Military policy—or confusion
By WIL EC Majority
[WIL, Internal Bulletin, March 20 1941]
Reading through the criticism of the article “Arm the workers—The only guarantee against Hitler’s invasion” which has appeared in Youth for Socialism can only leave one wondering what the comrades are trying to say. What on earth are they criticising? What are they trying to put in its place? Even the criticism of Shachtman of the military policy in America has at least a clearly motivated, if negatively and passively pacifist, point of view.
The comrades of the Minority “accept” the slogans of the Americans, alas, “mechanically” (one of their favourite and groundless assertions against the Youth article) and dump them on the British scene without adopting the general principles and ideas which these slogans are intended to concretise.
But before dealing with this, let us examine the tangled skein into which the strips of this article are wound and get some order out of the chaos into which it has been strung. We will first of all deal with one by one with the points raised in order not to leave any basis for any further confusion on the part of the comrades concerned, and then attempt to raise the questions as they were clearly and simply explained by Trotsky and Cannon.
First we must counterpose a correct outline of the Youth article to the incorrect summary given in the criticism.
A descriptive outline of the military-political situation.
An application of the lessons of France to Britain.
An exposure of the bourgeois lie that they are fighting Hitlerism.
The posing of the question of invasion—and giving the workers a concrete and positive alternative.
This leading to the posing of the problem of power and a revolutionary war against fascism.
The first argument is that the article is “superficial” and has a “mechanical foundation” in that it draws a parallel between the position in France and that in Britain. And then the criticism in a pedantic, lifeless, eclectic way proceeds to give a formal and mechanical counterposing of the French situation with the British. Analysing France, they finish with a correct proposition:
“After Reynaud’s declaration that Paris would be defended ‘street by street’ the French bourgeoisie, faced with the prospect of arming the Paris proletariat who, together with a section of the army, would have constituted a threat to their own power and conducted a revolutionary war against Hitler, preferred to capitulate to Hitler. To understand the lesson of Pétain, to explain “Pétainism” is to demonstrate this classic example of the defeatist character of the bourgeoisie (including Hitler) if it fears its working class at home.”
We will not quarrel with the outline of the situation in France and Britain (we do not wish the argument to be sidetracked on the side issues which do not concern the question under discussion). But they say regarding Britain:
“At the present moment we can say with regard to the question of war, the British masses, as distinct from the French, are apathetic in the defencist sense, insofar as they see no other alternative…Throughout the article which purports to utilise the French experience, there is no analysis of the differences in the situation in Britain today with that which existed in France, politically and economically and which was the primary cause for the capitulation of the French bourgeoisie. The British bourgeoisie do not fear their working class in the present period…” (Our emphasis)
Let us cut through this by one single fact which destroys their interpretation as a landmine destroys a building, without leaving a single brick. So well do the comrades “interpret” the military policy that they have not even noticed it: the military policy was originally put forward not before the fall of France, but after it, not for France and not even for Britain, but for…America!!
The military policy was developed as a result of the new situation in the world. “The old principles, which remained unchanged, must be applied correctly to the new conditions of permanent war and universal militarism.” Trotsky and Cannon utilising the lesson of France show the American workers that they can’t leave the “defence against fascist invasion” in the hands of the ruling class. To do so means inevitable defeat and the victory of fascism whether of the German or American variety. That is the meaning of the “military policy.” To explain this they utilise to the full the lesson of France. They do not go into long involved explanations as to the “different” situation of the French and American bourgeoisie. They utilise this experience to demonstrate that “…the victories of the fascist war machine of Hitler have destroyed ever plausible basis for the illusion that a serious struggle against fascism can be conducted under the leadership of a bourgeois democratic regime.”
They compare imperialist America, [the] mightiest capitalist power that has ever existed, with rotting enfeebled France.
Let us hear the author of the policy, Trotsky:
“The American workers do not want to be conquered by Hitler, and to those who say ‘Let us have a peace programme,’ the worker will reply, ‘But Hitler does not want a peace programme.’ Therefore we say: ‘We will defend the United States with a workers’ army, with workers’ officers, with a workers’ government, etc’.”
Let us also see how Cannon understands this problem. Dealing with the inevitable participation of America in the war, he says, in explaining the military policy:
“We will never let anything happen as it did in France. These commanding officers from top to bottom turned out to be nothing but traitors and cowards crawling on their knees before Hitler, leaving the workers absolutely helpless. They were far more concerned to save a part of their property than to fight the fascist invader. The myth about the war of ‘democracy against fascism’ was exploded most shamefully and disgracefully. We must shout at the top of our voices that this is precisely what that gang in Washington will do because they are made of the same stuff as the French, Belgian and Norwegian bourgeoisie. The French example is the great warning that the officers from the class of bourgeois democrats can lead the workers only to useless slaughter, defeat and betrayal.”
Does the Minority consider that Cannon is “mechanically” comparing the situation in America with that in Norway? Does he not know the difference in the situation of the Norwegian, French, Belgian and American bourgeoisie?
In order to clarify further we quote an article in the Socialist Appeal, December 28 1940.
“The chief feature of the December 7 issue of the Saturday Evening Post is the diary of a British staff officer during the Battle of France. The details he gives constitute an annihilating indictment of the French bourgeoisie and its general staff. Blind, fatuous, complacent, stupid, lacking intelligence and imagination, cowardly—the bourgeois ‘democracy’ of France emerges from this officer’s diary shorn of every claim to any stature.
“But the picture is too damning. The bourgeois ‘democracy’ of France was exactly the same kind of ruling class which still rules in Britain and the United States. Therefore the author—perhaps at the suggestion of his publisher—casts about to find a striking detail which will enable him to make the situation of the French rulers different from that in Britain and the United States. He cannot find it because it does not exist…whereupon he invents it…”
Does the American bourgeoisie, which is far stronger than the British, “fear the working class in the present period”? America today dominates Britain and is preparing the greatest imperialist bid for world supremacy that the bloodstained history of imperialism has witnessed. But the Minority, instead of approaching this question from the angle of the American comrades, spend pages analysing the differences in the French and British situations.
Instead of analysing the mood of the masses and helping them to draw revolutionary conclusions from what is progressive in this; they fall into exactly the fatal error against which Trotsky warned. “We do not oppose to events and to the feelings of the masses an abstract affirmation of our sanctity.” The workers feel themselves threatened by an immediate invasion from Hitler…so these comrades explain, like a lawyer arguing about some abstract legal quibble, that after all America as well as Germany intends to dominate England. Nevertheless, the workers do not see American troops just across the Channel getting ready to pounce for conquest: and if they did, it would be to welcome them as “allies” in the struggle against what they consider to be a “common menace.” Is here any difference in the two situations?
The Minority says: “At the present moment we can say with regard to the question of war, the British masses, as distinct from the French, are apathetic in the defencist sense, insofar as they have no other alternative.” Precisely! And here is the whole aim of the military policy—to give them a positive alternative to accepting the control and leadership of the capitalist class in fending off a danger which they dread. It was to face a situation like this that the military policy was developed and put forward. As Cannon expresses it:
“We didn’t visualise, nobody visualised, a world situation in which whole countries would be conquered by fascist armies. The workers don’t want to be conquered by foreign invaders above all by fascists. They require a programme of military struggle against foreign invaders which assures their class independence.”
But the Minority refuse to face up to this situation and while “accepting” the slogans put forward as the “military policy” refuse to concretise them as a way out of the dilemma with which the masses are faced. Incredible as it may seem, the Minority attempt to operate the “new” slogans on the basis of the old negative policy. Here is the real difference between the Majority and the Minority.
We may remark, in parenthesis, that the comrades calmly repeat the analysis of America’s role written for the press over a period by the Majority. Still, we ask, what has this got to do with the issue in dispute? The article doesn’t deal with Japan in the Pacific, nor the economic crisis in Brazil, nor the political regime in Portugal. All “very important” of course, and “serious omissions”—but not dealing directly with the problem at issue: invasion. The question of America has been dealt with in our press and will be dealt with again in its due time and place.
In concluding their section headed “England” the comrades say:
“This is no ‘fake’ struggle, but is a struggle which will only be concluded after the wholesale destruction of millions of workers.”
That the imperialist struggle of the British capitalist class isn’t a “fake” struggle nobody would disagree, and the article in Youth does not suggest this. It points out that it is their claim to be fighting fascism that is fake. To quote Youth: “The capitalist class is not fighting Hitler’s fascism. They are only fighting his plans to relieve them of their Empire.” It is our job to explain, as we have done in this and other articles, for what and in what way the British bourgeoisie is “fighting Hitler” and to prepare the overthrow of the ruling class and a genuine revolutionary war against Hitler.
Do the critics believe that America is threatened with invasion? The mightiest power on earth is preparing the most powerful murder machine in history, dwarfing even that of Germany, in order to battle for domination of the world; and yet our American comrades make full use of the argument of the bourgeoisie that German fascism is threatening to invade America. They say in the Socialist Appeal:
“The government tells us that fascism, the mortal enemy of the Labour movement is threatening to invade our shores? Then let the government also provide technical instructors to teach the unions the military arts…And we can predict in advance that if the organised workers of this country were thus armed and trained, what happened in France could never happen here. No ‘democratic’ government could ever turn fascist with impunity.”
Is there any analysis here of the differences between the situations in America and France, the different “tempo of development” and so on? No! But there is full use made of one of the greatest political lessons of our time—the betrayal of France to Hitler and its overnight transformation into a caricature of a fascist state.
“The political proposition ‘Arm the workers—The only guarantee against Hitler’s invasion’ is incorrectly posed, flowing as it does, from a military supposition, namely, that the British military machine is incapable of defeating a German invasion. What will happen to this argument if the British bourgeoisie, with American aid, does succeed in stemming the invasion, which possibility, although not guaranteed, at least cannot be excluded, and which Wall Street now seems to think it has a good chance of doing? Yet this hypothesis is implicit in the whole presentation of the question.”
A mere detail has escaped our critics’ notice. A guarantee that something will happen does not at all preclude the same thing happening without the guarantee. The comrades, in their usual confused way, appreciate this, as is shown in the following paragraph from their criticism where they use the word “guarantee” in its proper sense. “What will happen to this argument if the British bourgeoisie, with American aid, does succeed in stemming invasion, which possibility, although not guaranteed, at least cannot be excluded.”
Not only is it not excluded that invasion will be beaten off in spite of the fact that the masses are not armed, but in the opinion of the Majority this is the most likely course of events. But, and here the whole “essence” of the question is missed by the Minority—both militarily and politically the conclusion is indisputable that an arming, organising and training of the whole working class would make inevitable a defeat of invasion. Our critics carefully explain that “the British bourgeoisie do not fear their working class in the present period.” But they do not draw the conclusion—that in spite of this they do not arm and organise the whole “people” for resistance; they prefer to risk the success of an invasion. And even these comrades do not deny that the success of invasion under the present circumstances is “not excluded.” Isn’t it necessary to draw the conclusion and explain to the masses why the “only guarantee” is not put into force?
Really, one cannot take seriously the infantile arguments into which their petty, quibbling attitude has led these comrades. Instead of the slogan in Youth they suggest:
“We pose the question from a class angle, i.e. ‘Invasion: arm the workers under workers’ control—the only guarantee for the defence of workers’ democratic rights’; in other words we approach the question from the interests of the working class, and not from the angle of a Wintringham.”
In other words, these comrades fall precisely into the error of which they characterise the article. They regard the situation from the “Wintringham” angle. We, on the contrary, draw precisely the class angle from the way in which the capitalists are fighting German imperialism at the present time—in other words, the class lesson flows from this. As to the “under workers’ control” the whole Youth article points the lesson. We quote:
“But instead of struggling for workers’ control they [the Labour leaders] are helping to increase capitalist control.”
“They, as well as we, have seen the lesson of France—that the working class must be thoroughly armed and have control of those arms if Hitler is to be held up and be defeated. But though they are willing to leave all the fighting to the workers, they are content to leave the control in the hands of the ruling class.”
The critics then quote Youth:
“In Britain the results will be no different. The capitalist class is not fighting Hitler’s fascism. They are only fighting his plans of relieving them of their Empire.”
And they ask, “What is meant by ‘In Britain the results will be no different’ if not that the suppression of the British workers will lead, as it did in France, to the German army simply walking in and taking over London?”
What is meant by “In Britain the results will be no different” is quite clearly explained in the article. The “totalitarian” preparations of the ruling class are examined and it is explained, in the same way as Trotsky has explained, that if the masses link their fate with the bourgeois democratic regime of Churchill and the British ruling class it can only result in the victory of Hitler or of a British Pétain or Hitler. In other words it is impossible to fight Hitler’s fascism under the control of the capitalist class. To attempt to do so can only lead to fascism in Britain. As Cannon says “The workers themselves have to take charge of this fight against Hitler and anybody else who tries to invade their rights.”
Now we quote from the criticism:
“The hypothesis of one comrade or another as to the fluctuating military potentialities of this or that imperialist army, while important as a means to present the relative transitional demand, must not be allowed to form the axis of our political slogans as exemplified in ‘Arm the workers—the only guarantee against Hitler’s invasion’.”
But this is precisely the pitfall into which our critics stumble. In analysing “the only guarantee” they give precisely a Wintringham interpretation of the possibility of a defeat for invasion. For them the problem ends where for us it just begins. We explain (we would refer the comrades to the February issue of Workers’ International News) that despite the fact that the bourgeoisie is risking the major part of its plunder and risking a possible defeat (“not excluded” the critics admit) they prefer this rather than arming and organising of the whole of the “people”—not just under workers’ control—but even under their own control. And all this, even accepting for the moment the academic, false and incredibly formalistic approach of the comrades, “the British workers are not red”; “the British bourgeoisie is not afraid of the working class in the present period.”
For the benefit of the authors we will let them into the “secret” (to them anyway) of how the dialectic of this process works. Is it necessary to reiterate here that the capitalist class has been systematically preparing for a bloody settlement with the workers and civil war for the last number of years? Army manoeuvres on the assumption of civil war, placing machine guns at strategic points in government buildings, the formation of the Civil Guard, arming of the police, etc. But the facts are well known to the comrades. We presume that these are preparations springing, not out of fear of the workers, but out of a desire to celebrate the fraternity and goodwill between the bourgeoisie and the workers which the Minority points out that Wilkie discovered on his visit to Britain.
What happens if a working class armed and organised under the control of their own committees and trade unions beats off invasion? What then? It would not be so easy to disarm them once the danger had passed. Once the workers go on the move against the exploiters on the economic field, the danger to the ruling class, which previously has been potential and dormant, would become active and acute. Here is the key to the question—why under all conditions the bourgeoisie is against the organisation and the arming of the broad masses.
Today the class struggle is not at an extreme point of tension; tomorrow it will inevitably be so. The bourgeoisie, more far-sighted than our critics, do not look at events from a static point of view, and inevitably their policy flows from this perspective. That is why, in contradistinction to the slogans of the Minority, which merely tend to further befuddlement of the masses—not to speak of themselves—we can emphasise what Marx called the bourgeois fraud of “national defence” and expose the naked class calculations underlying the policy of the bourgeoisie—at the same time offering a positive and concrete alternative which the workers cannot but see is the means to their salvation. Accepting the argument of the bourgeoisie (and more important of the labour leaders) that it is necessary to fight Hitlerism—the problem of power is raised in the minds of the masses—the proposition “how to defend ourselves against Hitler” or invasion, etc. leads direct to the question which in a blurred and distorted fashion the opposition sees (correctly) as our task, the problem of overthrowing the bourgeoisie—taking power into our own hands and waging a genuine revolutionary war against fascism.
And then our critics go on to give still another quotation together with their comment:
“The victory of British imperialism would lead to fascism not to its overthrow. There is only one road for the British working class. To fight Hitler we must take power into our own hands. The road of the Labour leaders is leading to destruction. If we do not wish to suffer the fate of our French comrades we must act in time.”
In this paragraph, they claim is contained the following:
- The possibility of victory of British imperialism.
- The impossibility of victory of British imperialism.
- The confusing of the question of stemming the invasion and the possibility of a British military victory over Germany.
- Even when posing the question of a British military victory which “would lead to fascism” the conclusion drawn is how to fight Hitler.
But just read this paragraph in context with the preceding three paragraphs, and the only conclusion that one can come to is that the comrades have become blinded by prejudice and completely incapable of understanding the meaning of words or ideas:
“A victory of British imperialism in the war would be as harmful to the people of Europe and Britain as a Nazi victory itself…
“…If we do not wish to suffer the fate of our French comrades we must act in time.”
The paragraph, especially when taken in context, but even without this, explains that in order to fight fascism it is necessary to take power. Victory for British imperialism would not lead to an overthrow of fascism (even in Germany) but to the establishment ultimately of fascism in Britain as well. Therefore, to support British imperialism as the Labour leaders are doing would lead to the destruction of the labour organisations, just as they have been destroyed in France. Therefore if we wish to fight Hitlerism it is necessary to take power into our own hands—to entrust this to the hands of British imperialism is to lead to the victory of fascism.
From what sentence in the first paragraph quoted does the “impossibility of victory for British imperialism” arise? You can search in this paragraph, both on the lines and between them: not even by implication is any such suggestion made. It only arises out of the lack of clarity of thought of our comrades.
From what sentence in the paragraph quoted do they deduce their second conclusion? Have we to explain what every schoolboy writing an essay knows: that, having dealt with a question (invasion) one can then turn to another question? The article deals primarily with the immediate question of invasion. But that does not at all exclude the question of a military victory for British imperialism being dealt with. Where does this “confusing” etc. come in? All the “confusing” that is being done is by the comrades of the Minority. This particular paragraph does not deal with the question of invasion from the point of view of stemming it or anything else; but alas, it apparently fails lamentably in “stemming” the confusion in the minds of our critics.
“Even when posing the question of a British victory which ‘would lead to fascism’ the conclusion drawn is how to fight Hitler!”
Exactly! And that conclusion is? The workers must take power! Along with Cannon we say:
“The workers themselves must take charge of this fight against Hitler and anybody else who tries to invade their rights. That is the whole principle of the new policy that has been elaborated for us by comrade Trotsky.”1
In other words, it is necessary for the workers to take power in order to fight Hitler. It is the complete incapacity of the comrades to understand this that is the source of all their errors and confusion and their inability to criticise the articles from the point of view of a difference in principles.
In their efforts to discredit the policy as put forward by the Majority, the comrades attempt to “graft” an argument onto us which is not ours. Giving the brilliant quotation from Trotsky which forms the basis of our international strategy, they surreptitiously, cautiously and confusedly attempt to use this quotation against us and smuggle in the idea that we are defencists and social patriots.
We ask the comrades point blank: Do you accuse us of defencism? If so, state it openly instead of approaching it cautiously like a mouse approaching a particularly delectable piece of cheese, but afraid to nibble it for fear of the cat (the real military policy of Trotsky and Cannon) which is waiting round the corner to spring on it.
Is Trotsky being defencist and “bringing forward Hitler as the chief bugbear” when he says:
“That is why we must try to separate the workers from the others by a programme of education of workers’ schools, of workers’ officers, devoted to the welfare of the workers’ army, etc. We cannot escape from their militarisation but inside the machine we can observe the class line. The American workers do not want to be conquered by Hitler, and to those who say, ‘Let us have a peace programme’, the workers will reply, ‘But Hitler does not want a peace programme.’ Therefore we say: ‘we will defend the United States with a workers’ army, with workers’ officers, with a workers’ government, etc.’ ”
Is Cannon being defencist and “bringing forward Hitler as the chief bugbear” when he says:
“No worker wants to see that gang of fascist barbarians over-run this country or any country. But we want to fight fascism under a leadership we can trust.”
Is the Majority being defencist and “bringing forward Hitler as the chief bugbear” when it says:
“We cannot fight Hitlerism under the control of the capitalist class. To attempt this is to make inevitable the victory either of Hitler or of some British Hitler. In order to wage a genuine revolutionary war for the liberation of the people of Europe and for the defence of the rights of the British working class, it is necessary that power should be in the hands of the workers.”
On the contrary there is no trace of defencism here, but a clear expression of the military policy of the proletariat.
The Minority then quotes the following passage from Trotsky’s article, We do not change our course:
“Hitler the conqueror has naturally day dreams of becoming the chief executioner of the proletarian revolution in any part of Europe. But that does not at all mean that Hitler will be strong enough to deal with the proletarian revolution, as he has been able to deal with imperialist democracy. It would be a fatal blunder, unworthy of a revolutionary party, to turn Hitler into a fetish, to exaggerate his power, to overlook the objective limits of his successes and conquests. Hitler boastfully promises to establish the domination of the German people, at the expense of all Europe and even of the whole world, ‘for one thousand years.’ But in all likelihood, this splendour will not endure even for ten years.”
The confusion of the Minority is eloquently illustrated by their attempt to utilise this quotation against us. They have not understood what “fetishism” Trotsky was warning the Fourth International against. This will appear clearly when we show what Trotsky was really dealing with in the article quoted.
Trotsky is saying that under no circumstances and no conditions must the fate of the working class, and principally of the vanguard, be linked up with the fate of rotting bourgeois democracy. He points out, as the comrades say quite correctly, that Hitler’s day dream of becoming the chief executioner of the proletarian revolution in any part of Europe is, of course, false. But the point that Trotsky was making they have completely missed. He is arguing this against the social patriots who, on the basis of Hitler’s victories demand that the proletariat subordinate themselves to the imperialist bourgeoisie of Britain and America because the victory of Hitler “would mean the end of everything and…just a blank wall with no perspective.” In other words, that no support should be given to Churchill, Roosevelt, etc.
This is clearly expressed not only in the article in question but also in a very compact form in the manifesto War and the world revolution.
“By his victories and bestialities Hitler provokes naturally the sharp hatred of workers the world over. But between this legitimate hatred of workers and the helping of his weaker but not less reactionary enemies is an unbridgeable gulf. The victory of the imperialists of Great Britain and France would be not less frightful for the ultimate fate of mankind than that of Hitler and Mussolini. Bourgeois democracy cannot be saved. By helping our bourgeoisie against foreign fascism the workers would only accelerate the victory of fascism in their own country. The task which is posed by history is not to support one part of the imperialist system against another, but to make an end of the system as a whole.” (Our emphasis)
But between this and the sectarian refusal to base ourselves on the “legitimate hatred of the workers of Hitler, his victories and bestialities”, there exists indeed an “unbridgeable gulf” into which the Minority has fallen and until it is clearly understood by the members of our organisation we will not be able to move forward a single inch.
The criticism proceeds:
“Comrade Trotsky was addressing himself to these comrades [which comrades?—EG] who depicted the coming of Hitler as the end of everything and seeing before them just a blank wall with no perspective. We believe that the article reflects this ‘fetishism’ by its whole presentation. In order to justify this ‘fetishism’, the Majority characterise the mood of the masses as ‘We must at all costs fight and destroy Hitler.’ We disagree with this characterisation, but assuming it is correct, how does this fit in with the mood of the German masses which is anti-Churchill since he is the arch representative of that imperialism which imposed the infamous Versailles Treaty on the German people—and they are fully aware, is preparing an even more infamous one in the event of a British victory.”
Once more let us see who and what Trotsky was attacking. He polemicises in the article against the conceptions held in this country by Strachey, Gollancz, C. A. Smith, “left” Labour leaders, etc. (We intend dealing with these in our publications in due course.) Here is a quotation from this same article of Trotsky:
“In the wake of a number of other and smaller European states, France is being transformed into an oppressed nation. German imperialism has risen to unprecedented military heights, with all the ensuing opportunities for world plunder.
“What then follows?
“From the side of all sorts of semi-internationalists one may expect approximately the following line of argumentation: successful uprisings in conquered countries, under the Nazi heel, are impossible, because every revolutionary movement will be immediately drowned in blood by the conquerors. There is even less reason to expect a successful uprising in the camp of the totalitarian victors. Favourable conditions for revolution could be created only by the defeat of Hitler and Mussolini. Therefore, nothing remains except to aid England and the United States. Should the Soviet Union join us it would be possible not only to halt Germany’s military successes but to deal her heavy military and economic defeats. The further development of the revolution is possible only on this road. And so forth and so on.”
“This argumentation which appears on the surface to be inspired by the new map of Europe is in reality only an adaptation to the new map of Europe of the old arguments of social patriotism, i.e. class betrayal. Hitler’s victory over France has revealed completely the corruption of imperialist democracy, even in the sphere of its own tasks. It cannot be ‘saved’ from fascism. It can only be replaced by proletarian democracy. Should the working class tie up its fate in the present war with the fate of imperialist democracy, it would only assure itself a new series of defeats.
“‘For victory’s sake’ England has already found herself obliged to introduce the methods of dictatorship, the primary pre-requisite for which was the renunciation by the Labour Party of any political independence whatsoever. If the international proletariat, in the form of all its organisations and tendencies, were to take to the same road, then this would only facilitate and hasten the victory of the totalitarian regime on a world scale. Under the conditions of the world proletariat renouncing independent politics, an alliance between the USSR and the imperialist democracies would signify the growth of the omnipotence of the Moscow bureaucracy, its further transformation into an agency of imperialism, and its inevitably making concessions to imperialism in the economic sphere. In all likelihood the military position of the various imperialist countries on the world arena would be greatly changed thereby; but the position of the world proletariat, from the standpoint of the tasks of the socialist revolution, would be changed very little.” (Our emphasis)
Isn’t it clear what Trotsky is dealing with here? He is warning the cadres of the Fourth International that the social patriots of all descriptions will attempt to use Hitler’s victories for the purpose of justifying their collaboration with the capitalist class. Do the comrades of the Minority accuse us of this? They cannot! On the contrary, we use Hitler’s victories and the mood of the masses in regard to them for the purpose of separating the workers from the bourgeoisie, and not advocating collaboration; we use Hitler’s victories and the betrayals of the bourgeoisie of France, Belgium, Norway, etc. to increase working class independence, and not to decrease it. If we in any way indicate that we support Churchill and British imperialism in the conflict, let the comrades give one single quotation from the article to prove it.
No! The mood of the masses is to find a way out of the impasse in which they find themselves, and in this article we give them the only real alternative to fighting Hitler under Churchill and company—that of fighting Hitler under their own independent working class banner.
In this we stand on the same ground as Trotsky and Cannon:
“The American workers do not want to be conquered by Hitler, and to those who say, ‘Let us have a peace programme’, the worker will reply, ‘But Hitler does not want a peace programme.’ Therefore we say: ‘We will defend the United States with a workers’ army, with workers’ officers, with a workers’ government, etc.’ ”
Does the Minority agree with Trotsky’s characterisation of the mood of the masses in America—3,000 miles from the scene of the conflict? And not even openly in the war? If so, do they characterise the mood of the British workers differently? And then, most important of all, if the workers do not want to be conquered by Hitler—what flows from this? Do we simply give “an affirmative of our sanctity”? Do we just turn to the workers and say, as do the Minority, “The immediate threat (to your democratic rights) comes directly from within”? Or basing ourselves on the mood of the masses, do we say, “If you want really to fight Hitler, you must take the fight into your own hands? If you don’t, you will have either the victory of Hitler or of British Hitlerism.” That is how the Majority poses the question. This way leads directly to the struggle against “the main enemy at home”—but it is raised in a way which cannot but appeal to the masses, and not in the formal, scholastic manner of the Minority.
Another question is put to us by the Minority:
“…how does this fit in with the mood of the German masses which is anti-Churchill since he is the arch-representative of that imperialism which imposed the infamous Versailles Treaty on the German people—and as they are fully aware, is preparing an even more infamous one in the event of a British victory?”
An adequate understanding of the military policy would have answered this puerile objection in advance; and indeed the fear of the German masses of another Versailles is dealt with in an article in Youth, though from the point of view of the British workers. But “how does this fit in with the mood of the German masses…” The answer is quite simple. We are not in any way, by hint, implication or innuendo giving the slightest political support to Churchill or any imperialist politician or class at any time or any place whatsoever. We are not for the victory of Churchill and infamous Versailles treaties, etc., etc. Is not that sufficiently clear? From the point of view of the German revolutionaries the answer is that they can agree on the struggle against Churchill and British imperialism (assuming that that is the “mood of the masses”)—but not under the leadership and control of Hitler and the German capitalists. The rest of the propaganda would follow from this. The taking of power by the workers in order to wage a real fight against Churchill and his imperialism, etc. Surely, it is easy to understand this? The whole argument against us falls away of itself.
In the following paragraph the comrades say:
“Flowing from the article our traditional international appeal to the European working class is cast aside for an appeal to support the socialist struggle against Hitler.”
This attempt to contrast the “socialist struggle against Hitler” with our “traditional international appeal to the European working class” can only arise out of confusion. It would certainly be interesting, if the Minority insists that there is a difference, to hear them explain it. But we notice that, while asserting that there is a difference, they make no attempt to contrast the two; and for the very good reason that it would be impossible to do so.
The last paragraph of the section on “Hitlerism” says: “…the slogan, like the title of the article, does not mention under whose control the workers must be armed.” We have already quoted the passage from the Youth article which calls for workers’ control, etc. But instead of recognising this and dealing with the principle involved, we get this attempt to seize on and exaggerate minor points.
But in their zeal the comrades have overlooked a trifle! Are they suggesting that we demand that the capitalists be disarmed—and then that we suggest that the workers should be placed under capitalist control? The mere posing of the question shows to what an absurd position the comrades have been reduced. Obviously if the bourgeoisie is to be disarmed they cannot be left in the control of the workers, as the quotation shows. If it will help to relieve their anxiety, we will accept the correction in all humility. (Incidentally the article in Workers’ International News gives exactly this slogan.)
The second part of the criticism in this paragraph is “most disturbing”, seeing that it contradicts itself.
“On the other hand, if the whole of the British bourgeoisie is implied—are we to understand that the whole bourgeoisie is willing to sell out to Hitler? But most disturbing is the posing of the main enemy as the foreign one. This slogan should have read: ‘Disarm the capitalists and dissolve the Home Guard into workers’ militia under workers’ control. Trade union control of the army for the struggle against totalitarian oppression at home and abroad.’ ” (Our emphasis)
These two criticisms are mutually exclusive. If the whole bourgeoisie is going to sell out then obviously the “main enemy” is the treacherous ruling class within the gates. But aside from this, actually all the slogan implies is that in order to fight Hitler it is necessary to overthrow the ruling class. “The whole principle” of the new policy, as Cannon has stated, is that “the workers themselves must take charge of this fight against Hitler and anybody else who tries to invade their rights.” In other words, the disturbance in the minds of the comrades can subside. The axis around which the new policy revolves is precisely what the comrades have completely and hopelessly missed. That out of the posing of a struggle against “Hitler and anybody else who tries to invade their rights” precisely flows the question of the “main enemy at home.” The question of whether the whole of the bourgeoisie will sell out or whether 90 percent or 10 percent, is something which entirely misses the mark. When Cannon says: “The French example is the great warning that officers from the class of bourgeois democrats can lead the workers only to useless slaughter, defeat and betrayal” we could ask him in the same scandalised way—“does Cannon think that all the bourgeois officers will lead the workers to useless slaughter? That all the bourgeois officers will betray?”
But the whole question cannot be considered in this way at all. This slogan cannot be separated from the rest. Do the comrades agree that the threat of putting into operation the expropriation of the mines, banks, industry, etc. would immediately turn the overwhelming majority of the ruling class into fifth columnists?
As is usual with sectarians, the Minority fall headlong into opportunism when attempting to face the problems concretely. The slogan “Trade union control of the army for the struggle against totalitarian oppression both at home and abroad” is a dangerous one, which we can search through the pages of the Socialist Appeal in vain to find. As a matter of fact Shachtman bases his whole criticism of Cannon’s position on the allegation that this is his policy. It flies in the face of the Marxian attitude towards the state as developed by Lenin. But we do not desire to go into a long and involved argument on this side issue. If the comrades insist on maintaining a wrong position on this fundamental question we shall return to it again. Soldiers’ committees in the army would be the correct way to pose this question if a slogan is issued. The other slogan is quite good and possibly ought to be accepted, “Disarm the capitalists and dissolve the Home Guard into workers’ militia under workers’ control,” but requires further study.
“Defence of workers’ democratic rights”
“With the coming of the Second World War, the process of decay and destruction of bourgeois democracy is accelerated. On the actual outbreak of the war, its death knell is already being sounded. In the present epoch of totalitarian war the luxury of ‘democracy’ must be discarded by the bourgeoisie in order to face the totalitarian war machine of the adversary. Inevitably bourgeois democracy must eliminate its overhead expenses, i.e. the democratic rights of the workers, trade unions, the relatively high standard of living—all these must go. Totalitarianism can only be fought by totalitarianism.”
This is correct. But here again the whole fundamental change in the tactic which the military policy implies is missed. What the comrades say above has always been said by us Trotskyists in the past in the same negative—although not so formalistic and lifeless way as the comrades are doing. But now we pose the problem in a different—in a positive way, although the essence of the question remains the same. Instead of saying, “totalitarianism can only be fought by totalitarianism”, we say totalitarianism can only be fought by the taking of power by the working class. Any other way means it will end in bourgeois democracy becoming totalitarian. This is how the question is raised in Youth:
“We cannot fight Hitlerism under the control of the capitalist class. To attempt this is to make inevitable the victory of either Hitler or of some British Hitler. In order to wage a genuine revolutionary war for the liberation of the peoples of Europe and for the defence of the rights of the British working class, it is necessary that power should be in the hands of the workers.”
And this is how it is posed by Trotsky and Cannon:
“The workers themselves must take charge of this fight against Hitler and anybody else who tries to invade their rights…”
“…We must use the example of France to the very end. We must say, ‘I warn you, workers, that they, (the bourgeoisie) will betray you! Look at Pétain, who is a friend of Hitler. Shall we have the same thing happen in this country? We must create our own machine under workers’ control.”
This simple posing of the fundamental problems of our epoch—the question of the regime, the question of power, the question of the military policy—how clear, how simple it emerges from the posing of the problem in the way the Old Manposes it. Compare this with the tortuous confused, one-sided, mechanical way in which the Minority attempt to grapple with the problem.
“In the forefront of our programme comes the fight for the democratic rights of the working class in the present period. These become revolutionary demands and assume tremendous importance in our transitional slogans. In the last two great remaining ‘democracies’ the rights of the workers are being filched from them. While these rights are threatened by a Hitler invasion the immediate threat to the British working class comes directly from within. In the defence of ‘democracy against Hitlerism’, the British bourgeoisie is rapidly destroying the very rights which we are supposed to be defending. Comrade Trotsky posed the question clearly in his last letters.” (Our emphasis)
But here exactly is the whole heart of the problem. How to explain to the masses that the “immediate threat” comes “directly from within”? The workers “don’t want to be conquered by foreign invaders” and the Minority falls exactly into that negative attitude which is condemned by Cannon. They attempt to operate on the basis we have always done in the past.
“Many times in the past we were put at a certain disadvantage, the demagogy of the social democrats against us was effective to a certain extent. They said ‘You have no answer to the question of how to fight against Hitler, how to prevent Hitler from conquering France, Belgium, etc.’ (Of course, their programme was very simple—the suspension of the class struggle and complete subordination of the workers to the bourgeoisie. We have seen the results of this treacherous policy). Well, we answered in a general way the workers will first overthrow the bourgeoisie at home and then they will take care of the invaders. That was a good programme, but the workers did not make the revolution in time. Now the two tasks must be telescoped and carried out simultaneously.” (Our emphasis)
The Minority wishes to carry on under the new conditions the old abstract propaganda which is completely sterile at the present time—whereas by posing the question of “how to fight Hitler” we immediately expose the bourgeoisie and what is more important the Labour leaders. The Labour and trade union leaders justify their collaboration with the bourgeoisie in the government and—the “rapid destroying of those very rights which we are supposed to be defending”, by the necessity to make “sacrifices” in order to win victory over Hitler. You would be a thousand times worse off if Hitler were to conquer you, they tell the workers. And by these means they have been enabled (temporarily of course) to paralyse the movement of the masses. The masses tolerate their treachery because they do not see any alternative.
Now merely to denounce Churchill as a more “immediate threat” to Hitler is useless and barren. But to point out that the “destroying of these very rights which we are supposed to be defending”, is not necessary to fight Hitler, that is the way to “find an approach to the masses.” By posing the question of how to fight Hitler we lead the masses to the conclusion that it is necessary to wage a struggle against Churchill. By posing the way of waging war against the fascist enemy without, flows directly the question of waging struggle against the enemy within. That is the whole theme of the article in Youth.
In the Minority’s bulletin, the struggle against “Hitlerism” at home and abroad are entirely separated and two distinct problems. But let us see how Trotsky and Cannon (and with them the Majority) really posed the problem and examine the confused way in which the Minority distorts it. They give two quotations from Trotsky:
“But we categorically refuse to defend civil liberties and democracy in the French manner; the workers and farmers to give their flesh and blood while the capitalists concentrate in their hands the command. The Pétain experiment should now form the centre of our war propaganda. It is important, of course, to explain to the advanced workers that the genuine fight against fascism is the socialist revolution. But it is more urgent, more imperative to explain to the millions of American workers that the defence of their ‘democracy’ cannot be delivered over to an American Marshall Pétain—and there are many candidates for such a role.”
“We must use the example of France to the very end. We must say, ‘I warn you workers, that they (the bourgeoisie) will betray you! Look at Pétain, who is a friend of Hitler, shall we have the same thing happen in this country? We must create our own machine, under workers’ control.’ We must be careful not to identify ourselves with the chauvinists, nor with the confused sentiments of self-preservation, but we must understand their feelings and adapt ourselves to those feelings critically, and prepare the masses for a better understanding of the situation, otherwise we will remain a sect, of which the pacifist variety is the most miserable.”
The first quotation, despite the attempt of the Minority to distort and confuse the issue, has a crystal-clear meaning. The bourgeoisie, and with them the Labour leaders, argue that we must “defend civil liberties and democracy” against the attacks of Hitler. Trotsky replies—“Yes. But this cannot be done under your leadership, Messrs Bourgeoisie!” “The Pétain experiment should now form the centre of our war propaganda.” Cannon makes this quite clear in his speech expounding the military policy.
“We will never let anything happen as it did in France. These commanding officers from top to bottom turned out to be nothing but traitors and cowards crawling on their knees before Hitler, leaving the workers absolutely helpless. They were far more concerned to save part of their property than to fight the fascist invader. The myth about the war of ‘democracy against fascism’ was exploded most shamefully and disgracefully. We must shout at the top of our voices that this is precisely what this gang in Washington will do because they are made of the same stuff as the French, Belgian and Norwegian bourgeoisie. The French example is the great warning that officers from the class of bourgeois democrats can lead the workers only to useless slaughter, defeat and betrayal.” (Our emphasis)
Isn’t it clear here that the question of the enemy “within” is raised by explaining that the enemy “without” cannot be fought except by dealing with the enemy at home? The second quotation from Trotsky makes the position even clearer, despite the frantic efforts of the Minority to “graft” a different meaning and interpretation on it. The bourgeoisie will betray the workers. Trotsky makes this clear despite the attempt to confuse the issue. “Look at Pétain who is a friend of Hitler.” The quotation just as it stands annihilates the distortion that is attempted.
“The workers themselves must take charge of this fight against Hitler and anybody else who tries to invade their rights. That is the whole principle of the new policy that has been elaborated for us by comrade Trotsky.”
“We must shout at the top of our voices that this is precisely what that gang in Washington will do because they are made of the same stuff as the French, Belgian and Norwegian bourgeoisie.”
But the Minority is shouting at the top of their voices to prevent the membership understanding this problem clearly.
We quote the preceding paragraph to Trotsky’s second quotation which has been “glaringly omitted.”
“That is why it would be doubly stupid to present a purely abstract pacifist position today; the feeling the masses have is that it is necessary to defend themselves. We must say: ‘Roosevelt (or Willkie) says it is necessary to defend the country; Good! Only it must be our country, not that of the 60 families and their Wall Street. The army must be under our own command; we must have our own officers, who will be loyal to us.’ In this way we can find an approach to the masses that will not push them away from us, and thus to prepare for the second step—a more revolutionary one.”
Let us look a little further up the page:
“Now the national feeling is for a tremendous army, navy and air-force. This is the psychological atmosphere for the creation of a military machine, and you will see it becoming stronger and stronger every day and every week. You will have military schools etc., and a Prussianisation of the United States will take place. The sons of the bourgeois families will become imbued with Prussian feelings and ideals, and their parents will be proud that their sons look like Prussian lieutenants. To some extent this will be also true of the workers.
“That is why we must try to separate the workers from the others by a programme of education, of workers’ schools, of workers’ officers, devoted to the welfare of the worker army, etc. We cannot escape from the militarisation but inside the machine we can observe the class line. The American workers do not want to be conquered by Hitler, and to those who say ‘Let us have a peace programme’, the worker will reply, ‘But Hitler does not want a peace programme’. Therefore we say: ‘We will defend the United States with a workers’ army, with workers’ officers, with a workers’ government, etc. If we are not pacifists, who wait for a better future and if we are active revolutionists, our job is to penetrate into the whole military machine’.” (Our emphasis)
The whole of these “Questions on American problems” are devoted to the inevitable participation of America in the war, and the tactics of the revolutionaries towards this.
Trotsky in dealing with the problems clearly explains our tasks in the war despite all the efforts of the Minority who will not or cannot see the task in front of us…“Let us have an organised workers’ programme for the war…”
“…They should provoke in the workers a mistrust of the old traditions, the military plans of the bourgeois class and officers, and should insist upon the necessity of educating workers’ officers who will be absolutely loyal to the proletariat. In this epoch every great question national or international will be resolved with arms—not by peaceful means.” (Our emphasis)
Now let us look a little further down the page and see the paragraph which follows the Minority’s quotation:
“We must also say that the war has a tendency toward totalitarian dictatorship. War develops a centralisation, and during war the bourgeois class cannot allow the workers any new concessions. The trade unions will therefore become a kind of Red Cross for the workers, a sort of philanthropic institution. The bosses themselves will be under control by the state, everything will be sacrificed to the army, and the trade union influence will become zero. And we must say of this now: ‘If you don’t place yourselves on a workers’ military basis, with workers’ schools workers’ officers, etc., and go to war on the old style military basis you will be doomed.’ And this in its own way will preserve the trade unions themselves.” (Our emphasis)
Isn’t it clear what Trotsky is talking about? He is dealing with war against Hitler and/or Japan. Having pointed out that the war is inevitable, he says: “If we have war we must have a programme for war.” But the Minority refuse to “find an approach to the masses that will not push them away from us, and thus [to] prepare for the second step—a more revolutionary one.”
We notice that Trotsky generalises the question of defending the country—but it must be our country, etc. He proceeds in the whole of the passages quoted, from the “defence of the country” which the bourgeois will betray. “Shall we have the same thing happen in this country?”
But let us return to the Minority:
“In other words, we must defend our democratic rights, we are willing to give our flesh and blood for that which we find worth defending, but we must be in command.”
So far so good! We entirely agree with this! But then once more the sectarians fall blindly into opportunism.
“Our existing democracy must be defended and broadened into the army, etc., thus linking it up with full workers’ democracy, i.e. the proletarian dictatorship.”
On the contrary, the “defence of democratic rights” against Hitler or the bourgeoisie at home leads to the posing of the problem of seizing power.
“Now,” say our critics, “let us examine how the article in Youth deals with the question” and they quote from Youth:
“The elementary need for self preservation demands that the workers should not be left helpless and unarmed in face of the coming Nazi onslaught. British ‘democracy’ can be rendered impregnable against the attacks of Hitler or of a British Pétain if the working class is armed.”
And their comment:
“Is this adapting ourselves to the feelings of the masses critically? Is this preparing the masses for a better understanding of a situation? We say no, just the opposite. What is the meaning of ‘British ‘democracy’ can be rendered impregnable’? Does it mean that decaying British bourgeois democracy—and since when are we prepared to render ‘British democracy’ impregnable against attacks? We presume that the above bases itself on the statements of comrade Trotsky on the defence of workers’ democracy. But Trotsky is advocating that the only means of the working class defending their democratic rights is by taking control, by taking command in their own hands. Merely calling for arms for the workers as the elementary need for their preservation is to fall into those very errors against which Trotsky warns.”
It is intensely aggravating to find wilful misunderstanding of your position by your opponent. “Merely calling for arms for the workers as the elementary need for their self preservation is to fall into those very errors against which Trotsky warned.” Certainly! But did these comrades read the Youth article or not?! From wading through this criticism one would come to the conclusion that they imagine that every paragraph is a separate and independent article by itself!
The preceding paragraph to the one quoted says:
“We cannot fight Hitlerism under the control of the capitalist class. To attempt this is to make inevitable either the victory of Hitler or of some British Hitler. In order to wage a genuine revolutionary war for the liberation of Europe and for the defence of the rights of the British working class, it is necessary that power should be in the hands of the workers.”
“Is this adapting ourselves to the feelings of the masses critically?” Yes! “Is this preparing the masses for a better understanding of the situation?” Yes! “But Trotsky is advocating that the only means of the working class defending their democratic rights is by taking control, by taking command in their own hands.” Does the paragraph advocate this? Yes!
Let us see how the Socialist Appeal deals with the same question. In the issue of August 3 1940, there is a leading article with the heading Arming the workers. The whole article is given in full at the end of this bulletin. Here is one paragraph.
“It [an article in the New York Times] tells that a miners’ convention at Blackpool unanimously adopted a resolution asking that miners be armed to meet a possible invasion.
“We should like to see every union in this country adopt a similar resolution. The government tells us that fascism, the mortal enemy of the labour movement is threatening to invade our shores? Then let the government provide arms for the mortal enemies of fascism everywhere—the trade unions.
“…And we can also predict in advance that, if the organised workers of this country were thus armed and trained what happened in France could never happen here. No ‘democratic’ government could ever turn fascist with impunity.”
Our critics ask us—“What is the meaning of ‘British ‘democracy’ can be rendered impregnable’?” It means that all the workers’ rights which are summed up in “democracy” can only be safeguarded if the working class is armed to resist any incursions by Hitler or a British Hitler. The immediate problem is invasion. See how the Socialist Appeal deals with this question, although invasion of America is at the moment an abstract and almost fantastic conception.
What the criticism confuses—the military policy
“The workers are being armed by the bourgeoisie. The military policy of the Fourth International is based on this historic fact—the universal militarisation of the proletariat—and not, as is implied in the article on the withholding of arms from the workers.”
“While we naturally support the slogan ‘Arm the workers’, mechanical interpretation of this slogan in itself is not enough. The whole problem which poses itself before us is one of control.” (Our emphasis)
The unconscious contradiction of this criticism is really humorous. In their anxiety to criticise the article the comrades of the Minority land themselves in an absurd position. While correctly stating that we must base ourselves on the arming of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie, which in the end will prove their undoing and stating that the “military policy” bases itself on this, they calmly proceed to call for…the “arming of the workers, under workers’ control, etc.”. Coming straight after their one sided criticism in the preceding paragraph this contradiction is really “glaring.” They do not notice that the bottom is knocked out of their criticism. That calling for the arming of the workers who are not armed in no way contradicts having a policy for the workers who are already in the army. The bourgeoisie is compelled by the contradictions of world imperialism to place arms in the hands of the workers in the army. But this does not mean to say that we “mechanically” ignore the problem of the workers who are not armed. What is “mechanical” is to attempt to counterpose the one to the other as if they mutually excluded one another. In reality both flow from the same basic policy. Nowhere, indeed it is fantastic to assume this, can it be “implied” that the Majority believe the military policy is based on “the withholding of arms from the workers.”
That the military policy is based on the arming of the workers is correct. Yes. But it is only one side of the medal. The bourgeoisie arms the workers in the army and even a special section under their own control in the Home Guard. But between this and the levee en mass for which Youth called, not only in February but also in July of last year, there is a decisive difference. The fact that the comrades confusedly recognise the difference is revealed by their “naturally” supporting the slogan “Arm the workers.” If the military policy is based only on the fact that the “workers are being armed by the bourgeoisie” why do the comrades call for the “arming of the workers”? If it is a question only of control and not of arming, then they should not call for “Arm the workers” but “change bourgeois control of the armed workers for workers’ control.” These comrades who quibble about whether all of the bourgeoisie will betray to Hitler fail to notice that all (not even a majority) of the workers are not armed, organised and trained for resistance to “the foreign invaders.”
The Minority complains that we did not deal with the Colonel Bingham affair. But there are other aspects of the military policy which we did not deal with. And for the simple reason that it is not possible to deal with every aspect in one article—or even one issue of Youth. It is necessary to apply the policy to the most burning issues with which the workers are faced at any particular time. In any case, an article on Bingham was written for that issue of Youth, [but] as the comrades of the Minority are well aware, it was withheld for the next month’s issue. We considered, and still consider that the question of invasion enabled us to put the military policy forward better than the Colonel Bingham affair. The “gist of the problem” was to give the workers “a programme of military struggle against foreign invaders which assures their class independence.”
The comrades give “a few quotes” from the Youth article to prove their contention that “the article bases itself, not on the universal militarisation, but on the premise that the bourgeois are withholding arms from the masses.” But if we are to believe that they are taking seriously their own slogan of “Invasion: arm the workers…, etc.” from what does their slogan arise if the military policy is based only on the fact that the bourgeoisie are “organising, training and arming us in their military organisations”? Or has the slogan “Invasion: arm the workers…, etc.” got nothing to do with the military policy?
We presume that the SWP “interprets” the military policy correctly. And we see that they make use, of the (to them) almost abstract question of invasion—as a problem of arming the workers! Have they failed too to understand that the bourgeoisie is “organising, training and arming us in their military organisations”? Here is what they say:
“…a miners’ convention at Blackpool unanimously adopted a resolution asking that miners be armed to meet a possible invasion.
“We should like to see every union in this country adopt a similar resolution. The government tells us that fascism, the mortal enemy of the labour movement is threatening to invade our shores? Then let the government provide arms for the mortal enemies of fascism everywhere—the trade unions.”
We notice two points in the lead article. First the SWP takes it for granted that the revolutionaries in England would raise the issue of arming the workers in connection with repelling invading fascism. Secondly, that they consider this as part of the application of the military policy in England—and in America. Thirdly, the heading of the article, “Arming the workers” does not mention under whose control!
And a last point—is the Socialist Appeal “moaning” about the unwillingness of [the] bourgeoisie to arm the workers against Hitler?
We agree that “up to now the absence in our publications of any material relating to the armed forces has not been marked.” We are only too willing to see this remedied, and if these comrades or any others submit material or articles we shall be only too pleased to consider them for publication. The absence of material relating to industrial questions has also been “most marked”. When comrades correctly deplored this, we together with the Minority pointed out that it was an expression of our weakness. But we agree wholeheartedly that this state of affairs must be remedied—and “in close co-operation with the comrades in the armed forces, we must concretise our military policy for this country.” But it must be remembered that a policy and the concretisation of that policy are not one and the same thing.
With most of the demands in relation to the armed forces we can agree. But there are two or three which are completely wrong, un-Marxian and dangerous to our tendency. But we will not argue about those here. If the comrades persist in putting them forward we shall deal with them fully.
Even the demands which are correct, however, are not the “new” military policy. As a matter of fact, most of these that are correct are put forward in the Transitional Programme of the Fourth International, published in 1938. But even in the Transitional Programme they were not new. All of the correct demands were put forward by Lenin during the last imperialist war. And indeed, most were to be found in the programme of Social Democracy before 1914.
Wherein, then, is the difference between the “new” policy and the old? This, the comrades have not indicated in any way. That it is necessary to enter and work in the armed forces is something that is taken for granted. Shachtmanites, Stalinists and other pacifists in the labour movement are also agreed on the necessity of work in the armed forces and, as a matter of fact, the Stalinists have tabled a series of reformist demands for the soldiers.
What is new in the military policy is the posing of the problem of proletarian militarism. In other words, the problem in an epoch of universal war and militarism is the fact that we must have an “organised workers’ programme for war.” Instead of negatively putting forward the idea that we must struggle against imperialist war, we put forward the positive idea of transforming the war into a revolutionary war—by taking control out of the hands of the imperialists and into the hands of the workers. As Cannon puts it:
“The workers don’t want to be conquered by foreign invaders, above all by fascists. They require a programme of military struggle against foreign invaders which assures their class independence. That is the gist of the problem.”
The comrades have not noticed the difference between the old policy and the new as applied in America. The old policy was—to oppose tooth and nail all war preparations of the bourgeoisie to defend and extend their imperialist loot. The war was in the interests of the finance-capitalist clique and not in the interests of the workers. But this, while correct both then and now, was a negative approach in a period of universal militarism and war.
Instead of this negative way of putting the problem, we now put forward a positive programme—“an organised workers’ programme for war.” Instead of opposing all war preparations for what the capitalists call the defence of the country against Hitler, we now say—Yes! Military training, etc., but under the control of the workers! Defend America—but a workers’ America!
In Britain we have already reached a more advanced stage than in America. Britain has been at war for eighteen months. We have to have a programme for the workers inside and outside the armed forces which gives them a method of fighting foreign invaders while preserving their class independence. Cannon describes how:
‘‘The demagogy of the social democrats against us was effective to a certain extent. They said, ‘You have no answer to the question of how to fight against Hitler, how to prevent Hitler from conquering France, Belgium, etc.’ (Of course their programme was very simple—the suspension of the class struggle and complete subordination of the workers to the bourgeoisie. We have seen the results of this treacherous policy.) Well, we answered in a general way, the workers will first overthrow the bourgeoisie at home and then they will take care of the invaders. That was a good programme, but the workers did not make the revolution in time. Now the two tasks must be carried out simultaneously.”
Cannon then tells us how:
“We cannot avoid the new circumstances; we must adapt our tactics to them.”
But that is exactly what the Minority refuses to do. They continue to pose the problem in the old way: “the workers will first overthrow the bourgeoisie at home and then they will take care of the invaders” or, to quote from their bulletin, “while these rights are threatened by a Hitler invasion, the immediate threat to the British working class comes directly from within.” The Majority, on the other hand, has adapted its tactics to the new circumstances, and poses the question thus: “In order really to fight Hitler and his invasion it is necessary for the workers to struggle against Churchill and take power into their own hands.”
It is only the “mechanical” dumping of the slogans from America on to Britain, without realising the policy they are expressing which could lead the comrades to the military policy to the article in Youth. None of the slogans developed in America (or for that matter, even the slogans correct and incorrect put forward in the criticism) invalidates the conclusions, ideas and policy on which the article in Youth is based. Indeed the slogans (those of the SWP and Youth) flow consciously from the necessity of posing a revolutionary defence against invasion, a defence which will ensure the “class independence” of the proletariat. This is done, on the one hand, by exposing the naked class calculations of the bourgeoisie in their “defence”, and on the other, by the posing of alternative revolutionary means. Precisely here is the whole “essence” of the military policy.
The article in Youth stands as a correct interpretation of the military policy. (So also does the article in the February number of Workers’ International News. Despite the fact that they were written about the same time we notice that the comrades do not criticise the Workers’ International News article. The only difference between them is that one is agitational, the other propagandist.) It is only the confusion as to what the policy implies, and the “new” idea (new to them only) that it is necessary to work in the army which leads the comrades to reject the ideas expressed in the article.
The “new policy” is a method of working among the masses both in and out of uniform. Just as on the economic field we put forward our transitional programme, now linked up through the “new policy” with the question of taking power and transforming the imperialist war into a revolutionary war; so on the military field we put forward these “military transitional” demands which supplement and round out our general transitional demands. But what is new in both cases is not the slogans themselves. It is the method of posing the problem. (Although in parenthesis Lenin posed the problem in a similar way in Russia in 1917, Threatening catastrophe). We do not negatively refuse merely to defend the bourgeois fatherland, we positively raise the question of workers’ power and the defence of the proletarian fatherland. In this way both on the economic and military fields we defend the interests of the working masses and in indissoluble connection with this pose the problem of the conquest of power and a revolutionary war against fascism. In this way the task of overthrowing the bourgeoisie at home and that of fighting the invaders become “telescoped and carried out simultaneously.” This is the meaning of Trotsky’s position, incorrectly used by the Minority. The “new policy” links these demands as a means of “fighting foreign invaders” as an “organised workers’ programme for war” with the struggle against the main enemy at home—the seizure of power by the working class and the waging of a genuine revolutionary war.
We would like to point out that the slogans put forward as the military policy are not unfamiliar to the Majority comrades as well as the Minority. We can read the material which appears regularly every week at the head of the Socialist Appeal. But as we have pointed out, these slogans were already developed in the Transitional Programme. We quote from page 10 of the Transitional Programme:
“Once and for all we must tear from the hands of the greedy and merciless imperialist clique, scheming behind the backs of the people, the disposition of the peoples’ fate. In accordance with this we demand: military training and arming of the workers and farmers under direct control of workers’ and farmers’ committees; creation of military schools for the training of commanders among the toilers, chosen by workers’ organisations; substitution for the standing army of peoples’ militia indissolubly linked up with factories, mines, farms, etc.”
As early as June of last year in a draft pamphlet on the lessons of France these slogans were developed and put forward as the only programme for the masses in Britain. And indeed with the Transitional Programme as a programme which we accepted as a guide to action to be applied concretely, how could it be different?
In conclusion we issue a challenge to the Minority to write an article of 2,000 words or so to the internal bulletin positively giving a lead to the workers on the issue of invasion instead of negatively criticising the articles of the Majority. They have given us the heading, they have given us the slogans—now let us see the article. It would certainly be a peculiar concoction if it contained all the points put forward in the criticism. We await the article with interest. Comrades would then be able to compare the two and make their own judgment as to which dealt adequately with the problem with which we are faced.
It is unfortunate that the reply to the criticism is so lengthy. But we believe that the criticism is so confused that it was necessary to deal with it at length. A brief theoretical exposition expounding the view of the Majority on what is the military policy will follow very shortly and should be read in conjunction with this reply.
In conclusion we would appeal to the comrades to read the articles in Workers’ International News and Youth, the article appended to this bulletin and the material of Trotsky and Cannon. When they have read these we have no doubt that they will realise that the position of the Majority is the position of Trotsky, Cannon and the Fourth International.
 This refers to the manifesto written by Trotsky, Imperialist war and the world proletarian revolution, approved by the emergency conference of the Fourth International, May 19 to 26 1940.
 Within the Fourth Internationalist movement, Trotsky was frequently referred to as the “Old Man”.