx's idea of what socialism is, what it is not, and its place in the succession of class societies. No pre-Stalinism Marxist ever believed that such bureaucratic tyrannies could, or should, succeed as "socialism". As we have seen, Lenin, Trotsky, and the Bolsheviks, who are cited as the fountainheads of Stalinism by people who either know no better, or refuse to "know" what they know, did not think they could.

For the socialism of Marx, Engels, Luxemburg, Mehring, Lenin, Trotsky, Gramsci, it is good that millions of people in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union rose in revolt against "socialism" and "communism".

Stalinism was never socialism. But (like the revolts in Europe in 1848) the revolt against it was socialism in embryo. The mass self-assertion and revolt of millions of people is the raw material of socialism – socialism as liberation and self-liberation, here self-liberation from state tyranny and grotesque state-organised inequality.

Such revolt does not, of course, necessarily develop into conscious mass socialism; yet, it is its necessary starting point and one of its essential components. There can never be a viable socialism without it.

It would be a true miracle if the workers in the Stalinist countries had attained political clarity after many years in darkness. It would be remarkable if they had not been confused and bewildered by the official "socialism" which meant tyranny and poverty, and by the capitalism of Western Europe which meant comparative prosperity and liberty. Men such as Lech Walesa, the hero of Solidarnosc who looked for his ideal society to the capitalist world, the opposite of the society he had grown up in, and Arthur Scargill, who led the miners strike in 1984-5 and in his own confused way was an honest militant working-class leader but who looked east, to Stalinism, the opposite to the society he lived in, were tragic mirror images of each other’s limitations.

What East European and Russian workers gained in 1989-91 was the freedom to think and to organise, the freedom to struggle and to learn from their struggles. Out of this, the first steps towards socialism - independent workers' organisations, trade unions, and even parties - have emerged again in countries in which history seemed to have ended in Hell with the imposition of Stalinism half a century earlier. In the east, working-class history began again.

The East European and Russian revolts of the working class against Stalinism vindicated the anti-Stalinist Bolsheviks, those who made the Russian Revolution and died, most of them. fighting Stalinism.

Stalinism and Bolshevism

Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks led the workers organized in democratic workers’ councils, soviets, to power. They fought ruthlessly against the bourgeoisie and the opponents of socialism. They smashed the walls of the Tsarist prison-house of nations and gave social democracy to the oppressed nations - a majority of the population - in the Tsarist Russian Empire. Far from substituting themselves for the working class, the Bolshevik party, by its leadership and farsightedness, allowed the working class to reach and sustain a level of mass action hitherto unparalleled in history.

The Bolsheviks were fallible human beings, acting in conditions of great difficulty. Mistakes they may have made in the maelstrom of civil war and economic collapse are proper subjects for historians and socialist discussion and debate. As their critic and comrade Rosa Luxemburg wrote in 1918, the Bolsheviks would have been the last to imagine that everything they did in their conditions was a perfect model of socialist action for everywhere at all times.

When things began to go wrong the Bolsheviks stood their ground. The workers' risings were defeated in the West. Invasions and civil war wrecked the soviets. The Bolshevik party itself divided. One section took a path on which it ended up leading the bureaucratic "Stalinist" counterrevolution. The surviving central leaders led by Trotsky fought the counterrevolution on a programme of working class self-defence and of renewing the soviets.

Those Bolsheviks went down to bloody defeat. Stalinism rose above the grave of Bolshevism, just as it rose hideously above the murdered socialist hopes of the Russian and international working class. That working class hope turned into nightmares in which we are still gripped. By the late 1930s Stalin had slaughtered the leading activists not only from the Trotskyist, but also from the Right (Bukharinist) Communist and even the original Stalinist faction of the Bolshevik party of the 1920s.

Stalinism was not Bolshevism, any more than it was any kind of socialism. Trotsky, who was to die at the hands of Stalin's assassins, put it well and truly when he said that a river of working class and communist blood separated Stalinism, from Bolshevism.

The dying Lenin, in the first place, and then the Left Opposition founded in Moscow in October 1923, whose leaders were Trotsky and Rakovsky, fought the Stalinist counter-revolution that overthrew the workers' state. Fought it to the death of vast numbers, almost all of them, in Stalin's concentration camps, jails, and homicide chambers.

Trotsky and the Trotskyists

Trotskyism was no arbitrary or merely personal creation. The Trotskyists took over, developed and fought for the ideas of the early Communist International - the International, which itself inherited the progressive work and root ideas of the previously existing socialist movement. The ideas of what came to be called Trotskyism were the continuation and summation of the whole history of the socialist working-class movement.

The Trotskyists held to the original perspectives and programme of the Communist International, the world-wide party of socialist revolution that Lenin and Trotsky set up in 1919 - to the goal of winning working-class power in the advanced capitalist countries. But that programme could only be fought for effectively by a mass movement; those perspectives depended for their realisation on the living activity of millions of revolutionary workers. And the millions-strong world-wide army of "communism" was in the grip of the delusion that Stalinism was communism. Organisationally, it was in the grip of totalitarian "communist" "parties" controlled by the Moscow Stalinist bureaucracy, which used lies, corruption, and gangsterism to keep its hold.

In the 1920s and with decreasing conviction up to the Moscow Trials Trotsky and his comrades saw USSR Stalinism as a progressive alternative to capitalism and to capitalist imperialism. But they registered also that it was neither an adequate, nor a viable, nor a desirable alternative. And from 1937 Trotsky became increasingly hostile and negative about the "USSR" which at the end of his life he defined as only potentially progressive. (See In Defence of Marxism and the present writer’s introduction to The Fate of the Russian Revolution).

Max Shachtman, adapting an old joke about the Holy Roman Empire, pointed out that in the name "Union of Soviet Socialist Republics" there were four lies: it wasn’t a free union, there were no soviets, it was in no way socialist, and it was more a Stalinist absolute monarchy than any kind of Republic.

Trotsky did not properly name Stalinist imperialism "imperialism", but he described it in fact, and counterposed to it a working-class programmatic alternative. Thus, for example, Trotsky championed independence for the Ukrainian nation, oppressed by Great Russian Stalinist chauvinist.

What if "the separation of the Ukraine threatens to break down the economic plan and lower the productive forces", asked Trotsky. "This argument, too, is not decisive. An economic plan is not the holy of holies. It is impermissible to forget that the plunder and arbitrary rule of the bureaucracy constitute an important integral part of the current economic plan...

"The question of first order is the revolutionary guarantee of the unity and independence of a workers' and peasants' Ukraine in the struggle against imperialism on the one hand, and against Moscow Bonapartism on the other". Trotsky understood perfectly that the USSR was a Great-Russian Empire.

The Trotskyist rearguard of Bolsheviks were comprehensively defeated, inside Russia and everywhere else. They could not rise politically when the working class had been defeated and beaten down. Let one of those Stalinists who crushed Bolshevism and lived to finally understand what happened, Leopold Trepper describe them for us.

Leopold Trepper was the head of the USSR’s spy network in Nazi-occupied Europe. After the war Trepper was imprisoned by the KGB and only released during the post-Stalin thaw in the mid 1950s. In his autobiography The Great Game, Trepper honours the Trotskyists for their unyielding opposition to Stalin thus:

"The glow of October was being extinguished in the shadows of underground chambers. The revolution had degenerated into a system of terror and horror; the ideals of socialism were ridiculed in the name of a fossilized dogma which the executioners still had the effrontery to call Marxism.

And yet we went along, sick at heart, but passive, caught up in machinery we had set in motion with our own hands. Mere cogs in the apparatus, terrorised to the point of madness, we became the instruments of our own subjugation. All those who did not rise up against the Stalinist machine are responsible, collectively responsible. I am no exception to this verdict.

But who did protest at that time? Who rose up to voice his outrage?

The Trotskyists can lay claim to this honour. Following the example of their leader, who was rewarded for his obstinacy with the end of an ice-axe, they fought Stalinism to the death, and they were the only ones who did. By the time of the great purges, they could only shout their rebellion in the freezing wastelands where they had been dragged in order to be exterminated. In the camps, their conduct was admirable. But their voices were lost in the tundra.

Today, the Trotskyists have a right to accuse those who once howled along with the wolves. Let them not forget, however, that they had the enormous advantage over us of having a coherent political system capable of replacing Stalinism. They had something to cling to in the midst of their profound distress at seeing the revolution betrayed."

Ambassador Coulondre, Hitler, Trotsky, and Trotskyism after Trotsky

On the very eve of the Second World War, the German fascist dictator Hitler had a last meeting with the French ambassador Coulondre.

Soon, for the second time in a quarter-century, France and Germany would be tearing each other to pieces in war. Coulondre remonstrated with Hitler about the Nazi deal with Stalin, the Stalin-Hitler pact. It would mean war, he told Hitler.

He conjured up for Hitler the memory of what had happened at the end of the last world war. Working-class revolt had swept across Europe. Revolutionary workers brought down the German Emperor; they took and held power in Russia; they took power and were overthrown in Hungary and in Bavaria. Europe was swept by strikes, factory seizures, and great mass movements of workers determined not to go on in the old way and desperately looking for a way out of war and capitalism, a way to a socialist society.

That, said Coulondre, is what you risk unleashing once again. To dramatise his point, and to evoke as vividly as he could for Hitler the horrors he was conjuring up, Coulondre pronounced the name under which he, and the European bourgeoisie, thought of the socialist revolution.

"The real victor (in case of war) will be Trotsky. Have you thought of that?"

Trotsky! Together with Lenin, Trotsky had led the Russian workers' revolution in 1917. He, with Lenin dead, had opposed the tyrannical Stalin regime in the USSR. Now a hunted exile, he preached the need for socialist revolution as the only alternative to the barbarism into which capitalism and Stalinism were plunging the world. For the bourgeoisie of the world and for the Stalinists who ruled the USSR he still personified the threat of working class revolution.

Almost exactly a year after the conversation between Coulondre and Hitler, on 20 August 1940, in Coyocoan, a suburb of Mexico City, the Spanish Stalinist Ramon Mercader, posing as a co-thinker in order to get close to him, smashed Trotsky's skull with an ice-pick and he died the following day.

When, at the end of World War Two, the great wave of working-class revolt Coulondre had conjured up to frighten Hitler did sweep Europe, it was controlled or repressed by the Stalinist organisations.

Trotsky left behind him a weak and tiny movement - a small splinter from the gigantic world communist movement which drew in those who had rallied to the Russian Revolution.

Most of the communists stayed with Stalin, who controlled the "Soviet" state, because they did not understand that a political and social counterrevolution had taken place within the collectivist property forms that continued to exist in the Soviet Union.

By the second half of the 1940s, the USSR had survived and had conquered a new Stalinist empire covering half of Europe. Its European borders were established in the middle of Germany, a hundred miles west of Berlin. Russia was one of the two great world powers.

In Eastern Europe systems like that of the USSR were created; in China and other countries, Stalinists made revolutions which were against the big capitalist powers, and against the bourgeoisie, but also against the working class. In the West, in France and Italy for example, the Stalinist movements, on Russia's orders, helped the bourgeoisies to rebuild their states.

Stalinism expanded into new areas, covering one third of the world. Capitalism, which had seemed almost on its last legs in 1940, entered a post-war boom. The mass labour movements of the advanced countries settled in to live with and under capitalism. Capitalism experienced such lightning-flash revolts as the general strike in France by nine million workers in May 1968, but easily survived them.

The majority of the forces making up post-Trotsky Trotskyism continued to see the Stalinist states as degenerated or (the new ones outside Russia) deformed "workers' states", socially in advance of and superior to capitalism. Russia, Eastern Europe, and China were, they believed, "post-capitalist", in transition between capitalism and socialism.

Trotskyism thus seemed to be the embodiment of an idea whose time had come—and somehow passed it by; a movement whose programme, or the economic fundamentals of it, had been made reality by its Stalinist enemies, and grotesquely twisted into horrible shapes in the process.

Trotsky and the USSR

Why had Trotsky held on to the view that Russia remained a degenerated workers’ state? Trotsky rejected the idea that Stalinist Russia was a viable class-exploitative society for the same reason that he had rejected Stalin’s and Bukharin’s programme of building up socialism in an isolated Russia ("socialism in one country"). He did not believe that a system of production more advanced and more viable than capitalism could be developed in an enclave alongside capitalism, and come to replace it by outgrowing and out-producing it. The idea was utopian – a reactionary utopia.

Trotsky stuck to the idea that Russia remained (or maybe remained) a workers’ state, a very degenerated workers’ state, a "counter-revolutionary" workers' state, because he thought that his assessment should, until events forced him to a different general conclusion, remain within the established Marxist notion of the necessary evolution of the stages of class society. He thought it was too soon, after the experience of Stalinism for only a short period - in historical time a very short period - to shift the theory. As he wrote in one of the polemics, he reserved the right to "revolutionary optimism".

He registered the Russian realities conscientiously. In September 1939 for the first time he recognised the possibility that Stalinist Russia as it was, without any new counter-revolution, might in the near future have to be recognised as a new form of exploitative class society. Then he said, wait: let us see what happens in the war. He had good reason for holding to that view then. It did not imply the sort of politics which the "Orthodox Trotskyists" would follow vis a vis Stalinism after his death.

Class society had gone through a number of stages - primitive communism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism, etc. - and a number of in-between transitional formations, with each stage or formation leading into another. (There had been distinct systems of "Asiatic despotism" or "hydraulic society" in various parts of the world, from ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, through the Inca and Aztec societies in the Americas, to India and China, which in terms of social and economic development had been blind alleys and which had been broken up by the impact of the arms and the trade of European capitalism.)

In the basic Marxist theory, working-class rule and socialism could not precede advanced capitalism. Capitalism prepared the way for socialism by its creation and education of the proletariat itself. Socialism, the beginning of the elimination of class exploitation, was impossible until relative economic abundance, the social precondition for the abolition of classes, had been created.

Before modern capitalism that precondition had not been created and could not be created. In conditions of low labour productivity and of scarcity, classes of slaves and masters had arisen again and again. Classes and class exploitation were a necessary condition of civilisation for human history before capitalism.

The idea of socialism preceding advanced capitalism was in Marxist reasoning as absurd as the idea of the child preceding its parents. Capitalism was the father of socialism, and the working class its mother.

It was in defence of that basic pillar of the Marxist theory and programme of working-class socialism that Trotsky and his comrades had rejected "socialism in one country", the early rallying-programme of the Russian bureaucracy that had overthrown the working-class power set up in 1917.

That way of focusing it - socialism in "one country" - was misleading. The question was not whether socialism could be built in one country, or six, or eight countries. The USSR was anyway a great deal more than "one country". Its territory covered one-sixth of the Earth’s land surface.

The question was whether socialism could be built in backwardness, before advanced capitalism had done its work of developing the economy and the working class.

The Marxist programme of socialism presupposed the resources of the entire international economy, woven together into a world system by advanced capitalism. It was an international programme to replace international capitalism, or it was an utopia, an attempt akin to the colonies constructed by pre-Marxist utopian socialists to build up an alternative society and compete with capitalism from outside.

The Marxist programme was built on the development of the working class within advanced capitalism, and that working class eventually coming to be able to overthrow and replace capitalism. A classless socialist society could not be created at will in conditions of economic backwardness.

In conditions of economic scarcity, exactly the same thing would happen with any new putatively socialist society as had happened throughout history. In Marx’s words, "all the old crap" would re-emerge: class differentiation, class struggle, the establishment of an exploiting class lording it over the producers.

Like Lenin and the Bolshevik party in 1917, Trotsky saw and expected that in isolation the economically backward Russian state where the workers had power would inescapably be engulfed by world capitalism, which would link up with the peasantry and other petty bourgeois groups within its boundaries.

An alternative society - in the theory of "socialism in one country", a nominally socialist society - could not be built side by side with advanced capitalism and go on to replace it. The "alternative" society would inevitably suffer an inner transformation, rooted in its backwardness, that would reduce it to the surrounding international level of capitalist society.

A stable, fully-formed alternative type of exploiting class society, emerging on the fringes of capitalism to compete with it and replace it from outside, was ruled out for the same reason that "socialism in one country" was.

A system built on a low level of economic development, and therefore of labour productivity, and cut off from the world networks and connections created by capitalism, could not coexist independently side by side with advanced capitalism and successfully compete with it, for just the same reasons as "socialism in one country" could not.

For Trotsky, it seemed more rational to categorise Stalinist Russia as a freakish, short-term aberration from a workers' state - however great or even dominant the aberration - than to theorise that a new form of class society had emerged and was competing successfully with capitalism. In the end, he proved right in thinking that the Stalinist USSR was an unviable aberration - but his timescale was hugely, disorientingly, mistaken.

Trotsky's final position had been that the USSR simply could not survive the World War. It would go down, either before the forces of world capitalism, or before the Russian workers rising against the autocracy. And if, against all his calculations, which were based on the idea that the Stalinist system was unstable and transitional to either restored capitalism or a renewal of the workers' power, the USSR survived? He said: in that eventuality Stalinism would have revealed itself to be a new form of exploitative class society, neither bourgeois nor working class.

At the time of his death Trotsky was close to identifying the Stalinist states as a new form of collectivist class society, and said explicitly that if certain things happened - which did in fact happen with the survival in Russia and expansion of Stalinism - then there was no alternative but to redefine Stalinism that way. If Trotsky had lived and stuck to what he was saying in 1940, he could not have done what the mainstream "Trotskyists" did in the late '40s and after.

As far as what he wrote and said can tell us, Trotsky would not have been a post war "Trotskyist". Trotsky's heroic rearguard struggle against the Stalinist counter-revolution and the corruption of the world communist movement was the historic "Trotskyism". Post-Trotsky Trotskyism is something else again. Yet, broadly, it remained the legatee of the old mass communist movement that - to adopt Isaac Deutscher’s image - had vanished like Atlantis in the sea.

The survivors of Atlantis

When the Trotskyist mainstream, in the late 1940s, turned towards a more "positive" account of Stalinism, there was a mass exodus from its ranks. The defeated and depleted Trotskyist current, always small, shrank in the 1950s to being very little, even miniscule. In Trotsky's time the gap between its ideological riches and its small forces had been one of this movement's most characteristics features. Now, in terms of its ideas, too, it shrank

The major surviving Trotskisant current, the so-called "orthodox Trotskyists", organised in the "Fourth International" of James P Cannon, Michel Pablo, and Ernest Mandel, and its splinters, the Morenists, Lambertists, Grantites, Healyites, etc., sided with the Stalinist camp in the world polarisation into two blocs. They were "critically", but "unconditionally", for the "defence" of the Stalinist bloc against the other bloc, and for all its full and partial partisans. The expansion of the Stalinist bloc was, they insisted, the World Revolution advancing, though, to be sure, advancing in unexpected and uncongenial ("deformed") ways.

They identified Stalinism of various sorts with the "world revolution", and regarded the Stalinist states as "progressive". Automatically they took sides with the Stalinist bloc in its imperialist competition with capitalist imperialism and even in such an old-style colonialist enterprise as the Russian invasion of Afghanistan (1979). They backed China in Tibet in 1959 and after criticising the Maoists for tardiness in extending "the revolution" to Tibet.

These "orthodox" Trotskyists came to accept the essential utopian idea behind "Socialism in One Country" by way of adopting the view that the USSR, and later the Stalinist bloc, were societies "in transition to socialism". Although Isaac Deutscher was not himself a Trotskyist – he insisted on that – he was greatly influential with the post Trotsky Trotskyists. What he wrote about the rosy prospects before the USSR, in for example his 1960 book The Great Contest, now reads like wild ravings.

Mao was proclaimed the political legatee of Trotsky, not Stalin, for instance by Pierre Frank in an introduction to a collection of Trotsky’s writings in the French language. Much scholastic ducking and weaving by such neo-Trotskyists as Ernest Mandel was devoted to "proving" that Stalin’s "socialism in one country" had been refuted by the spread of "the revolution" – that is, of Stalinism - far beyond the borders of the USSR.

As we’ve seen, "one country" was not the point of Trotsky’s objection. The point was that it was utopian to imagine that a country, or even, in the new situation, a bloc of countries, could evolve from backwardness to compete with, overtake and overthrow advanced world capitalism.

For the USSR and the East European satellite states these "orthodox Trotskyists" advocated Trotsky's old programme of working-class revolution. Following Trotsky, they called what they advocated a "political revolution". In fact what they, like Trotsky, advocated was a profound social revolution, the destruction of the Stalinist state power and its replacement by a working-class regime based on workers' councils. That meant a fundamental transformation in property, from ownership by the totalitarian state, which was itself owned by the Stalinist autocracy, to ownership by a democratic working-class quasi-state.

For the countries in which Stalinist guerrilla armies had won power in civil wars and made their own Stalinist states, the "orthodox Trotskyists" tended to advocate not revolution but reform as the way to working-class democracy. Some of them, by way of "open letters" to the Chinese or Yugoslav "comrades", turned themselves into utopian-socialist would-be advisers of Stalinist ruling classes on how to abolish their systems!

In at least two senses this was not the "Trotskyism" of Trotsky. The post-Trotsky Trotskyists shifted from seeing Russian Stalinism as a freak phenomenon that could not survive - Trotsky’s position - to seeing the "USSR" and new Stalinist states as stable social formations, "in transition to socialism". Socialism itself would be at the other side of working class "political revolution" against Stalinist autocracy or - in China and other countries - radical democratisation; but this view implied an acceptance of the logic of "socialism in one country", of the idea that Russia could develop in parallel to capitalism and outstrip it. The fact of other Stalinist states coming into being had no bearing on this.

This thinking was also a radical turn away from Trotsky’s tentative conclusion that if Stalinist Russia survived the world war intact it would have to be radically re-conceptualised as a new form of bureaucratic class society.

On such questions the politics of the "orthodox Trotskyists" were a hybrid of Trotsky's and those of the pre-war Brandlerite "Right Communists" or critical "liberal Stalinists", splinter from the Communist International. Isaac Deutscher, though he had been a Trotskyist from 1932 until 1940, was after that a Brandlerite in his ideas about the USSR. Brandlerite politics and assessments suffuse his very widely read three-volume biography of Trotsky, and his biography of Stalin.

For the last sixty years of the 20th century, most anti-Stalinists were of this "orthodox Trotskyist" - or better, "orthodox Trotskyist"/ Deutscherite - persuasion. In their own inadequate and contradictory way, despite their belief that the advance of Stalinism in the world was the "deformed" advance of the socialist world revolution, nevertheless, they were anti-Stalinist. At their worst, when calling on Stalinist ruling classes to reform their own system, they advocated radical reforms that, if they were realised, would not have left much of Stalinism intact.

Their adaptation to Stalinism was never uncritical adaptation - those who ceased to be critical ceased to be even nominally Trotskyist. It was a misguided attempt at a revolutionary socialist "accommodation" to the fact of Stalinism, so as to promote the "full" Trotskyist programme. It was never inner acceptance of it, never a surrender of the idea that the Stalinist states had to be democratised and transformed.

But Ernest Mandel, for example, used his erudition and his intellectual talents to weave, from the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky, ideological clothing which could be draped on the expansion of Stalinism in order to identify it as part of the world revolution of the proletariat. Directly and indirectly, over the years, this "orthodox Trotskyism" tied large numbers of anti-Stalinist militants into accepting, tolerating or half-justifying aspects even of Russian Stalinist imperialism.

As a truthful picture of Russia began to form out of the mist of fantasy, lies and falsification - after say, the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, to put down the emerging "socialism with a human face" there - many CPers were disillusioned. Orthodox Trotskyists could not experience that sort of "disillusionment". They knew all the horrors of Stalinism already and had a theory - "degenerated and deformed workers’ states" - to frame them. So long as nationalised property existed the Stalinist state would be "progressive", anti-capitalist and worthy of defence.

So in 1979, when Russian invaded Afghanistan, many CPs - the British for instance - condemned the invasion and called on Russia to withdraw. Every orthodox Trotskyist organisation in existence, with the exception of Socialist Organiser-Workers’ Liberty, refused to oppose the occupation. There was a big minority in the French organisation LCR which wanted to call for the withdrawal of the Russian army, but some groups were very enthusiastic for the expansion of the "workers’ state".

Mandel, the most important orthodox Trotskyist thinker, played a role similar to that of Karl Kautsky two generations earlier, who rationalised, from the point of view of a hollow "orthodox Marxism", what the leaders of the German social democracy and trade unions did. But Mandel was worse than Kautsky. Kautsky devised ideological schemes to depict the time-serving activities of a bureaucratised labour movement as an effective drive for working-class liberation; Mandel produced similar rationalisations for totalitarian Stalinist states and empires - Stalinism that must be judged historically to have had no relationship to socialism and working-class emancipation but that of a destroyer of labour movements and an enslaver of working classes.

It was their assessment of the USSR, inherited from Trotsky but erected by themselves into a self-blinding dogma, that trapped the orthodox Trotskyists into letting themselves be reduced, too often, to the role of mere satellites of the Stalinist bloc and its partisans in the capitalist states. That misidentification of the USSR was one pillar of a complex historical disorientation: the existence of the Russian degenerated workers’ state and the coming into existence of other Stalinist states was seen as proof that this was "the era of wars and socialist revolution".

Almost everything "Trotskyist" in our early 21st century post-Stalinist world - including Solidarity and Workers’ Liberty - has its roots in that "orthodox Trotskyist" current. It was, probably, the ambiguities, self-contradictoriness, and politically protean character of that current which allowed it to survive, in many political variants and compounds.

The other Trotskyists

There was another Trotskyist current - that of Max Shachtman and the others who fought Trotsky in 1939-40 because they rejected any sort of "critical support" for the Russian Stalinist army in its war with Finland (from November 1939 to April 1940).

They went on to break, in 1940-1, with the idea that the USSR was any kind or degree of workers' state. In response to events, they elaborated a distinct strand of Trotskyism.

In the 1940s the "orthodox Trotskyists" floundered politically in face of, first, the unexpected survival of Russian Stalinism, and then the eruption of Stalinist imperialism. Like Bible-fetish Christians, they read in the Big Book of "Trotskyist" "orthodoxy", where they themselves had written as immutable dogma an unrepresentative selection of Trotsky's works and phrases, especially on the USSR.

In contrast, the "other Trotskyists", the "heterodox Trotskyists", responded to the consolidation of the Stalinist autocracy and the rise of its empire to the eminence of second power in the world with accurate reporting and sober assessment of its meaning for socialist theory and its implications for the socialist working-class programme.

It can be argued (as I have argued, in detail and at length, elsewhere) that this heterodox Trotskyist current, in fact, despite its episodic dispute with Trotsky in 1939-40, continued the politics of Trotsky and applied them to the world, and specifically to Stalinism, in the way that Trotsky himself would have done if he had survived into the 1940s. Be that as it may, they evolved a distinctive Trotskyist tradition and gave it life.

For two decades and more, they produced a powerful literature that has for that period no equal, nor any near relative or rival. Ultimately, from the end of the 1950s, their tendency too fell apart.

Where the orthodox Trotskyists saw the Stalinist states, which expropriated capitalism, as the advancing ("deformed") world revolution, the heterodox Trotskyists saw Stalinist revolutions as the advance and spread of totalitarian slavery that they in fact were.

What they had in common, the two basic strains of post-Trotsky "Trotskyists", was the belief that capitalism was collapsing and dying. For the "orthodox", that gave them confidence that History was (sort of, in a "deformed" blood-thirsty way), on their side, and shaped the way they saw Stalinism.

To the Shachtmanites, capitalism was sure to be replaced soon, one way or another - and the choice of replacement was either Stalinism or socialism. In the capitalist prosperity of the 1950s and 60s, they saw only a respite in the disintegration and death-decline of capitalism. The prosperity could not last, and, therefore, so it sometimes seems in their writings, it did not really exist, at least in terms of the long-term perspective.

Stalinism was indeed expanding, and it would continue to expand for some years after Shachtman’s death in 1972. Following through the line of thought that under bourgeois democracy, in sharp contrast to Stalinist totalitarianism, the working-class movement could function, and could prepare itself to create a socialist alternative to both capitalism and Stalinism, Shachtman and his close friends went over to the US-led bloc.

They abandoned the socialist programme of independent working class politics, of the "third camp", and sided with bourgeois-democratic capitalist USA against the Stalinist bloc, seeing the US and its allies as the only halfway-viable alternative to Stalinism. They took that course for reasons that have much in common with those which led the "orthodox Trotskyists" to back the Stalinist bloc (critically - but the Shachtmanites too were critical of "their" bloc).

Within that bloc, they thought, working-class independent socialism could emerge; otherwise it would be crushed by advancing Stalinism. Shachtman became mired in the dirty politics of the Democratic Party. As a tendency, his co-thinkers evolved into born-again social-democrats. Shachtman himself never abjured support for the October Revolution, but some of his co-thinkers would (see Al Glotzer in Workers’ Liberty 16).

Others in the heterodox Trotskyist tendency - Hal Draper, Phyllis and Julius Jacobson and a few others, who started the magazine New Politics in the early 1960s - rejected Shachtman’s course and maintained independent socialist politics. But in their own particular way, they too moved very far from the politics of the tendency in its heroic days of the 40s and most of the 50s. They rejected the project of building a revolutionary socialist party. Draper repudiated and rejected what he called the "micro-sect" project of organisation-building. They became mere propagandists - with propaganda, to be sure, of a very high order.

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Comments

great article, but....

The East German workers who fell under the wheels of the fascist juggernaut in 1933 did not emerge from totalitarian rule for 56 years!

at a whole, a great article. but i stumbled over the sentence above. i dont think, that it intended to say, that living under fascism and later in german democratic republic was the same, but it could be read/understood that way.

and as we all know, the stalinists in eastberlin/GDR, however cruel, did at least not run concentration camps with millions of death, and didnt start a world war.

the theory of totalitarism was extensively used in germany (and probably not only there) to justify capitalism &imperialism and downplay the singularity of german fascism.

Stalinism was totalitarian

Hi Guenter,

In the Transitional Program - written in 1938, before the USSR had clearly become a new imperialist centre - Trotsky felt able to write that, measured against the Nazis, Stalin's regime "does not differ, save in more unbridled savagery". In the same document, he refers to the fascist states as "totalitarian" - a term he elsewhere used frequently for Stalin's USSR after the mid-30s. And this while he still regarded the USSR as a "degenerated workers' state" (wrongly in our view).

The Stalinists in the USSR did create concentration camps, did murder millions and did ally with Hitler to invade other countries (and then did it happily by themselves later on!)

The GDR may not have been as "savage" as the Third Reich. I don't know enough to judge - but then Mussolini's Italy, at least until the 30s, was probably not as "savage" as Stalin's USSR by 1938. In any case, all these regimes, fascist and Stalinist, were "totalitarian" in that they prevented the emergence of any independent workers' organisations, even the most basic, and allowed absolutely no space for any democratic, let alone communist, dissent.

Isn't that clear?

Sacha Ismail

vanished

oh damn- i just had written a very long reply, and when i previewed it, somehow it vanished.i think, i tried to correct a grammar mistake in the preview, instead below. so when i clicked with the cursor at the prieview it vanished. its late at night now. i try again tom.nite

pls be fair, dont ignore the facts, and no relativism pls

sacha, come on. u know that u dont need to explain stalinism to an passionated anti-stalinist.but i read trotsky using the word totalitarian only in "..." -"totalitarian". i know what he means and agree with it. but his defination didnt made it throughout the world, and we cant just ignore that the international bourgeoisie developed their own theory of totalitarism, which played a most central role worldwide and espec. in germany, to justify capitalism &imperialism. u and the author above must know that, dont u? moreover, in germany this stalinism=fascism -where there is some truth in it- was used for a crude relativism and revisionism of history: "if other nations had their stalin and mao and ......., why shouldnt germany have had his little hitler? was he really worse than others?" so, "totalitarism" is used to downplay the singularity of german fascism in history.and i think its sad, that awl has no article about, when this debate among historians took place in germany some years ago. didnt it happen for you, or did AWL not find it important?

2. since this bourgeois theory of totalitarism succeeded, we shall be careful by using the word. to suggest that living under GDR-regime or under hitlerregime was same, or almost same, also does help to create illusions in bourgeois "democracy" as a much lesser evil. AND: the differences between GDR &nazigermany are definitive bigger, than the differences between mussolini&hitler or mussolini and stalin 1937. when i reminded u, that gdr-govtm didnt run concentration camps, and no massmurder, how can u simply rush over that?? also, before u posted here, i had send u another valid argument in a private mail, which u also ignored, what makes me a little angry: at least, the gdr-govtm did not resort to the "solution" of tiaman square, china 1989, as we all suspected. they probably thought about or prepared for, but at least they didnt! they gave up, after only 70.000 demonstrants marched to the doors of the secret-service-stasi. short after, the wall was opened without any bloodshet! is that gdr=hitler under the headline of "totalitarism"? (iam not downplaying stalinism, i dont want that wrong comparisms does at least downplay the singularity of german fascism.)and what do u think, what will happen, if the present german imperialism will be challenged? do u think, 70.000 will do? or 700.000? no way! i tell ya, this might become the biggest blodbath ever, where the eastgerman repression was nothing, compared to it. so if gdr=hitler, what will this than be, if it happens? more than hitler?

3. i remember my schooldays, where i learnt nothing about this period. german fascism didnt excist in my history-books. so i managed to get some schoolbooks from gdr and poland, and there anything was explained in detail. for the first time in my life, i saw the shocking photos from the concentration camps and so on. and how nazis on their way through ussr murdered babys and hanged children 4 being member of comsomol (CP-youthorg.) can u imagine, that for those in the c.camps, the ussr and thälmans teaching, that "stalin will break hitlers neck" was the only hope which kept them alive? can u imagine, how difficult it was then, to realize the real character of the ussr, working all day in the camps, and no polit. information? when the red army -arriving some days b4 the others- opened the prisons and freed them, and they saw the red flag wavin over berlin, it seemed 2 them, that stalin was the antifascist hero and anything will be better now.
many of the ex-gdr leaders have been in this prison camps by a young age, some b4 they turned stalinist. nowadays there are many eastgermans who wish the wall back -its true!- and remembr the old times with nostalgy, cause of more social security than in capitalism. if we were 2 tell them, that in gdr they lived the same than under hitler, than those few still living who experienced both, wud ask us, if we are nuts, and we would make it very, very easy for stalinists 2 recycle their propaganda about trotskytes who say the same than the bourgeoisie and who seem 2 support the other side. i wanna say, espec. in my country it cud be very contraproductive 2putGDR-regime and hitler under the same headline of totalitarism, and it could mean to slip from antistalinism into feeding anticommunism. we shud argue more differenciated here. is THAT so difficult to understand?

Unwitting apologetics for Staliism

Hi Guenther,

Reading a number of your posts, it seems to me that your political method is to put a minus where the (West) German state puts a plus and vice versa. That’s not bad as a first instinct but it is not the method of Third Camp Marxism which is to assess things from the viewpoint of the independent interests of the working class. Here I think, it leads you into, no doubt unintended, apologetics for the GDR regime and Stalinism more generally. Your approach is particularly unfortunate in Germany where the two Cold War regimes each used an ideological critique of the other to bolster themselves: by anti-communism in the West and ‘anti-imperialism’ in the East.

Firstly, on totalitarianism you seem to be saying that because bourgeois ideologues use a term in a particular way we shouldn’t use it at all – even where it fits. Of course, we don’t adopt the theory of totalitarianism whereby far left and far right are equated as similarly authoritarian. However in what I take to be its normal meaning – the intervention of a repressive state into all aspects of its citizens’ lives to ensure their conformity to the regime’s ideology – it does seem to me to apply to both Stalinism and Naziism. Clearly that is not all that is to be said and there are differences – though I don’t accept that Naziism was ‘singular’ though I think that is what you get taught in school in Germany today (not a totally bad thing, for sure). You mention the ‘Historikerstreit’ and suggest that equating Stalinism and Naziism in this respect leads to accepting the argument of some of the participants that Stalinism justified Hitler because Hitler’s aggression was a response to diabolic Bolshevism. Again it seems to me that we maintain an independent view but do not become scared to tell the truth because others use it for their own purposes.

It is clear that by the definition I give the GDR was a totalitarian state. Why no Tienanmen Square in the GDR? Well, there was one – on the 17th June 1953 when Russian tanks shot down Berlin workers who had risen against their work conditions and the Stalinist regime. Then there were the hundreds of people shot trying to cross into the West and the tight control exercised over the population by the Stasi. Sure, people weren’t shot on the scale of 1937 Russia or the Nazi regime but we don’t assess the nature of regimes on a quantitative measure of the degree of repression. Why no Tienanmen in 89? Well, firstly there nearly was. It is a matter of record that troops were ready to fire on the demonstrators in Leipzig in October 89 but were stopped at the last minute by the intervention of local leaders. The regime was in crisis and paralysed after Gorbachov had made it clear that, unlike in 53, the Russians would not intervene to support their puppet regime, which explains both why no orders to fire came from the top and also the largely unplanned decision to open the borders.

To a lot of what you say, my answer would be ‘So what?, Anti-fascists did no doubt look to Stalin to overthrow Hitler. But equally many would have been demoralised by the Hitler-Stalin pact and the handing over of anti-fascists such as Margerete Buber-Neumann to the Gestapo. That tells us nothing about Stalinism. Nor does the fact that many East Germans now want the GDR back. Nor that the Stalinists will slander us for what we say – should we then change our views?

me soft on stalinism, or u soft on capitalism?

Reading a number of your posts, it seems to me that your political method is to put a minus where the (West) German state puts a plus and vice versa. (bruce)

not at all, bruce. iam not that simple, and in 1 of my posts -u probably didnt read all of the many- i myself blamed the "anti-german"-current to do so. also, i dont have a specific political method.
and accusing ME of being apologeting stalinism, is an abuse. from thousands of people I´d knew, ur the only 1 ever said so. but as i love to be polemical too, i will tolerate the undeserved blame 4 the moment.
what really shocked me more than that, was ur deny, that the crimes of german fascism are singular in history. hello?!? what other fascism (italian, spanish, portugese?) or stalinism can u show me with the same high number of murder, creating a worldwar &the holocaust?! when u say, we dont asses the nature of a regime by quantitative measure, i know what u mean, but dont tell that the quantity dont matter! its a difference if 1 lives in an totalitarian regime, where once in a while some1 got shot or jailed, or where this happens hundreds of times each day. isnt it? sure we dont wanna live in both of it, but they are not exactly the same. same as livin in the GDR was not exactly the same as living in russia under stalin, or living under the hitlerregime.(deathpenalty didnt even excist in GDR!) and i repeat, sayin so in germany, where every rightwing newspaper since 1956 did repeat that daily, will be contraproductive 4 trotskytes, &only give the superficial impression, 2 say exactly the same than the rightwing. to make an apology 4 stalinism out of pointing 2 that,, badly ignores my real concern. so, when u say, shall we change views- no, but perhaps change 1 tactic, be less dogmatic and argue more differenciated than with a comparism, what people here only know from the other site.
(btw: the hitler-stalin pact DID NOT demoralize many of the german CP-members- if this was the case, perhaps more would have turned trotskyte.)
b) u overlooked an huge argument: i bet my head, that the battle against nowadays german imperialism will end up much more bloody, than the overthrow of eastgerman stalinism. its no accident, that u "overlooked" that. cause, if GDR &fascism are same totalitarism, than with what u will compare the future bloodbath, when it will take place? is this more than fascism then? u see, how careful we shud be with the word fascism. i understand u insofar, as i myself sometimes did tend to call 1 or the other ultrastalinist organisation -as the kurdish PKK- as fascist.but then some1 reminded me, that the inflationary use of the word fascism is wrong, or otherwise the "lightning path" in peru or the NPA (CP-"new peoples army") in philippines are fascist then too. hope u got me right this time.

part2: u really dont need 2 worry bout me as apologising 1 inch of stalinism. in opposite, iam afraid, that the AWL in a few points might be in danger to become soft on capitalism and bourgeois "democracy". best point 2 show that is probably ur position, to support yeltsin in banning the CPUSSR. i already had this argument with sacha in private mails and didnt find his answer on my critic convincing. he said: if we want an revolution, that destroys stalinism, we shall agree with the smashing/banning of the stalinist organisation.oops! bringing this logic to his end, we cud also support hitler in destroying stalinism. NEVER forget to ask the quest: WHO does destroy& WHAT FOR? yeltsin didnt fight them from an antistalinist, but from an anticommunist point of view. he might have banned trotskyte groups too, if there was some.supporting him, could mean to slip from antistalinism into anticommunism. so, when u think, u shud stress the "independent point of the working class" against me(!), i ask u: is it an "independent interest of the working class" to support yeltsin or bourgeois democracy?

and i can tell u,the fact that AWL was not supporting the demos against the yugoslawian war, did cost them all sympathies they had among the dissolving ISO-group in germany. thats why also for me it become an taboo for years, 2 look at their website- out of quest. when i finally did, i was surprised to like a lot of points, and espec. some, what many groups do attack: ur more differenciated point bout israel &ur clearly labelling of clericalfascism (whether in iran or among hamas/hezbollah) as what it is. but i still think, beside the yeltsin-support it was the other huge mistake of AWL not to mobilise against this war, by saying that will only help milosevic&the serbs. i cant understand this logic at all. moreover, milosovic was only the pretext 4 the war. immediately after the war, the german currency did rule in ex-yugoslawia. THAT was what it was all about. no secret for marxists. if WE dont see through this war-propaganda, "milosovic=hitler" (&then the war-coalition becomes the anti-hitler-coalition of the worldwar), then who will? HERE i can clearly see where a -position milosovic=stalinist=hitlerist did lead u to!! ("dont fight the antifascist NATO"- AWL didnt say that so, but its the essence of ur position).

about the iraq-war, i agree with ur position, that an resistance, which is mainly dominated by islamists, shall not be backed. but at the same time, i think the call for immediate withdrawl of the troops shall not be tropped, because: isnt it the excistence of the troops, which does provide the islamists with new followers daily?

so, now we accused each other and have a lot to discuss. never mind that i posted most of my critical points; i was in a process to discuss them all with sacha, but since many weeks he didnt had the time 2 reply them and at the moment he dont reply at all, so iam also a bit angry with him. i tried to send him the spanking-brigade of the "proletarian islamist communist party", but it seems they catched a flight to yemen.

adding: remindings on the secret protocol of rambouillet

hi bruce,
although u didnt reply yet, i want to ad a few more thoughts bout the fact, that ex-yugoslawia after the war, espec. croatia, turned into a colony of germany, something what was never mentioned in the articles of AWL bout the war against yugoslawia, and i also didnt find nothing about rambouillet. there, the official protocol of ramboillet with the ex-foreign minister of germany, joschka fischer (an terrible asshat, which i once did knew personally) had an 2nd secret protocol, which included that a)milosovic had to allow to station the nato-troops in serbia and b) had to agree with splitting kosovo off within 3 years. it was very clear, that no govtm in the world wud have agreed with such an dictate from an foreign power, and that this did invite the following cleansing of the kosovarians. with the beginning of the war, the german war propaganda talked about 30.000 murdered kosovarians, later reduced the propaganda down to 8.000, in the end to 1.000. a "genoicide" looks different.
germanys war-minister at this time, scharping, used to create several horror-stories about serbs who cutted off the stomachs of pregnant women, cutted the fotus out and played football with it. he become a proofen liar and had 2 admit it. how can we believe a single word of them?!?
germany´s perhaps most famous living author, peter handke, did spend a lot of time in serbia, and when he was back, reported a million lies of the war-propaganda-machine. he also experienced, how the hospitals and the average people have been bombed. in other words: those, who believe that the NATO went on war to help the albanians and to stop an ethnical genoicide, are as naive than those, who believe that USA is in iraq "to bring them democracy" or in afghanistan to protect women rights!

lemme put an article here bout anything from SEP, which is definitive not my group, but i think they did a good long research bout what this war was really for.this time it sounds convincing to me what they say. let me see, if u can argue with that all and how u will do it.

simply stupid- who has the stalinist method now, 4 all 2 see?

instead of replying to my remarks above -some1 seems 2 have difficulties with that-. i got censored (1 article cancelled) and the protest against the censorship also got censored- thats not only a stalinist method, its plain stupid, knowing that i have the possibillity to publish and inform about that in many a place. this method opened my eyes 2 understand, that the AWL is not better or more serious or more democratic than others, and that i was 2 quicly 2 enthusiastic about it (an old mistake of my personal temper). i will therefore break up my relationship with AWL and request the censor 2 go on and also cancel my greetingword 2 the AWL-conference and the article i wrote about germany (now sitemapped). i think, i hold the copyright 4 them and dont want them 2 be here anymore.
my personal prognose -and in the past, i was always right with that-, is: a group who act like this, will not be able 2 win a significant number of new people in the future, and in 20 years still sit with the same number of people than in the last 20 years. in revolutions 2 come, they will play no role.
goodbye,
günter.
now rush quickly 2 cancel the haretic,ur urself claiming, being so unorthodox, haha

Calm down!

Guenther,

Calm down! Nothing you have written has been censored from this website. All that has been removed - by whomever, not me - is an over-long post from another tendency available elsewhere on the net. If you just put the URL for that article up, nobody will object. We state clearly on the site:

"We operate no political censorship, but we reserve the usual editorial right to delete or cut comments which are racist or sexist; advertising; abusive; excessive in volume; or otherwise inappropriate."

The 'excessive in volume' clause seems to me to apply here.

It rather annoys me that you claim that nobody replies to you because we can't. Most of the points you raise on Yugoslavia and Iraq have been raised by others and replied to on many occasions in our press. As for me not replying to you, the rest of my life does not come to a halt every time you post something on this site. I will write some comments in due course.

Guenther, Hysteria in

Guenther,
Hysteria in politics tells its own story. To trot out the repertoire about censorship, repression, our being unable to answer you, and all the rest of it in response to the removal of the long article which you posted here, is hysterical. Censorship has nothing to do with it. You are free to write what you like, at reasonable length. But we decide what articles to post on the AWL site. You do not, without our prior agreement, have the right to post such an article as the one you posted. As Bruce says, our policy here is spelled out on page 1. That policy was elaborated as a means of freeing the site from inordinately long screeds, the sort of casual abuse which hostile, and usually idiotic, sectarians mistake for discussion, and articles such as the one you posted. The policy is a given; accept it and get on with the discussion.
Carolan

again i reject wrong accusings &again about handling people

As for me not replying to you, the rest of my life does not come to a halt every time you post something on this site. (bruce)

the sentence includes the suggestion, i might be an person who suspects the world 2 stand still, when he appears. thats again insensitive nonsense beside the point.
u choosed to reply 2me, knowing, that it will become more than 1 reply, and u was able 2 reply within minutes 2 my critic above. so simply make up ur mind, if u have the time and interest, to have an continued discussion.
i think u know, that i started here as an new sympathisant, after i did come 2 know sacha in an debate of another website. quickly i read most of the stuff here and started 2 write 2 him bout the points i disagreed with. (there was much i agreed with, but this we dont need 2 discuss, right?)but he replied only once bout this points; iam still waiting his reply 2my reply; since many weeks he promised that weekly 4 each coming week, b4 he didnt reply at all since 2 weeks or so, what is mighty disapointing. i thought, maybe he told u, to continue the discussion with me. i guess, i was wrong. anyway i think, its no way 2 handle new people, to tell "this we all discussed b4". i studied almost all of ur stuff and did, 4 example, not find an article bout ramboillet. if i may have overlooked something, than thats no scandal. i think, if the AWL has no one to have an concentrated debate 4 some weeks with some1 new, than my "hysterical" future-prognosis above may become very valid.

@carolan: i simply overlooked, that the lenght of an article can also be an reason 4 removing (but nowhere its said, how long it exactly can be; i saw some very long replies!) and u make an whole "repertoire" of wrong accusings out of it, which i seem 2 have and fire it up whenever i like. so, the hysteria is all urs. cause i dont have any fixed repertoire, my reply was obvious very quick and spomtaneus- as usual. and from my experience with other groups i had any right, to suspect what i did suspect (censorship), AND ALSO because my first small critic was removed too without any explaination. only after i wrote the sharp, "hysterical" critic, i earned an reply. so obviously it was necessary! (just a little logic). AND, if it was bout lenght only and not about content, u cud also have offered me, to post only an excerpt from the article, isnt it?

3. about b. being so annoyed, that i saw no omnipotence here, 2reply everything:
on many an article here, i posted an short, simple and kind quest, which never was answered. for example: at the article bout "the pope&the red army", where it was said, that the soldiers of the red army had a "license" to rape and act like conquerors, while the nice americans hanged their raping soldiers, i posted the following comment:
a) the red army, however stalinist, did free europe from the nazis, arrived in berlin few days b4 the americans &opened the concentration camps
b) i guess, soldiers of all armys does rape
c) as far as i know, the red army also had an law, to execute raping soldiers
-so i kindly asked the author, where he has the information from, that they had a licence to rape
he never replied. so, is it nasty 2 assume, that the author might be unable, to back it up, what he said? just a little logic! if this is annoying, than i cant help it.

hope that i can discuss 1/3 of the banned article

The claim of genocide

The assault on Yugoslavia has been justified by NATO and the media as a humanitarian effort to halt repression of the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. The heavy-handed and cynical character of the propaganda campaign that has accompanied the bombing in its own way reflects the glaring contradictions in NATO's defense of the war. The crude demonization of Yugoslav President Milosevic, the wildly divergent claims of Serb massacres and Kosovan Albanian deaths, the endless claims of “genocide,” and the barrage of TV images of suffering refugees are designed not so much to convince through the force of argument, as to wear down, inure and intimidate the public. “Opposition to NATO means support for the forced expulsion and mass murder of Albanians!” the establishment politicians and media pundits declare.

In the mobilization of public opinion behind the bombing of Iraq, the Clinton administration repeated endlessly the phrase, "weapons of mass destruction.” Only by pounding Iraq day after day, the Clinton administration declared, could the world be saved from Saddam Hussein's invisible arsenal of deadly gases, germs and chemicals. In the war against Yugoslavia, “weapons of mass destruction” has been replaced with a more powerful and evocative mantra—that of “Ethnic Cleansing.” The principal value of this phrase is that it conjures up the image of Nazi Germany. The “ethnic cleansing” in Kosovo, NATO would have it, is the 1990s version of the Holocaust.

The comparison is so misleading and historically false as to be obscene. The Holocaust consisted of the rounding up of millions of Jews throughout all of Nazi-occupied and -controlled Europe and their transportation to death camps that were essentially assembly lines of mass murder.

Six million defenseless Jews were killed by the Nazis. This compares to an estimated two thousand people who were killed in Kosovo last year. (The recent claims that 250,000 Albanian men have been killed, it must be added, are noxious fabrications, which have been contradicted by first-hand observers from Western newspapers.)

Even if the total number killed in Kosovo were doubled, the loss of life would still be smaller, even adjusting for differences in population, than in many analogous conflicts around the world (for example, Sri Lanka or Turkey). The comparison is not an argument for indifference to the suffering taking place in Kosovo. It does, however, reveal the grossly misleading character of the claims that have been used by NATO to justify its full-scale bombardment of Yugoslavia.

A further point about the context of the violence in Kosovo must be made. It commenced in 1998 with the outbreak of civil war between the Albanian nationalist and separatist Kosovo Liberation Army and the Yugoslav government, which sought to retain control of the province.

The International Committee of the Fourth International, the publisher of the World Socialist Web Site, opposes all forms of national chauvinism. We hold no brief for the reactionary nationalism of the Belgrade regime. But it is a flagrant falsification of political reality to claim that the year of sectarian violence that preceded NATO's offensive was the exclusive handiwork of the Serbs. The KLA—financed with drug money and enjoying the behind-the-scenes support of CIA advisers—carried out its own campaign of terror against Serb civilians.

No small degree of hypocrisy is involved in NATO's pose as defender of the ethnic Albanian minority from Serbian repression. Consider the NATO member countries that have carried out even more extensive campaigns of “ethnic cleansing.”

Two hundred thousand Serbs were expelled from Croatia in 1995 with US support. (Croatia has since become a US ally and one of NATO's “frontline states” in the war against Serbia). Over the past fifteen years, more than one million Kurds have been driven from their villages in Turkey, with the support of the US, including American military hardware. Turkey, meanwhile, retains NATO membership and participates in the bombing of Yugoslavia.

In the punishment inflicted on the Albanian population, Serbia trails far behind the savageries inflicted by the French on Algeria or the United States on Vietnam.

Had political conditions dictated, the US media could have presented the Israeli suppression of the intifadah in 1987-91 or the massacres that unfolded in Beirut in 1982 under the auspices of the Israeli state in no less inflammatory terms than last year's events in Kosovo.

In evaluating the claim of “ethnic cleansing,” it should also be remembered that the major world powers have, on more than one occasion, cited ethnic conflicts as a justification for imperialist meddling, setting the stage for disaster. Let us recall that one of the most horrific episodes of the 20th century occurred in 1947 when Britain, citing conflicts between Hindus and Moslems in India, arranged for the establishment of the separate state of Pakistan. The violence that followed the partition claimed one million lives and created twelve million refugees.

Likewise in Yugoslavia, imperialist intervention has had the objective impact of escalating the scale of communal violence and increasing the likelihood that it will spread to neighboring countries.

The exodus from Kosovo: who is responsible?

NATO now says that a primary purpose of its offensive is to return the estimated 800,000 ethnic Albanian refugees to their homes in Kosovo. Here cynicism reaches new heights.

An honest review of the sequence of events that led up to the refugee crisis refutes the claims of NATO. Mass flight began after, not before, March 24. Clinton's speech that day, in which he gave the official rationale for the war, spoke almost entirely of preventing an exodus. He pointed, in fact, to the danger that, without a NATO strike, the size of the existing refugee population might expand by “tens of thousands.”

What actually happened? The bombing, destroying no small amount of Kosovo and terrorizing its inhabitants, set off a renewal in the fighting between Belgrade's forces and the KLA. Not tens but hundreds of thousands were made refugees.

Not all these consequences were unintended. The NATO powers had hoped that the air offensive would enable the KLA to push out the Serb forces, much in the same manner that the 1995 air strikes in Bosnia allowed the Croatian and Moslem forces to go on the offensive and drive out the Serbs.

As for the refugees themselves, they have been cynically used. Once the Kosovan Albanians were displaced in the aftermath of the bombing, NATO exploited their plight to drum up public support for the war, while providing only the most minimal aid to their makeshift camps, where conditions became so abhorrent that riots broke out. Even then only a relative handful of refugees were accepted into Western countries.

Some NATO military leaders have acknowledged—though their statements have gone largely unreported—that the depopulation of Kosovo works to their advantage, giving them a freer hand to initiate carpet bombing and prepare for a ground invasion of the province.

In regards to the return of the refugees, the logical question to ask is: Return to what? What portion of Kosovo's homes, workplaces, roads, bridges, and waterways has not been bombed by NATO?

The political function of propaganda

“The propagandist's purpose,” wrote Aldous Huxley in 1937, “is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human.” In the present war, the demonization of the Serbs has been required by the scale of NATO's violence against the Yugoslav people.

By early summer, killings by NATO will surpass those by the Serb government and KLA that preceded the alliance's intervention in Kosovo. Prior to March 24, most estimates put the total number killed in Kosovo at about 2,000 in the course of one year of civil war. Since March 24, the number of Serbs and ethnic Albanians killed by NATO is well over 1,000.

NATO, to be sure, only makes “mistakes” whereas Serbia carries out “atrocities.” Generally speaking, each new NATO claim of Serb plunder and murder follows rapidly on the heels of the latest proof of civilian deaths from NATO bombs. At any suggestion that NATO's cure is worse than the disease the spokesmen for the alliance become more shrill. “Has the real enemy been forgotten?”

An interesting question. It would seem the category of “enemy” is quickly expanding in scope. Initially, Albanian deaths and suffering were declared to be solely the fault of the Milosevic regime. In recent days, however, a more venomous strain has emerged in the propaganda war: the Serb population as a whole is to blame.

According to the new line, the Serb people have become corrupted, organically indifferent to the suffering of the Kosovan Albanians, and obsessed by an almost incomprehensible sense of victimization. According to many of the NATO propagandists, the remedy for this malaise is a ground invasion, the conquest of Belgrade and a prolonged occupation. This is described, reviving the terminology of 19th century colonialism, as a “civilizing” mission.

An imperialist war

Propaganda requires simplification. It demands that the complexities of immense political conflicts be shoved aside and public opinion be confronted with a loaded question which allows only one answer. In the present war, that question is: “Doesn't ethnic cleansing have to be stopped?”

This simplification allows the media to portray Yugoslavia rather than NATO as the aggressor. The alliance, in a complete inversion of reality, is presented as conducting an essentially defensive war on behalf of the Kosovan Albanians.

To determine the nature of a given war, its progressive or reactionary character, requires not selective examination of atrocities, which are to be found in all wars, but rather an analysis of the class structures, economic foundations and international roles of the states that are involved. From this decisive standpoint the present war being waged by NATO is an imperialist war of aggression against Yugoslavia.

The US and the European powers that form the nucleus of NATO comprise the most advanced capitalist powers of the globe. Within each of these countries, state policies express the interests of finance capital, based on the major transnational corporations and financial institutions. The continued existence of the ruling class in these countries is bound up with the expansion of capitalism throughout the world.

As a scientific term, imperialism signifies a definite historical stage in the development of capitalism as a world economic system. It denotes fundamental objective tendencies in capitalism as it developed toward the end of the 19th and into the 20th century. The most important of these are: the suppression of free competition by the growth of huge, monopolistic business concerns; the increasing domination of gigantic banking institutions (finance capital) over the world market; the impulsion of monopoly and finance capital in the countries where capitalism had developed most strongly (Europe, North America, Japan) to spread beyond the national borders and gain access to markets, raw materials and new sources of labor throughout the world.

Imperialism enjoys a predatory and parasitic relation to the less developed countries. Through its position of financial hegemony, using the vehicle of massive financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, imperialism is in a position to dictate policy to smaller states which rely on their credit. Through their domination of the world market, the imperialist powers drive down prices for raw materials and keep the smaller states impoverished. The more these countries borrow, the more destitute and dependent they become.

Finally, hanging over the weaker states is the ever-present threat of military bombardment. Whether they are to be apotheosized as “emerging democracies” or demonized as “rogue states” depends, in the final analysis, on where they fit in the unfolding strategic plans of world imperialism. Thus Iraq, supported by the US in its war against Iran during the 1980s, became the object of attack when it fell afoul of plans to strengthen America's grip over Middle East oil reserves.

The same is true of Serbia. In the 1980s Washington looked upon Slobodan Milosevic with favor to the extent that he initiated market policies and dismantled state industry in Yugoslavia. In the 1990s the rules of the game changed and Serbia became a thorn in the side of imperialist concerns. Milosevic joined Saddam Hussein on imperialism's list of “Most Wanted.” The judgment of imperialism on any given country or leader can change abruptly because, as Prime Minister Palmerston said of the British Empire, it has neither permanent friends, nor permanent enemies, only permanent interests.

Yugoslavia is not an imperialist power but rather a small, relatively backward country that has been diminished over the 1990s by the secession of four of its former six republics. To be sure, Milosevic's role in this process was thoroughly reactionary. His exploitation of Serbian nationalism could hardly counter the chauvinist policies of Tudjman in Croatia, Izetbegovic in Bosnia, and Kucan in Slovenia. But Milosevic was by no means the instigator of this process. Rather, he adapted himself—like so many other ex-Stalinists scoundrels in Eastern Europe—to the centrifugal social tendencies unleashed by the reestablishment of market economies.

Here the imperialist powers played a principal role, demanding the break-up of nationalized industries and the imposition of austerity policies that exacerbated simmering ethnic tensions. The economic pressure exerted upon Yugoslavia laid the objective foundations for the dissolution of the unified Balkan state. From 1991 on, the breakup of Yugoslavia was guaranteed by the political intervention of the major powers. Though a violent outcome of Yugoslav dissolution was predicted, the break-up was encouraged by Germany, which abruptly recognized the independence of Croatia and Slovenia in 1991, and the US, which even more recklessly gave its approval to Bosnian secession in 1992.

Yugoslavia, moreover, is not a capitalist state of even regional stature. It has no transnational conglomerates. Yugoslav finance capital plays no significant role outside the borders of the country. To the extent that one can speak of a Serbian bourgeoisie, it is only now emerging from the layers surrounding Milosevic that enriched themselves by stealing state property in the process of dismantling Yugoslavia.

Comparisons of Serbia to Nazi Germany and Milosevic to Hitler are a combination of ignorance and deceit. Scientific political analysis does not consist in the hurling of epithets. The transformation of the Austrian corporal with a loud voice and a Charlie Chaplin moustache into the most monstrous embodiment of world reaction depended upon certain objective prerequisites—namely, the immense resources of German industry. Hitler was the leader of an aggressive imperialist power that sought to achieve the hegemony of German capitalism in all of Europe. Before Hitler's bloody offensive was halted, German domination stretched from the English Channel to the Caucasus Mountains, embracing the Balkans, including Yugoslavia. Hitler's military ambitions reflected the economic appetites of Siemens, Krupp, I. G. Farben, Daimler-Benz, Deutsche Bank and the other great German conglomerates.

Were it not for the tragic consequences associated with this distortion of historical reality, the comparison of Serbia to Nazi Germany and Milosevic to Hitler would be laughable. Serbia, to begin with, is not seeking to conquer foreign lands, but rather hold on to territory internationally recognized as falling within its borders. As for Milosevic, the main preoccupation of this “Hitler” has been to hang on to whatever he can of a rump federation whose borders have been shrinking year after year.

To sum up: This is a war by a coalition of major imperialist powers against a small, semi-backward country. It has a neo-colonialist character, trampling on Yugoslav sovereignty. Its aim is a type of NATO protectorate over Kosovo, which will likely resemble the NATO-IMF regime that runs Bosnia.

Beyond the propaganda: Why is the war being waged?

Once the fraudulent claims of the NATO spokesmen and the falsifications of the media are stripped away from this war, what remains? A naked aggression by imperialist countries against a small federation, in which the official reasons given for the onslaught serve as a smokescreen. Without the frenzied propaganda, it would be far more difficult to keep the public from inquiring into the actual reasons for the imperialist powers taking the road of military bombardment.

At the opening of this century, Rosa Luxemburg noted that capitalism is the first mode of production to have mass propaganda as a weapon at its disposal. “Humanitarianism” was, at the time of her comment just as today, a cover for taking by force that which was desired from the weaker countries. The “civilizing missions” of the US, England, France, Belgium, and Holland had the actual purpose of securing valuable raw materials, markets and geopolitical advantage over their major rivals. Likewise, today the attack on Yugoslavia aims to secure the material interests of the imperialist powers.

For starters, the Western powers are positioning themselves to exploit Kosovo's abundant mineral reserves, which include substantial deposits of lead, zinc, cadmium, silver and gold. Kosovo also holds an estimated 17 billion tons of coal reserves. But this is merely the “small change” of imperialist calculations. The immediate material gains that might be plundered from Kosovo are dwarfed by the far greater potential for enrichment that beckons in regions further to the east where the NATO powers have developed immense interests over the past five years. It is astonishing that so little attention has been paid to the connection of this war to the world strategic ambitions of the US and the other NATO powers.