The new Russian imperialism

Submitted by Anon on 9 April, 2007 - 10:35

By Max Shachtman

The best way of facing the facts and, thereby, answering the question “What do the Russians want in the occupied countries” is to ask “What do the Russians do in the occupied countries?”

Enough data has now been collected to establish the following outline of Russian economic policy in the occupied countries:

1. Russia strips the industries of machinery and other equipment and transports it to Russia. (Germany, Austria, Hungary, Rumania, Korea and Manchuria.)

2. Russia imports large masses of slave labourers to add to the slave labour armies of Russians who make up a sizeable percentage of her labour force. (Germans, Poles and political opponents from every nation in which the GPU has a free hand.)

3. Russia expropriates the capitalists to varying degrees and establishes a state-owned industry operated by native satraps of the Russian rulers. (Poland, German zone, Czechoslovakia, Baltic states.)

4. Russia carries through “agrarian reforms” which wipe out the large landowners and seeks to establish a small peasantry whose property stake ties them to the new regime. (Poland and East Prussia.)

5. Russia forces economic concessions and spheres of influence from states that remain politically independent of her. (Oil concessions in Iran.)

6. Russia maintains commercial outposts for trade in less economically developed countries. (Manchuria.)

This listing of economic phenomena related to Russian occupation policy poses a formidable task of analysis and codification before we can definitively describe the general laws that regulate Russian economic policy beyond her own borders. However, a mere listing of these bare summations of policy permit us to conclude that in the over-all and basic aim Russia is not “different,” i.e., Russian policy is motivated by the same aim of economic aggrandisement that has characterised every past exploiting class in history in its relations with subject peoples and which has come to be known as imperialism.

An analysis of the specific policies of Russian occupation will reveal, it is true, a considerable difference from the policies which Marxists have associated with the rule of finance capitalist imperialism. The basic economic needs out of which the imperialist policy of bureaucratic collectivism and the imperialist policy of finance capitalism spring are radically different. However, imperialism did not begin with finance capitalism.

The British Empire spread from Hudson Bay to the Ganges during the period of mercantile capitalism. Feudal Spain appropriated half of the new world and ruled the Lowlands. The imperialism of the Czarist state carried the Russian flag over the vast expanse of Siberia, across Manchuria, across the Pacific to Alaska and the coasts of California. In the South it pushed the Turks over and beyond the Caucasus, contested their hegemony over the Balkans. It swallowed up the major part of Poland and drove Sweden out of Finland.

Ancient times have known the imperialism of Rome and Carthage, based upon a slave economy. The most active imperialist force in the United States in the several decades preceding the Civil War was the land-hungry slaveocracy, constantly pressing for annexation at the expense of Mexico. In the light of these many historical forms of imperialism, how ridiculous is the injunction that we refrain from describing Russian economic expansion as imperialist because it is different from finance capitalist imperialism!

The imperialist policy of the bureaucratic collectivist state, for all that it has in common with all historical imperialisms, is one that is peculiar to its own social order. However, what is distinctive is not the emergence of imperialist methods never before known to history but rather the combination by the Russians of phases of imperialist policy associated with all previous forms of imperialism, from that of ancient Rome to Wall Street. In this sense the exploitation of foreign resources by Russia reflect the exploitative societies, i.e., slave labour, serfdom and wage labour, yet combines them in such a manner upon the basis of a nationalised economy as to create an economic system qualitatively different than any previously known.

The fact of Russian economic aggrandisement has created a most troublesome problem of theory for those who continue to cling to Trotsky’s outlived theory that Russia is a “degenerated workers’ state” merely by virtue of the existence of nationalised economy. Russian expansion into Poland and the Baltic states in 1939-40 raised this problem in the Fourth international and led to the split in the American section.

However, today we have the imposing evidence of Russian economic policy accumulated in a dozen countries under varying circumstances. The arguments of the “workers’ staters” in 1939-40, particularly those which linked Russian policy to the military-strategic exigencies of the war, still had some degree of plausibility. Today, however, in the light of the vast evidence of Russian economic policy in a dozen countries under varying circumstances, the arguments of the “workers’ staters” have not only been robbed of any shred of plausibility but have emerged in full flower as a thoroughly reactionary political line. It is only the internal contradictions of the theory that permit its adherents, by means of bad logic, to save themselves from being swept openly into the position of defenders and apologists of Stalinism. (The emergence of the pro-Stalinist faction of defenders of the “bureaucratic social revolution” theory among the French Trotskyists, led by an old militant, is a warning of what happens to “workers’ staters” who seek to iron out the contradictions between their theory and politics. We will comment on this phenomenon at another time).

The “workers’ staters” have denied the existence of a class of exploiters in Russia by describing the bureaucracy as “privileged stratum” which lives a parasitic existence “cheating and robbing” the workers. Stories of looting and robbing still had an incidental character. But how explain the systematic appropriation of the means of production by the Russians in every country they have entered, that feature of Russian occupation policy that has been most consistent applied, whether in Berlin, Vienna, Bucharest or Harbin?

Is this mere looting carried on by the bureaucracy in the same manner in which it “cheats and robs” the Russian worker to what use do the bureaucrats intend to put this equipment? Is it merely as a trophy of the war that a lathe or forge is transported from Berlin to Moscow? Perhaps it will be placed in his cellar or his garage by some bureaucrat to be admired by his friends along with such other booty as cameras, pianos, and billiard tables? Of course not.

It will be installed in a factory, and used in production. How does the bureaucracy benefit from such “cheating and robbing” of the occupied countries? It is not the mere possession of the lathe from which he benefits but rather that which is produced on the lathe. But who produces it? The Russian worker. So, you see, the lathe is means for the added “cheating and robbing” of the Russia working class by the “privileged stratum”! What odd language to describe the appropriation of means of production for the purpose of exploiting labour. Logic has ever taken its revenge upon those who sought to do it violence.

The ludicrous end of the attempt to describe Russian imperialism in terms of “looting” (just like they “rob and cheat at home) has forced the “workers’ staters” to seek a more base explanation. They have now discovered that the economic basis of the Russian expropriations abroad is rooted in the attempt to carry through the fourth Five-Year Plan. “The regime sees no way out in the economic field save through the realisation of the fourth Five-Year Plan, which cannot be achieved by the devastated country without the resources of the ‘buffer zones’.” (Fourth International, March 1946). If the regime sees no way out except through the fourth Five-Year Plan, and if the fourth Five-Year Plan can only achieved with the resources of the “buffer zones” (how delicate!), is this not saying that that regime sees no way out except through the resources of the “buffer zones”? The economic policy of the Russians in the occupied countries is not therefore, merely the “excesses” of the bureaucracy, not mere “looting,” not the “cheating” and “robbing” by a “privileged stratum,” but something which is fundamental and necessary to Russian economic operation and survival.

Yet this very fourth Five-Year Plan was hailed by the same magazine in September as evidence that Russia is… a workers’ state. (“The very projection of the fourth Five-Year Plan constitutes the latest corroboration of the correctness of our analysis of the class nature of the USSR as a workers’ state, although badly degenerated under Stalinist rule.”) It is a workers’ state because it needs a plan which requires the economic exploitation of its subject nations. How those who swallowed the “counter-revolutionary workers’ state” gag over the “imperialist workers’ state”!

The dilemma in the realm of theory always appears, in one form or another, sooner or later, in the realm of politics. A theory which serves no political ends, which is not a guide in politics, is pretty much of academic interest at best; at worst, it is a substitute for politics.

In the long run—it may even be said—the dispute over the class character of the Stalinist state (workers’ state, degenerated workers’ state, badly degenerated workers’ state, workers’ state which has degenerated to the point where it is no longer a workers’ state, capitalist state, bureaucratic-collectivist state) can thin down to an extremely ethereal business unless it is linked up with politics— the political program and the political struggle that follows from it. Indeed, what other real test is there of theory except “praxis,” the political struggle?

Let us take an example, and it is anything but an unimportant one: What political line do the “workers’ staters” propose for the occupied countries? They say, with a notable lack of vigour, that they condemn the Russian occupation and looting of the means of production which leaves workers jobless and hungry and without any perspective of economic rehabilitation. From which it follows? From which—so far as they are concerned—nothing follows!

What should follow, it would be thought by anyone moderately well acquainted with Marxian politics, is the demand for the ousting of the Russian troops (as well as the Anglo-American, it goes without saying) or at least for the withdrawal of the Russian troops, and the demand that the looted machinery and the kidnapped workers be returned to their homeland.

Right here is the dilemma, however. Not only don’t they make these demands, which are the elementary duty of every evolutionary socialist, but they can’t make them. Give up the ‘buffer zones” that guarantee the success of the fourth Five Year Plan (in English: that guarantee the further exploitation of the masses and the economic consolidation of the bureaucracy)? Give back the means of production that have become part of the property of the workers’ state (in English: the workers’ prison)? Impossible!

If it is a workers’ state (of any kind), then the newly-acquired means of production, including the slave labourers, have become the chattels of the workers’ state and thus enhanced its economic strength; and how can “we” demand that anything be done to weaken the economic strength of the workers’ state? Obviously, “we” cannot. If we make these demands upon the Stalinist bureaucracy, we may—God forbid—be implying that it is the state and that the property belongs to it and not in any sense to the Russian workers. Just as obviously, we cannot do that either. It conflicts, as it were, with our theory of Russia as a workers’ state.

The “workers’ staters” are tied by a long rope to the chariot of the “bureaucratic counter-revolutionary socialist revolution,” and the faster that chariot moves the shorter the rope becomes.

Bureaucratic-collectivist imperialism, or Stalinist imperialism for short, can no longer be considered an accidental or incidental phenomenon. It is rooted in the needs of the Russian economy. It springs from Stalinist Russia’s irrepressible need to remake the world in its own image as the only means of establishing security for its own social form; the need to satisfy the pressing requirements of the state economy by extending the “primitive accumulation” from the “internal” field to the “external,” from the expropriation, first, of the Russian proletariat and, then, of the large “remnants” of the bourgeoisie” (i.e. kulaks), to the expropriation of the bourgeoisie of other nations (Germany, Hungary, Rumania) and of whole nations in the period of the Second World War and now of the fourth Five-Year Plan.

The existence of Stalinist imperialism, its rapacious and utterly reactionary character, are indisputable. Anyone who requires more evidence than has been supplied by the last few years, and most recently in the Baltic and Balkan countries, in Poland and Germany, in Iran and Manchuria, will probably be satisfied only if he himself is converted into a slave-labourer under the lash of the Stalinist empire.

It does not follow, in our view, that the future of this empire is in any way assured. Far from it. There has been such overwhelming evidence in our own days that this is the period of the agony and collapse of empire, that there is no warrant for the view that the Stalinist empire, based upon what is still one of the backward countries among the big powers, has the prospect of either consolidating its expansion or even of maintaining itself for long. The long overdue crisis inside Russia — broad hints of which are reluctantly revealed in Stalin s own recent speech — cannot be repressed by state force for very much longer. Not only that. The peoples conquered by Stalinism, and they now number tens of millions, suffer under a multiplication of class oppression and exploitation by national oppression. Far from strengthening the oppressor class and nation, the establishment of this condition only serves to undermine it and in good time to destroy it.

What the bureaucracy may look upon as a conqueror’s wreath around its brow will not be long in slipping down to a noose around its neck.

The “national question” — that is, the rebellion of the millions of peoples enslaved by the Wehrmacht and the Gestapo after the German conquest of Europe—proved to be just such a tightening noose around the neck of all the Hitlers. The neck of the Stalinist bureaucracy will not prove to be any stouter. The mortal blow may very well be delivered first from the outer periphery of the Stalinist empire, for substantially the same reasons that Marx so many decades ago declared that capitalism would be struck fatally from its extremities, where it is weakest.

To wait passively for this to happen is to guarantee that it will at the very least be delayed. The interests of the working class and of socialist internationalism demand an active policy of political struggle against Stalinist imperialism. To “condemn” Stalinist “expansion” without a program of demands and struggle against it, is Gandhism. To “condemn” the annexations without actively fighting for the national freedom of the subjugated lands is, as Lenin said of Luxemburg and Pyatakov in another connection, “inconsistent annexationism.” That at best; at worst, it is Stalinist apologetics.

The struggle for the victory of socialism is inseparably and increasingly bound up with the struggle for national freedom in the advanced countries, as we have repeatedly argued.This profoundly important truth is no less valid in the fight against Stalinist imperialism today than it was and remains in the fight against the imperialism of finance capital.

Abridged from The New International, April 1946. The “orthodox Trotskyists” did in fact raise the call for the withdrawal of USSR troops from Eastern Europe soon after this article was written.

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