BT Protests Too Much
Workers Vanguard No. 453 (20 May 1988) published the following truncated version of Document 2b.2
[WV Introduction] We print below excerpts of a letter by the “Bolshevik Tendency” (ex-External Tendency) in response to our article, “BT Says Don’t Hail Red Army in Afghanistan” (see WV No. 449, 25 March).
No one reading your piece would have any idea that what you are polemicizing against is our decision to adopt the slogan “Military Victory to the Soviet Army in Afghanistan” in place of “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan.” Your polemic is deliberately intended to convey the impression that we are changing sides in Afghan conflict—rather than changing the formulation expressing our military support to the Soviets and their allies.
As cde. Riley pointed out, “Trotskyists never hail Stalinist traitors or their state” because doing so obscures the treacherous and anti-revolutionary character of Stalinism. The intervention of the Soviet army in Afghanistan was historically progressive inasmuch as it contributed to the defense of the USSR. It also represented a possibility of significant social progress for the Afghan masses—particularly women. Trotskyists are not indifferent to this. The reason that it was a mistake to “hail” Brezhnev’s army in Afghanistan—while at the same time necessary to defend it militarily—is because it possessed at every moment the capacity to betray the Afghan women, workers and leftists who placed their faith in it.
You rhetorically ask whether the Soviet army’s struggle against the Nazis was “just ‘Stalinist treachery’.” Perhaps you think that the Trotskyists should have been “hailing” the Stalinist apparatus in that struggle as well?… Far from “hailing” the Stalinist military apparatus, as you propose, Trotsky advocated combining military defense of the property forms with preparations for the political revolution against the bureaucracy. This is how Trotskyists defend the Soviet Union.
WV replies: So you say you’re for “Military Victory to the Soviet Army in Afghanistan.” You’re even “not indifferent” to the fact that the Soviet Army intervention meant social progress to Afghan women—like literacy and removing the veil. How very big of you, especially since for the last six years you’ve remained conspicuously closemouthed on Afghanistan. But what does it mean to call for “military victory” now, precisely when Gorbachev & Co. are pulling the Soviet troops out? It’s an empty statement to try to cover the fact that you’re openly renouncing the Spartacist slogan, “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!”
We always said if the BT/ET were honest, they’d admit they hated that forthright stand, which was reviled in the rad-lib milieu caught up in Jimmy Carter’s “human rights” crusade, the “moral rearmament” phase of the post-Vietnam anti-Soviet war drive. So now the BT has finally come out with it, but they’re still trying to weasel. As we pointed out in WV 449, they’re paying the admission price to crawl into the all-Canada popular front: no “soft-on-Russia” pinkos allowed.
But the BT’s letter does have the virtue of putting it baldly. “Trotskyists never hail Stalinist traitors or their state,” they say, “because doing so obscures the treacherous and anti-revolutionary character of Stalinism.” And they wonder why we say their real position is Stalinism is counterrevolutionary through and through! What is this “Stalinist state” (shades of Shachtman!)? This completely wipes out the fundamental Trotskyist understanding of the dual character of the Stalinist bureaucracy, which seeks to conciliate imperialism while resting on (and at times forced to defend) the proletarian property forms which issued from the October Revolution. Their statement wipes out the whole basis for Soviet defensism, which is the foundation of the Trotskyist call for workers political revolution to oust the Stalinists.
The bottom line is, it isn’t their state! The Soviet Union belongs to all the workers of the world. The Stalinists’ nationalism undermines the USSR, internationalist in its very foundations; their attempts to seal deals with imperialism (like over Afghanistan) jeopardize its defense. As Trotsky wrote in 1932, “We accept the workers’ state as it is and we assert, ‘This is our state.’ Despite its heritage of backwardness, despite starvation and sluggishness, despite the bureaucratic mistakes and even abominations, the workers of the entire world must defend tooth and nail their future socialist fatherland which this state represents.”
This passage was quoted in July 1941 by Czervony Sztandar (Red Flag), the paper of the Trotskyists in the Warsaw Ghetto, in a statement on Hitler’s invasion of the USSR. “The first workers state is fighting for its existence,” they wrote. “The war of the Soviet Union against Hitler is the war of the international proletariat; it is our war.” No sir, BT, you won’t even hail the Red Army’s fight to smash Nazi barbarism. But the Trotskyists of the Warsaw Ghetto did. They end their declaration proclaiming: “Long live the Red Army! Long live the Russian Revolution! Long live the international revolution!”
Our readers might also take a look at the front page of the American Trotskyists’ Young Spartacus (November 1932) on the anniversary of the October Revolution, headlined “Hail Red Russia!”