MIA: History: ETOL: Document: Workers Party/Independent Socialist League: Neither Capitalism nor Socialism

Workers Party/Independent Socialist League

E. Haberkern & Arthur Lipow (eds.)

Neither Capitalism nor Socialism


Chapter III

The Defense of Collectivist Property

The German invasion of Russia in June of 1941 put those anti-Stalinist socialists who still had faith in the progressive role of the bureaucracy that was defending nationalized property in a very difficult position.

Stalin was defending nationalized property in this instance and any attempt to exploit the popular anti-government fury that boiled over in the first few months after the invasion clearly ran the risk of aiding the Nazi invader. Behind the involved Marxistical argumentation the participants in this debate were trying to find the answer to a difficult question: should socialists suspend their opposition to Stalin for the duration? This question was to become even more difficult in the period of the Cold War when Stalinism’s opponent was not Nazi Germany but liberal capitalism.

The lesson all socialists, and many liberals and pacifists, had drawn from World War I was that calling a halt to the class struggle in the interests of the war effort was a disaster for the labor and progressive movements. [A] The governing classes in all belligerent countries simply took advantage of the situation to undermine all the gains won in decades of bitter struggle. The contending countries all moved at a faster or slower pace in the direction of military dictatorship.

Did such an analysis apply also to Russia? Should socialists continue to oppose Stalin and his government and indeed put themselves at the head of the popular opposition to the bureaucracy or should they, for the duration, ally themselves with Stalin’s war effort?

The first article in this section, basing itself on Shachtman’s emphasis on the progressive role of nationalized property opted for the later course.

Joseph Carter, in the second article, for the first time argued that nationalization per se was not progressive and that the working class had nothing to defend in Stalin’s government.

Shachtman’s reply, in the form of a resolution, denounced Carter’s view as an apology for capitalist restoration and emphasized that, under some conditions, it might be necessary for socialists to “fight with the army of Stalin.”

The Basis for Defensism in Russia – Ernest Erber

Bureaucratic Collectivism – Joseph Carter

The Russian Question – Max Shachtman



A. The reader should be warned here that considerable confusion was introduced into this debate in left and socialist circles generally by the tendency of all participants to use as part of their theoretical equipment Lenin’s World War I slogan of “Revolutionary Defeatism”. That slogan seemed to imply that the choice was support of your own government to the point of abandoning all opposition or favoring the victory of the enemy.

Liberals and Stalinists, of course, emphasized Lenin’s slogan because in the face of Nazism it was clear which choice should be made. They emphasized that, unlike World War I, in this war there really were significant differences between both sides.

For a discussion of the origins and disastrous consequences, in World War I itself, of this misleading slogan see Hal Draper’s The Myth of Lenin’s Revolutionary Defeatism (Humanities Press 1995). This same series of articles also examines the other, more successful, attempts of Luxemburg and Trotsky to work out a political approach that more effectively dealt with this dilemma.

Last updated on 8 November 2020