Max Shachtman


Behind the Stalin-Hitler Pact

What It Is and What It Isn’t

(September 1939)

Series from Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 65, 5 September 1939, p. 3, Vol. III No. 66, 6 September 1939, p. 2 & Vol. III No. 67, 9 September 1939, p. 2.
Abridged version copied with thanks from the Workers’ Liberty Website.
Additional transcription by Einde O’Callaghan.
Marked up by A. Forse & Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 65, 5 September 1939, p. 3

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. Most people thought that Stalin’s only complaint against statesmen like Chamberlain and Daladier was that they favored negotiations and pacts with Hitler instead of uniting with Russia in an uncompromising and militant front against the Nazis. The friends and supporters of the Stalin régime said this repeatedly, and in so many plain words.

No So Stunned as the Stalinists

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. And before the surprise at this announcement had reached its height, 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. 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. On the day the report arrived, the Daily Worker, official voice in this country of Stalin and the Communist Party, was so taken aback that it refused to print the news or a single word of comment on it. The party leaders and spokesmen could not even be found for an interview. To this day, despite the official explanations given in the Daily Worker after it got word from Moscow, most party members do not yet know what to say or how to explain what happened.

We Were Not Caught Off Guard

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.”

Our foresight was not a product of crystal-gazing but of Marxian political analysis. While others were taking people in, or being taken in by cleverly-inspired propaganda from Moscow, Berlin and London, we continued our critical examination of Soviet and international realities. “Outdated” Marxism has once again demonstrated its unrivalled superiority as social and political science! Our clear and timely predictions entitle us to an attentive hearing as we proceed to explain what the pact is and what it isn’t.

If we first dispose of the latter, we shall have cleared away the pile of rubbish beneath which lies the true significance of the pact. And the best way to tackle the rubbish-clearing work is to deal with the arguments in favor of the Stalinazi pact given by Communist Party spokesmen who finally broke their embarrassed silence in the Daily Worker.

The Stalinists Explain

“I think,” said Mr. Earl Browder, secretary of the Communist Party, in an interview published in the Daily Worker of August 24, 1939, “that what strikes one the most forcefully in the newspaper discussion of the announcement of the negotiations for a non-aggression agreement between the Soviet Union and Germany, is the excitement with which this announcement was greeted; although its execution – it is now in the preliminary stages – is in the line of a long declared and established policy which every one who wanted to could be fully familiar with.”

Nothing unusual! Nothing out of the ordinary! Nothing to be surprised at or get excited about! Browder was for it all the time, because it corresponds to the “long declared and established policy” of the Soviet Union.

Now, you might explain away the reactions of the ruling circles in Paris, London and Washington by saying that they are merely pretending to be surprised. Good! But what about the masses of the people throughout the world? The Stalinist press kept assuring us that the “millions of workers, farmers and middle class people” understood and supported enthusiastically the Stalinist “peace policy” and would have nothing to do with Chamberlain and Daladier, the Municheers. Obviously, they must have “understood and supported” something entirely different, for it was the masses of the people who were most staggered of all by the news of the pact. That is why there were no spontaneous mass celebrations of the pact, but rather spontaneous mass condemnation of it and just as spontaneous mass resignations from the Communist Parties!

They Sang a Different Tune

Secondly, if the pact was produced by “a long declared and established policy,” why didn’t the Stalinists openly and insistently demand a Hitler-Stalin pact in the past year or more? When they said that their policy was a “peace front” of England, France and the Soviet Union, they agitated at the top of their lungs for an agreement among these three Powers. They introduced resolutions favoring the alliance in every union, in every organization. Their spokesmen in the European parliaments clamored for it continuously. Why, then, didn’t they introduce resolutions anywhere in favor of a Soviet-German pact? Why didn’t they agitate for it openly? Why didn’t they condemn Hitler for failing to negotiate such a pact?

And, above all, why did 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 ?

“The reactionaries openly speculate that the Soviet Union may try to beat Chamberlain at his own game by joining hands with Hitler,” wrote Mr. Browder in a book published just a short time ago. “But even those who hate the land of socialism cannot believe it, when they see the Soviet Union alone rounds up the traitorous agents of Hitler within its own land, arid puts them beyond all possibility of doing any more of their wrecking, spying and diversions for fascism.” (Fighting for Peace, pp. 183–184.)

On May 13, 1939, the Daily Worker quoted with editorial approval a dispatch which said: “Rapid spreading rumors of an impending German-Soviet reconciliation, circulating with obvious consent of the German government, tonight were regarded as a Nazi attempt to thwart a ‘peace front’.”

“Dirty Insinuation” Changes Character

On March 13, 1939, Mr. Harry Gannes, Daily Worker columnist, wrote: “The press apologizers of the Munich treachery make the dirty insinuations that the Soviet Union is ‘considering’ rapprochement with the fascists.” Eight days later, Gannes called a similar report “one of the slimiest examples of an extended vicious campaign.”

Now, according to Browder, the “extended vicious campaign” plus the “dirty insinuations” of the Munich traitors plus the “open speculations of the reactionaries” equals nothing more or less than the “long declared and established policy” of Stalinism!

The Soviet Union’s Pre-Pact Policy

What really was the “long declared and established policy” of the Kremlin? It was expressed in unmistakable terms by the official representative of the Soviet Union to the League of Nations, Foreign Commissar Maxim Litvinov. In his speech at the League of Nations Assembly on September 21, 1938, only a year ago, Litvinov stated just what was and just what was not the “long declared and established policy” of his government. The reader will pardon us the long quotation, but he will surely feel repaid by the fact that it so damningly reveals the complete fraudulence and hypocrisy of the present Stalinist endorsement of the pact:

“There are inside and outside the League two tendencies, two conceptions of how best to preserve peace. There exists an opinion that when some State announces a foreign policy based on aggression, on the violation of other people’s frontiers, on the violent annexation of other people’s possessions, on the enslavement of other nations, on domination over entire continents, the League of Nations has not only the right, but also the duty of declaring, loudly and clearly, that it has been set up to preserve universal peace; that it will not permit the realization of such a program; and that it will fight that program by every means at its disposal. Within the framework of such declarations, individual Members of the League can and must constitute special groups for the joint defense of individual sectors of the threatened peace front

“It is presumed that States which openly denounce the principles underlying the League Covenant and the Briand-Kellog Pact, which extol aggression and ridicule international obligations, are inaccessible to persuasion or argument – save the argument of force – and that there is no room for bargaining or compromise with them. They can be restrained from carrying their evil designs into effect only by a demonstration of the force which they will encounter, should they make the attempt.”

That policy – Stalin’s – therefore calls for no futile attempts to persuade or negotiate with the aggressor – like Germany – but favors “the argument of force.” Litvinov then continues:

“There is, however, another conception, which recommends as the height of human wisdom under cover of imaginary pacifism that the aggressor be treated with consideration, and his vanity be not wounded. It recommends that conversations and negotiations be carried on with him, that he be assured that no collective action will be undertaken against him, and no groups or blocs formed against him – even though he himself enters into aggressive blocs with other aggressors – that compromise agreements be concluded with him, and breaches of those very agreements overlooked ; that his demands, even the most illegal, be fulfilled; that -journeys be undertaken, if necessary, to receive his dictates and ultimatums; that the vital interests of one State or another be sacrificed to him; and that, if possible, no question of his activity be raised at the League of Nations – because the aggressor does not like that, takes offense, sulks. Unfortunately, this is just the policy that so far has been pursued towards the aggressors; and it has had as its consequence three wars, and threatens to bring down on us a fourth. Four nations have already been sacrificed, and a fifth is next on the list.” (Against Aggression, pp. 121–122)

This second policy, presumably, was the policy of Chamberlain and Daladier, Halifax and Bonnet – the Municheers. It was precisely contrary to the “long declared and established policy” of Stalin, Litvinov and Browder. But it is precisely identical with the policy that resulted in the Stalinazi pact! And the arguments made in its defense differ in no important particular from the self-justifying speeches made by Chamberlain after Munich.

How the Pact Aids “Peace”

“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! Let us see.

A year ago, when Chamberlain claimed that the Munich Pact was a “great contribution to the cause of world peace,” Browder effectively replied: “The direct lie was given to all protestations that the Munich Pact was an achievement for peace when, directly afterward, all governments announced vast expansions of their armed forces as their first response.” (Fighting for Peace, p. 203)

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.

Furthermore, if the pact is of such decisive aid to Poland, why did the Stalinists denounce Chamberlain and Co. for acting in substantially the same way a year ago, when Czechoslovakia was on the chopping block? And why didn’t Stalin conclude a pact with Hitler a year ago, and “save” imperilled Czechoslovakia in the same way he is now “saving” Poland? If Stalin was able to “force” his pact on Hitler in 1939 because the Führer is so weak and terrified at the might of the Soviet Union, why didn’t he “force” a similar pact on Hitler in 1938, when the Nazis were still weaker, before they had swallowed up Czechoslovakia? This argument, too, will not stand up for a minute.

The “Escape Clause” Escapes

But what about the “escape clause”? Doesn’t that guarantee that the Soviet Union will denounce the pact and come to the aid of Poland if Germany commits an act of aggression? “It must be stressed,” said the very first editorial statement of the Daily Worker on the pact, on August 23, 1939, “that in each and every non-aggression pact which the Soviet Union concludes there is a basic clause of Soviet peace policy which provides that in the event one of the parties to the pact invades or commits an act of aggression against a third nation, that the other party (the Soviet Union) is not bound to the treaty, is free to act in defense of peace.”

That is more or less true. In the 1932 Treaty of Non-Aggression between Russia and Finland, Article 2 provides :

“2. Should either High Contracting Party resort to aggression against a third Power, the other High Contracting Party may denounce the present Treaty without notice.”

In the Russo-Latvian treaty of 1932, it is provided that

“Each of the High Contracting Parties shall be entitled to denounce the Treaty by giving notice six months before the expiry of this period, or without giving notice if the other Contracting Party commits an aggression upon any third State.”

Similar explicit “escape clauses” are contained in a number of other treaties’ signed by the Soviet Union, as in the case of Poland, Esthonia and France.


Unlike the Soviet treaty with Finland, France, Latvia, Poland or Esthonia, so far as the Stalinazi pact is concerned Hitler can “commit an aggression upon any third State” to his heart’s content – objections from the Kremlin there will be none. And this brings us right to the heart of the pact:

A Free Hand to Hitler

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? Was it just a “routine” non-aggression pact, such as Moscow signs every day in the week, so to say? 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. It has never been denounced by Stalin. It has never been denounced by Hitler at any time in his six years in power, as he did denounce the German-Polish pact, for example, a short time ago. 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.

Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 66, 6 September 1939, p. 2

A New Munich Under the Stalin Imprint

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, as the clock starts striking the twelfth hour for Poland, Stalin declares publicly in Article IV of his pact with Hitler:

“Neither of the contracting parties will participate in any grouping of Powers which is either directly or indirectly aimed against the other party to this agreement.”

Suppose Hitler invades Poland, and Poland then engages in armed, military struggle, either offensive or defensive, against Germany, Stalin has declared publicly and in advance in Article II of his pact with Hitler:

“In the event that either of the contracting parties [Germany, for example – M.S.] should be subjected to military action on the part of a third power [Poland, for example – M.S.], the other contracting party [Russia, in that case – M.S.] will not lend that power [Poland] support in any form.”

Read over again, in the light of this pact, Litvinov’s quoted attack on the Chamberlain conception.

“It recommends that conversations and negotiations be carried on with him” (that is, with the “aggressor”); “that he be assured that no collective action will be undertaken against him, and no groups or blocs formed against him – even though he himself enters into aggressive blocs with other aggressors ... that the vital interests of one State be sacrificed to him; and that, if possible, no question of his activity be raised in the League of Nations.”

Isn’t that a perfect description of Stalin’s Munich?

The Polish Masses Were Betrayed

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. Counterparts of the ruling crew of “independent democrats” in Czechoslovakia last year, they are always prepared to sell their people into Nazi slavery if they can save their own precious skins or, better yet, if they are allowed to retain a little of their power and pelf under a Hitlerite “protectorate.”

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.

It Is Necessary to Dispel Some Illusions

The confusion and bewilderment created among people by the twists and turns of Soviet policy can most easily be eliminated if they first rid themselves of some very popular illusions and misconceptions which the Stalinist press have been particularly zealous in sowing. The first one is that the Stalin regime is strong and popular among the masses, and getting stronger every day, both in its domestic and its international position. How great an illusion this is will be seen after a few moments reflection.

Once before, a government of the Soviet republic was forced to capitulate to German imperialism. That was in 1918, when Lenin urged the signing of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty with the Kaiser’s government, and finally did sign it. Russia was compelled to swallow the humiliating “peace” treaty, to surrender vast territories to the enemy, because it was terribly weak and in no position to continue the war. The young republic was beset by numerous and powerful reactionary foes, at home and abroad. The masses were exhausted after four years of a devastating war.

Acted Differently in Lenin’s Day

But Lenin, who was an honest and upright revolutionist, did not attempt to deceive anyone. He did not call the defeat a victory for Russia or for peace; he did not call the capitulation a sign of Russian strength and power; he did not call upon the workers to acclaim the treaty. He said, We have won a breathing spell at a heavy cost. We will use it to strengthen our forces and the revolutionary forces abroad and when we are strong enough, the infamous treaty imposed upon us will be abrogated. Less than a year later, the thunderbolt of revolution struck the Kaiser’s dynasty, and Soviet Russia kicked the foul treaty into the sewer where it belonged.

The Soviet republic, it may however be said, is much stronger today than it was in 1918. That is unquestionably true, in more than one sense. But the Stalin régime is much weaker.

The Lenin-Trotsky regime of 1917–1918 was then at the bottom of a rising curve in its history. It had a broad basis of enthusiastic mass support, which grew by leaps and bounds every month. It had the support abroad of a rapidly-increasing and very militant revolutionary movement. A year after the Bolshevik revolution, this regime faced a capitalist world in the throes of revolution, paralyzed, demoralized, disintegrating.

Masses Hate the Stalin Régime

The Stalin régime enjoys only the bitter hatred of the Soviet masses. Its basis continues to narrow every day. It has the support of the upper-crust bureaucrats, the big-shot factory managers, the aristocrats of labor, the rich farmers, the police and army officialdom; all of them put together amount to a small percentage of the population, and even among them there is a mounting hostility to the supreme Kremlin oligarchy. Abroad, the official communist parties are dead or dying, undermined, disrupted or sent to their doom by the Stalin machine at the head of the Communist International. 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.

In a word, 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.

Stalin Has Piled Up a History of Defeats

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. This was not accomplished because he is a genius, and he cannot continue indefinitely; but the fact of his successes cannot be ignored. 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.

Wages Civil War Against the Masses

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 narrow-minded 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 Deserted Cause of Internationalism

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.

Consequences Have Been Disastrous

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.

Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 67, 9 September 1939, p. 2

Workers Traded for “Alliances”

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 practice, 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 practice, 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 practice, this working class was confused, demoralized, and driven under the yoke of its enemies.

Stalin’s Reactionary Dual Policy

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. To maintain its increasingly precarious position, this bureaucracy is ready to sacrifice the interests of the Soviet people and of the labor movement throughout the world. And that is how it came to sign the pact with Hitler.

It may be said that the negotiations for the pact with Hitler must have been going on secretly for a long time. That is undoubtedly true. The former head of the Military Intelligence Service of the Soviets in Western Europe, Walter Krivitsky, revealed the fact that some time ago Stalin sent a special emissary, Kandelaki, to Berlin to press Hitler for an alliance. Then how is one to explain the public efforts, made during this same period, to form an alliance with the “democratic” Powers, France and England?

The explanation reveals the reactionary dual policy that Stalin has been pursuing. It has already been pointed out that 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 Practice of “Appeasing” Hitler

The Soviet Union is immediately and directly threatened on two sides: by Japan on the East and by Germany on the West. Neither the Japanese rulers nor Hitler have ever made a secret of their ambition to carve up the Soviet land. By herself, Japan is not so serious a menace to Russia, especially now, when so much of her strength is exerted in maintaining conquered Chinese territory. The principal Soviet enemy thus becomes 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?). And perhaps even to understand why the leader of the Spanish Communist Party, General Miaja, joined the notorious Madrid Defense Junta which graciously handed over power to Franco’s Hitler-supported troops!

Policy Breeds Contradictions

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.

That explains the seemingly contradictory statements of the various Communist Parties on the subject of the Hitler-Stalin pact which have proved so puzzling to many. The American, British and French Communist Parties, while enthusiastically endorsing Stalin’s appeasement policy towards Hitler, demand in the same breath that Chamberlain, Daladier and Roosevelt “resist the aggressor” – that is, go to war against Hitler. The two confusing and apparently conflicting positions form a harmonious unit, however, once we understand the basic consideration of the desperate Soviet bureaucracy: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!

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!

Hitler Gave Away Nothing

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. But it is, as usual, only duping itself and its followers. Hitler abandoned a very much weakened Japan, which had already served his purposes for the current stage of developments. Hitler abandoned Japan for the time being, and only for the time being, in exchange for a much solider ally.

Hitler Understands Stalinism

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. Hitler has known for years that the Stalin-controlled International is about as revolutionary, as much a threat to capitalist society, as the Salvation Army. The Hitlerites know what Stalinism represents; they know where the real threat of working-class revolution comes from.

The Berlin correspondent of the New York Times, Otto D. Tolischus, who knows what the Nazis are thinking, wrote an extremely significant comment on Hitlerite reactions to the pact. Speaking of the “revolutionary” change that has taken place in Soviet affairs, he said on August 27, 1939:

“Such a revolution within Bolshevism is precisely what the Germans assume as a basis for their calculations. Stalin, they hold, has turned Right and international Bolshevism has become national Bolshevism, which eliminates the menace of an international Communism backed by Moscow. If that is true, the dead Marshal Tukhachevsky has triumphed over George Dimitroff with the paradoxical result that the Communist parties in various other countries have been left high and dry. However, according to the German view, they have been regarded in Moscow as ‘Trotskyists’ anyhow, as revealed during the Spanish conflict, which is regarded here as a turning point in Bolshevist developments. They are, therefore, expected to adopt Leon Trotsky as their leader and perhaps even to start a revolutionary campaign against ‘Stalinism’ within Russia which would complete the revolutionary circle.”

Seen with a somewhat distorted vision, the report is nonetheless substantially correct.

Both Stalin and Hitler Fear Revolutionists

It is not the discredited pawn 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. But as soon as he had that country well encircled, he denounced the pact on one pretense or another and prepared to absorb the country into Greater Germany. 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.

The Road of Struggle Is Open!

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!

Our Road Leads to 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.

On to the road of socialism and freedom!

Shachtman button
Max Shachtman
Marx button
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 15 March 2016