BY JAMES P. CANNON
A few weeks after the outbreak of World War II, Soviet troops invaded Poland on Sept. 17, 1939, and occupied the eastern part of the country. Over the following weeks, Soviet forces invaded Finland, as well as the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which were forced to accept the presence of Soviet bases, leading to their total occupation in mid-1940.
These actions became part of a political struggle unfolding within the Socialist Workers Party in the United States. A petty-bourgeois layer within the party, adapting to the rulers' war drive, argued that the communist movement should abandon its stance of unconditional defense of the workers state in the Soviet Union. These forces split from the SWP in 1940.
Below we reprint an excerpt from "Speech on the Russian Question," given by Socialist Workers Party leader James P. Cannon at an October 1939 party membership meeting in New York. The excerpt is taken from the book The Struggle for a Proletarian Party, copyright 1972 by Pathfinder Press, reprinted with permission. Footnotes and subheading are by the Militant.
Those who take the Polish invasion - an incident in a great chain of events - as the basis for a fundamental change in our program show a lack of proportion. That is the kindest thing that can be said for them. They are destined to remain in a permanent lather throughout the war. They are already four laps behind schedule: There is also Latvia, and Estonia, and Lithuania, and now Finland.
We can expect another clamor of demands that we say, pointblank, and in one word, whether we are "for" or "against" the pressure on poor little bourgeois-democratic Finland. Our answer - wait a minute. Keep your shirt on. There is no lack of protests in behalf of the bourgeois swine who rule Finland. The New Leader has protested. Charles Yale Harrison has written a tearful column about it. The renegade Lore has wept about it in the New York Post. The President of the United States has protested. Finland is pretty well covered with moral support. So bourgeois Finland can wait a minute till we explain our attitude without bothering about the "for" or "against" ultimatum.
I personally feel very deeply about Finland, and this is by no means confined to the present dispute between Stalin and the Finnish Prime Minister. When I think of Finland, I think of the thousands of martyred dead, the proletarian heroes who perished under the white terror of Mannerheim.1 I would, if I could, call them back from their graves. Failing that, I would organize a proletarian army of Finnish workers to avenge them, and drive their murderers into the Baltic Sea. I would send the Red Army of the regenerated Soviet Union to help them at the decisive moment.
We don't support Stalin's invasion only because he doesn't come for revolutionary purposes. He doesn't come at the call of Finnish workers whose confidence he has forfeited. That is the only reason we are against it. The "borders" have nothing to do with it. "Defense" in war also means attack. Do you think we will respect frontiers when we make our revolution? If an enemy army lands troops at Quebec, for example, do you think we will wait placidly at the Canadian border for their attack? No, if we are genuine revolutionists and not pacifist muddleheads we will cross the border and meet them at the point of landing. And if our defense requires the seizure of Quebec, we will seize it as the Red Army of Lenin seized Georgia and tried to take Warsaw.
Defense of the Soviet Union
Some may think the war and the alliance with Hitler change everything we have previously considered; that it, at least, requires a reconsideration of the whole question of the Soviet Union, if not a complete change in our program. To this we can answer:
War was contemplated by our program. The fundamental theses on "War and the Fourth International," 2 adopted in 1934, say:
"Every big war, irrespective of its initial moves, must pose squarely the question of military intervention against the U.S.S.R. in order to transfuse fresh blood into the sclerotic veins of capitalism...
"Defense of the Soviet Union from the blows of the capitalist enemies, irrespective of the circumstances and immediate causes of the conflict, is the elementary and imperative duty of every honest labor organization."
Alliances were contemplated. The theses say:
"In the existing situation an alliance of the U.S.S.R. with an imperialist state or with one imperialist combination against another, in case of war, cannot at all be considered as excluded. Under the pressure of circumstances a temporary alliance of this kind may become an iron necessity, without ceasing, however, because of it, to be of the greatest danger both to the U.S.S.R. and to the world revolution.
"The international proletariat will not decline to defend the U.S.S.R. even if the latter should find itself forced into a military alliance with some imperialists against others. But in this case, even more than in any other, the international proletariat must safeguard its complete political independence from Soviet diplomacy and thereby also from the bureaucracy of the Third International."
A stand on defense was taken in the light of this perspective.
A slogan of defense acquires a concrete meaning precisely in the event of war. A strange time to drop it! That would mean a rejection of all our theoretical preparation for the war. That would mean starting all over again. From what fundamental basis? Nobody knows.
There has been much talk of "independence" on the Russian
question. That is good! A revolutionist who is not independent
is not worth his salt. But it is necessary to specify:
Independent of whom? What is needed by our party at every turn
is class independence, independence of the Stalinists, and,
above all, independence of the bourgeoisie. Our program assures
such independence under all circumstances. It shall not be
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