September 1939: Behind the Stalinazi pact

Submitted by Matthew on 28 August, 2013 - 4:05 Author: Max Shachtman

I: 5 September 1939

The Hitler-Stalin pact is the most sensational news to come out of Moscow in many years.

Up to yesterday, it was the general belief that Stalin was moving heaven and earth in an earnest attempt to establish a “peace front” of the “democracies” against the “fascist aggressors”, especially against Fascist Germany.

The friends and supporters of the Stalin regime said this repeatedly, and in so many plain words. Suddenly, right in the midst of the Anglo-French-Russian military discussions in Moscow, came the news that Hitler and Stalin had made a very important trade agreement. [Then] came the news that a “non-aggression” pact had been negotiated between the two countries. Forty-eight hours later, the Nazi Minister of Foreign Affairs and author of the Anti-Comintern Pact had flown to Moscow where he was greeted with swastika flags, and the pact was promptly signed.

The newspapers which reported that the pact had “staggered” and “stunned” and “stupefied” most of the world did not exaggerate in the least. Most bewildered and shocked of all were the members and sympathizers of the Communist Party, whom the news hit over the head like a metal-studded club. One organization, however, was not caught off guard and shocked by the news of the Stalinazi pact — the Socialist Workers Party, and the Fourth International with which it is affiliated, the so-called Trotskyist movement. This is simply a matter of fact and it is not stated in a boastful vein. Our movement foresaw the alliance and predicted it as early as a year ago. In the Socialist Appeal of October 8, 1938, Leon Trotsky wrote: “We may now expect with certainty Soviet diplomacy to attempt rapprochement with Hitler at the cost of new retreats and capitulations which in their turn can only bring nearer the collapse of the Stalinist oligarchy”. In the same paper of March 17, 1939, the present writer said: “The democratic front on which all Stalinist policy hinged — the ‘united front of the democracies against the fascist aggressors and warmongers’ — Stalin has dropped overboard without a splash. In its place is something so ‘new’ that it must have had a stunning effect upon the Stalinist parrots all over the world. Stalin holds out the olive branch to the fascist powers, to Germany primarily”.

They denounce as slanderers the Trotskyists, or anybody who even hinted a year, or a month or as little as two weeks ago that Stalin and Hitler would come to terms. “It is a great contribution to the cause of world peace”, [US CP leader Earl] Browder says now. It helps the cause of democracy and the Democratic Front! It helps Poland! What happened directly after the Stalin-Hitler pact? Not only vast expansions of the armed forces of all governments, but mobilization of troops and marching orders on a scale unknown since the World War broke out in 1914. The Moscow-Berlin pact is exactly the opposite of a contribution to the cause of peace.

In exchange for a Hitlerite promise not to attack the Soviet Union, Stalin has given Hitler a free hand in Poland! Poland has been ruthlessly sacrificed to the brutal imperialistic ambitions of Nazi Germany in the hope of saving the hides of the Kremlin autocrats.

There cannot be the slightest doubt on this score. Why was the pact signed just at this moment — just when Hitler has declared in the most insolent manner that he demands the absorption of Poland into Nazidom, just when France and England threatened to take armed action against Germany? A non-aggression pact between Germany and the Soviet Union has been in existence for 13 years, signed in 1926 by Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann and Soviet Ambassador Nikolai Krestinsky. This pact is still formally in force. Why was it necessary to have another “non-aggression pact” at this particular time?

In order to deliver a demonstrative blow against Poland! In order to explode, as publicly, as sensationally, as thoroughly as possible, any Polish hope that a Hitlerite invasion would encounter not only the Polish army, but the joint armed resistance of England and France on the one side, and the Soviet Union on the other.

II: 12 September 1939

Publicly, the Stalinist patriots from Moscow to New York and back again have shouted for a united military front of England, France and the Soviet Union against Germany and the Axis. Not with Germany, we repeat, but against her. They insisted that it was more than ever urgent, following the tragic Czechoslovakian experience, in order to save Poland.

Now we Trotskyists, like revolutionary socialists everywhere, never agreed with the chauvinistic campaign of the Stalinists for the “defense of Poor Little Poland”. Their agitation meant, in reality, the commission of two crimes: the recruiting of cannon-fodder for one gang of imperialist bandits (the slave-holding “democracies” of England and France) as against another, and the meek submission of the Polish workers, peasants and national minorities to the rule of the reactionary Polish autocracy. The primary and principal task of the Polish masses was and remains the overturn of the clique of Generals and Colonels who rule the land, who club down the workers, squeeze the peasants to the bone, keep the Ukrainian and other national minorities in an inferno of persecution and discrimination, and practise a vicious anti-Semitism which is second only to Hitler’s.

Yet, while we did not join in the Stalinist cattle-herding for war, we were not and are not indifferent to the fate of the Polish people or even of the Polish nation — and we mean the Polish nation, not the Polish Empire in which the old and upstart Polish aristocracy rules by military force over millions of people of other nationalities. The hope for aid which the Polish masses threatened by Nazi subjection could rightfully and not vainly place in a revolutionary workers’ government, if that existed in Russia today, was betrayed by the perfidious Bonapartist gang in the Kremlin when it capitulated to Hitler.

Stalin capitulated to Hitler? Exactly! And that brings us to the question of why Stalin felt obliged to sign the shameful pact. The Stalin regime enjoys only the bitter hatred of the Soviet masses. Its basis continues to narrow every day. And the capitalist world, largely thanks to Stalinism’s criminal policies, is far more sure of itself as it faces the working class in 1939 than it was in 1919. Scratch beneath the surface of the optimistic fairy tales told in the Stalinist press and you find that, under Stalin’s rule, the Soviet Union is in an advanced state of degeneration. Stalin’s clique is at once the product and the producer of this degeneration.

Now we are in a position to deal with the question: Which of the two partners in the Stalinazi pact was the stronger, which is in the better position to gain from the pact? It is a bitter truth for us to observe, but we must not refuse to see that in the past six years Hitler has not only consolidated but has vastly expanded his power. He took power in Germany without meeting with the slightest resistance by the Social Democrats or the Stalinists (1933 marked Stalin’s first capitulation to Hitler!) He denounced the Versailles Treaty limitations on German armaments in 1935, and nobody stopped him. He reintroduced conscription without opposition. He remilitarized the Rhineland and nobody stopped him. He won the Saar territory in a plebiscite. He succeeded in smashing to bits the whole labor and revolutionary movement. In March 1938 he annexed Austria without firing a shot. Six months later, Czechoslovakia was raked in. Another six months passed, and he took Memel, without a fight. He won his fight in Spain. By the time this appears, he may have Danzig [Gdansk] and the Corridor, if not all of Poland.

Against this indubitable strengthening of the Nazi regime, Stalin has only defeats to record. He lost the German and Czechoslovakian Communist Parties — each with hundreds of thousands of members — in two Hitlerite blows. The Polish Communist Party he himself suppressed while he wooed the Polish Colonels. Ethiopia, despite Litvinov’s tearful pleas to the League of Nations, fell to Mussolini, whose airplanes flew with Russian oil and whose soldiers fed on Russian wheat. His whole policy in Spain cracked up. Czechoslovakia, ditto. His policy in the Orient lost him the Chinese Eastern Railway and is ending with “ally” Chiang Kai-shek driven further and further into the interior. His big “Popular Front” in France breathed its last when it produced Daladier and Bonnet, voted into office by the Communist Party. All of Stalin’s foreign policies have proved bankrupt; all his foreign enterprises have suffered shipwreck.

At home, his position is no better. The last six years in particular have seen Stalin’s rule in a state of almost uninterrupted crisis, each convulsion more violent than the one before it. The overwhelming majority of the people — the simple people, the small people, the toiling people — hate Stalin as bitterly as Czar Nicholas the Bloody was hated, and with just as good reason. How else explain the continual purges, the imprisonments, the exilings, the executions, the endless mass terror? What truly popular government has ever had to resort to anything like it outside a period of civil war? And that’s exactly what Stalin is engaged in: a civil war of the bureaucratic caste against the masses of the people.

Stalin has wiped out the whole Old Guard of the Russian Revolution, except Trotsky who has been sought by more than one GPU assassin’s bullet. The prisons, the God-forsaken corners of exile, the vast concentration camps are chock-full of Stalin’s victims. There are more political prisoners in some provinces of the country today than there were in the whole empire under the Czar. All the liberties won by labor’s blood and rifle in the revolution have been abolished by the bureaucracy. The worker is tied to his job and cannot shift to another job or another city without being granted permission, duly recorded in the internal passport he is compelled to carry. The disparity between the wages of the low-paid worker and the salaries of the upper crust is stupendous and on the rise. So is the disparity between the income and conditions of the poor peasants and the bosses of the “collective” farms. Science, art, and culture are prostituted to the power-interests of the narrowminded gang in power. Conditions in the non-Russian national republics — Ukrainian, Georgian, White Russian, Uzbekistan, etc. — are a replica of the relations that existed between the Czarist imperial Russians in Moscow and the national minorities at the periphery of the empire. The secret police (GPU) and the army machine keep Stalin in power with the aid of jail-keys, pistols and bayonets.

Stalin rules and can only rule by means of terror. As the country moves closer to the monstrosity which he misnames “socialism” the purges and the terror increase in intensity. Everywhere about him, Stalin sees plots and conspiracies, real and alleged, against his domination. The reign of terror during which millions, literally millions, have either been deported, imprisoned or murdered, is Stalin’s own confession to immense unpopularity. The rule by terror means that Stalin and the bureaucracy he personifies, are themselves terrified. What do they fear? War! The fear of war, in this case as in so many others, is the fear of mobilization. The fear of mobilization is the fear of arming the masses of people. The fear of arming the masses is the fear of revolution.

The reasons behind the Stalinazi pact cannot be fully understood, however, unless the reader grasps the fundamental standpoint of the Kremlin regime, and grasps, further, the fact that it is in irreconcilable opposition to the fundamental standpoint of the original Lenin-Trotsky regime which Stalin and Co. finally succeeded in overthrowing in the course of a running fight that began as early as 1923.

Lenin, Trotsky and the real Bolshevik party led the masses to victory in 1917 on the basis of the proposition that the Russian Revolution was only one part of an international working-class revolution. The Bolshevik leaders repeated a thousand times to the Russian and world masses that Red Russia could not establish socialism by itself, with its own forces, and unaided by the triumphant workers of other, more advanced countries. This was not only in conformity with Marxian theory, but with modern world realities. Russia might hold out for a time, and even lay the foundations of socialism, but it could not keep going for a long period of time without help from revolutionary states in the other lands. As for achieving a classless socialist society, with security and plenty for all, that was out of the question entirely if revolutionary Russia remained isolated in a capitalist world.

In 1924, however, when the European revolutionary wave subsided for a while, Stalin coined the theory of “socialism in a single country”. Russia, he argued, could establish socialism by itself provided only there was no armed intervention from abroad.

Now this theory, while totally unsuited to the interests of the Russian and international revolutions, was ideally suited to the interests of the growing Soviet bureaucracy. The officials — corrupted oldsters and upstart youngsters — had lost all faith in the power of the world working class to free itself from capitalist misrule — at least not for another hundred years! Meanwhile, they argued, let’s hold on to what we have in Russia.

That sounded plausible to many people, especially those who had grown weary and discouraged and didn’t see that new and stormier waves of revolution would break throughout the world in the years to come. Only, the officials really meant: Let’s hold on to what we have in Russia — and to what we can get. As for the rest of the world, the task of the working class is confined primarily (later it became exclusively) to preventing foreign intervention. In other words, instead of concentrating on getting rid of their own capitalist despots at home, the workers in other countries were to be limited to acting as border patrols for the Soviet bureaucracy.

Leaving aside for the moment the theoretical aspects of the question, the practical results of this policy were disastrous both for the official Communist International and that section of the labor movement that followed it, and for the Soviet Union itself. All that a labor skate or capitalist political shyster had to do to get the unqualified support of the Communist movement for some shady enterprise or a downright sell-out, was to take a cheap oath in favor of “defending” the Soviet Union. As Stalinism went from bad to worse, and the Kremlin went in for super-clever diplomatic tie-ups with imperialist Powers, the official Communist International, from which every critical, honest revolutionist was expelled, was changed from a militant fighter against world capitalism into an anti-revolutionary instrument, a cheap pawn in the hands of Stalin’s Foreign Office.

III: 19 September 1939

In Lenin’s time, the Soviet government made more than one diplomatic or commercial agreement with capitalist countries. That was unavoidable then, and remains unavoidable so long as a workers’ government is surrounded by a hostile world. But if Lenin made a diplomatic agreement with Germany or France, he did not compel the revolutionary movement in those countries to stop fighting its own capitalist class and government.

Stalin changed all that. While he was seeking an alliance with England, France and the United States, especially in the past four years, the Communist Parties in those countries tried with might and main to make an alliance with the home capitalist government and urged the labor movement as a whole to follow suit. Where the Communist Parties had once been the champions of labor’s independence and militancy, Stalin converted them into the champions of labor’s subordination and docility to capitalism. In practise, therefore, especially in recent years, “socialism in one country” meant that Stalin traded off Communist Party support to any government, no matter how reactionary, no matter how many millions of colonial slaves it oppressed, so long as it promised to be an “ally” in protecting the Soviet bureaucracy.

In practise, also, Stalin’s Russian nationalism meant putting the fate of the Russian Revolution into the hands of cynical imperialist diplomats who pretended for a moment to be friendly, instead of where it belongs — into the hands of the Russian and international working class. In practise, this working class was confused, demoralized, and driven under the yoke of its enemies. Thus, the interests of the ruling bureaucracy in Russia have come into ever sharper and finally irreconcilable conflict with the interests of the Russian masses, of the Soviet Union itself, and of the international working class.

Stalin fears war. But he fears especially such a war as the Soviet Union and its bureaucracy are involved in, for that would in all likelihood spell his doom. It would, however, be wrong to jump to the conclusion that Stalin is a real prop of peace. The same reasons that dictate his yearning for peace for Russia, dictate a policy of war-mongering in all the other important countries of the world! The Soviet Union is immediately and directly threatened on two sides: by Japan on the East and by Germany on the West. The principal Soviet enemy [is] Hitler. It has therefore been Stalin’s policy at bottom, since the Nazis came to power in 1933, to “appease” Hitler, to come to terms with him, to make an alliance with him. Russia would then be in a position to deal comparatively easily with Japan in the East.

If this basic point is borne in mind, much that was obscure in Stalinist policy becomes clear. It will be easier, for example, to understand why the Stalinist press in France, instead of solidarizing itself with the despairing young Jew, Herschel Grynzspan, who sought to protest Hitlerite anti-Semitism by shooting Von Rath, denounced him as a Nazi or Trotskyist spy! To understand the shameful silence from Soviet officialdom on the occasion of Hitler’s barbarous pogroms against the Jews. To understand why Jewish refugees could find no haven in the Soviet Union. To understand what Walter Duranty meant when he cabled the New York Times that after all Stalin has killed off as many Jews as Hitler did. To understand why Litvinov was purged (how could a sensitive “Aryan” like von Ribbentrop shake hands with a Jewish Foreign Commissar?). The concentration on making a deal with Hitler has frequently been interrupted, so to say, for two reasons: one, by the hope of making an alliance with the “democracies” to squeeze Hitler into a corner and prevent him from assaulting Russia; and two, by the hope that the negotiations with the “democracies” would frighten Hitler into speeding up an agreement with Stalin.

The first hope, illusory and utopian from the beginning, was completely shattered at Munich. The “democratic” imperialists showed that they would much rather give Hitler free rein in his drive to the East, that is, against Russia, than they would make an alliance with Russia to smash Hitler and Mussolini. Especially when they reflected that after fascism cracked up in Germany and Italy, revolutions would break out and spread rapidly to France, England and God knows where else! Stalin therefore had to come to terms with Hitler. And Hitler chose the moment for springing the announcement of the pact which would give him the best position in starting his next conquest, Poland.

But though he capitulated to Hitler, it does not follow that Stalin would object violently to having another World War explode, with the “democracies” fighting the “fascist aggressors” and the Soviet Union staying out of the war as long as possible. Quite the contrary! Stalin continues to drive in just that direction. Although he has made his peace with Hitler for a short time, as we shall see later on, he continues to instigate a war in which he will not participate. While he is a “pacifist-out-of-fear” at home, he is a warmonger abroad.

Keep ourselves in the saddle, preserve ourselves by hook or crook, and everything else — the labor movement, the Communist International, the colonial peoples, the twaddle about “democracy” and “peace” — can go hang!

Will the bureaucracy succeed in keeping itself in the Soviet saddle? Not the slightest hesitation need be felt in replying categorically: no! The only point to be resolved is this: the abominable Stalinist clique will be crushed at a later stage by Hitlerism, in which case, a new era of reaction will open up from which the world may not emerge for a long, long time; or it will be swept into the discard by a resurrected revolutionary movement of workers and peasants inside the Soviet Union itself. All our hopes and all our energies must be directed toward the latter solution of the mortal crisis the Russian Revolution is experiencing.

Will Hitler really attack the Soviet Union? Whoever examines the situation intelligently must reply, Yes! The feeble Stalinist arguments that the “pact has weakened the Axis” are so much nonsense, and dangerous nonsense at that.

What Stalin gave away in the pact we have already seen. What did Hitler abandon? His designs upon Russia, especially on the granary of the Ukraine and the mineral riches of the Urals? Not for a moment! His idea of immediately attacking the Soviet Union? He didn’t have to give up that idea, for the simple reason that he did not contemplate such an attack at this time. His objective, for the time being, is more modest — the conquest of Poland — and Stalin gave him invaluable aid in achieving his goal.

He did abandon Japan, of that there is no doubt. And the Stalinist press presents this as a tremendous victory. Hitler abandoned Japan for the time being and only for the time being, in exchange for a much solider ally. And he did abandon the so-called “Anti-Comintern Pact”. Small consolation! The “fight against the Communist International” was as much a fraud with Hitler as the “fight for democracy” was with Stalin. Hitler has known for years that Stalin himself liquidated the Communist International. The Hitlerites know what Stalinism represents: they know where the real threat of working-class revolution comes from. It is not the discredited pawns of Stalinist diplomacy, the Communist International, that Fascism fears. As the banner-bearer of the working-class revolution, of the revolution for socialism, it sees the “Trotskyists” — the Fourth International. And it is right, for the Fourth International is the mortal, implacable foe of Fascism, of imperialism in general, of capitalist oppression, and as their foe it shall triumph! That is why the Socialist Workers Party summons every militant worker who is conscious of his class interests, who is imbued with the real spirit of internationalism, to rally to its great banner and to fight in the great cause. Our call is addressed in particular to the rank and file of the Communist Party and the Young Communist League and their sympathizers.

The Soviet Union is not relieved of the threat of attack; that threat is aggravated. Hitler had a non-aggression pact with Poland not so long ago. Stalin’s policy facilitates the coming attack upon Russia because, by giving Hitler a free hand through Poland, he grants him a highly important strategical base of operations against the Soviet Union. Tomorrow or the next day, Hitler will seek to repay Stalin for the pact in even more ringing coin than he is repaying Poland. Every worker, every Communist worker, must understand that.

Every worker must be also clearly aware now of the monstrous crime that was perpetrated by Stalin in his series of “trials” and purges. How many thousands of revolutionists did he send to their deaths in the last few years on the charge of being “Trotskyist agents of Hitler”! We called the trials frame-ups, and now, by signing the pact with Hitler, Stalin draws the black pencil of emphasis under our charge. While he was framing up and assassinating all opponents, all critics — past, present or potential — with the accusation of “Hitlerite agents” he was busily engaged in becoming the principal agent of Hitler! The Moscow Trials, the horrible purges, the nightmare of terror — these were all part of the preparations for an alliance with Adolph Hitler and his bandits.

Together with Ribbentrop, Molotov and Stalin signed the death-warrant of the Communist Parties. Stalin long ago drained the revolutionary blood out of them. Now he is smashing them bodily. Their organizational disintegration is taking place at a terrific rate before our very eyes.

Where will those sincere and devoted workers go who are now abandoning the Communist Parties by the thousands in England, France and the United States? We know where the bureaucrats will go. They will remain the paid lackeys and scribblers of the Kremlin despot, or they will become full-fledged servants of their own imperialist overlords.

But the Communist workers? Will they go over to capitalism? Will they become the dupes of that fantastic fraud known in capitalist society as “democracy”? Will they abandon the class struggle entirely, and become docile serfs of the rulers of industry and finance, willing cannon-fodder of the coming war?

The Stalinist party is through, and nobody will mourn at its burial. Nobody will try to defend the Stalinazi pact in a serious trade union, in a Jewish organization, or for that matter wherever intelligent workers are assembled. What then? We say: there is a need, greater than ever today, to struggle against reaction, against the capitalist offensive, for socialism and freedom, for peace and plenty. There is a road to struggle, too. That road was broadly marked out by the great teachers of the working-class movement, Marx and Lenin. That road the workers must take if they are to survive as human beings, if they are to rise to new heights of human dignity.

That road is the revolutionary struggle for socialism!

All the professional “democrats” and the “social democrats” and the “liberal intellectuals” who only yesterday approved the Moscow frame-ups or covered them up, and who presented Stalin as a noble, worthy ally of the Great Democracies, are turning tail now and scurrying off like rats. Now they no longer declare that “Soviet democracy” and bourgeois democracy are practically the same thing and make natural allies; now they expound the new wisdom that “communism” and “fascism” are the same thing and make natural allies. Their conclusion? Their road? On to a new War to Make the World Safe for Democracy? On to the trenches! Long live the divine goal of modern humanity — the battlefield graveyard!

Our road was never theirs. Our road leads to the great socialist society. Our methods are the methods of militant and uncompromising class struggle against all exploitation and iniquity. Stalin has succeeded only in — discrediting Stalinism. The banner of revolutionary struggle, of the Fourth International, continues to fly without a shameful spot upon it.

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