This material was originally intended for Revolutionary History Vol.3 No.3 (The special issue on Trotskyism in Greece) but was not included because of the limited space available. The Introduction dealt with 2 articles, only the second of which was ever prepared for print, and which is made available here.
Introduction to the Acronauplia Debate
There had been differences between Stinas and Pouliopoulis within the Greek revolutionary movement since 1927, when Stinas had judged it premature to split from the Greek Communist party (see Revolutionary History, Vol.3, no.3). Already in 1937, even before the war, Stinas held that the position of revolutionary defeatism also applied to the Soviet Union. The discussion between the KDEE of Stinas and Vitsoris and the EOKDE of Pouliopoulis and Karliaftis began in Aegina prison and continued amongst the Trotskyists incarcerated in Acronauplia. The documents of this discussion were copied up into two copybooks in very small letters by the secretary of the EOKDE, Chr. Athanasiades, and sent to other prisons, where the debate continued. All the writings pertaining to the debate were entrusted to the EOKDE whose leaders, over a period of forty years, published some of their own polemics but only truncated extracts of those of their opponents. It was only in June 1977 that Stinas got hold of two of his contributions (A.Stinas, Mémoires: Un revolutionnaire dans la Grèce du XXième Sicle, Paris 1990, p.220).
The first article presented here was written in Acronauplia by N. Giannakos, a teacher who had supported Pouliopoulis’ Spartacus group from the late twenties and had been arrested by the Metaxas dictatorship in 1938. Workers Front (Ergatiko Metopo) was the name of the journal of the International League of Greece (KDEE) led by Stinas and Vitsoris. Giannakos was executed along with Pouliopoulis by the Italian Fascists in Nexero concentration camp in 1943.
The piece that follows it was written by Stinas to develop his ideas on the attitude to be assumed by revolutionaries towards the Soviet Union during the war, and was distributed in Acronauplia in October 1940. Our version is translated from the French contained in the appendix to his memoirs (pp.329-41), which unfortunately is not reproduced in full but with the cuts as indicated (…). It is printed along with another text of the time developing the differences of the KDEE with the EOKDE, and with an afterword replying to a polemic by Pouliopoulis against Stinas that was not published until 1976.
A report of the imprisonment of the Greek Trotskyists appears in Workers International News, Vol.1, no.11, November 1938, p.10, mentioning among others Pouliopoulis and Giannakos. We are grateful to V.N. Gelis for translating Giannakos’ paper from the Greek and to Ted Crawford for rendering Stinas’ polemic from the French. We can only express the hope that it has not lost any of its sense or the force of its argument in its progress through three languages.
THE USSR AND THE STRUGGLE FOR WORLD REVOLUTION
The history of the theoretical struggles within the workers’ movement has shown that only debates on concrete problems can reveal the deepest differences (…). Many a time an agreement has been achieved on theoretical questions which does not have any concrete importance and where the deepest differences appear later when they become the object of mass activity (…) This indeed happened with our debate on the nature of the Soviet Union. Our agreement with the general political principles of the IVth was repeatedly announced by all. That did not prevent the appearance of serious differences on a whole series of vital problems of the day, for example “the struggle on two fronts” and “revolutionary defeatism”. These two questions were vital for the immediate political activity of our party. The struggle to transform the war into a civil war in our country was impossible without a total and thorough understanding of revolutionary defeatism and the future victory of the Greek workers’ struggle would not be possible without a deep understanding by the whole party of the opportunist nature of the “struggle on two fronts” as is very precisely formulated in the articles by the majority of comrades in the unified EOKDE cell. It is a matter then of very great importance (…).
1. Revolutionary Policy in the USSR
(The differences with the EOKDE about this did not concern the character of the revolution but the means to achieve it. We all supported the conception that the revolution in the USSR would have a political rather than a social character. But we said that the revolution, a real revolution, would have to be a ferocious armed struggle between the worker masses and the bureaucracy and its state. The comrades of the unified EOKDE gave no clear answer to this. Here are some relevant extracts.)
(…) Comrade N wrote that “the Russian section of the IVth International must safeguard and consolidate the social base of the regime, not reverse it”. But these were hollow phrases, the sort of Stalinist boasting to which we were accustomed, and which their authors used when they would not or could not give a more serious analysis. The Russian proletariat may not have to overthrow a social regime, that is to say change the legal property relationships, but it has to overthrow the most monstrous and totalitarian state of the modern world. Its overthrow would only be possible as a result of a civil war which would very probably be amongst the most ferocious and murderous in history. (…) The more the supporters of the IVth International approach this task with audacity and intransigence, the more success will be guaranteed. Conciliation and retreats will have no other result than to reinforce counter-revolution. (…)
2.Bureaucracy and Counter-Revolution
To this the defenders of defeatism ingenuously reply “Read the articles by CH and N. that ‘The bureaucracy is counter-revolutionary’”. But by its nature and social origin the bureaucracy is not the counter-revolution in person but a privileged and conservative caste within which, just as within the labour aristocracy and collective farms, counter-revolutionary elements take root and flourish in a hothouse atmosphere (…). Our comrades infer that the Soviet bureaucracy has become anti-revolutionary, and even if it has not yet established individual private property, this is because of fear of the proletariat (…).
As Trotsky wrote “It is wrong to identify the bureaucracy as the only dominant and privileged social layer in the full sense of that term. The bureaucracy is a complete pyramid which carries this social layer on its shoulders (…).”
We have the naivet to ask the comrades if they will explain to us why the bureaucracy is not counter-revolutionary by its nature and social origin. What is this “dominant and privileged social layer” which it is false to identify with the bureaucracy? And what social layer is built, like a complete pyramid, on the bureaucracy? This formula confuses very deep reasons which either show the ignorance of its authors or their inability to express their thoughts clearly. That contains the opposition between the real points of view and appreciations of the comrades and the tasks and slogans of the IVth International in relationship to the USSR.
In spite of its confused formulation the logical deduction of the above passage is very clear and very revealing. If the bureaucracy is not by its nature and social origin the counter-revolution, that in Marxist language means that the bureaucracy is not counter-revolutionary because of its material interests. There are in the USSR then, as the comrades write, only counter-revolutionary elements within the bureaucracy and within the aristocracy of labour and collective farmers, but a social layer, whose counter-revolutionary tendencies are determined by deeper material reasons, does not exist. The counter-revolution is therefore, from the point of view of the comrades, intangible, ghostly and impersonal: it fact it does not exist. The social regime cannot be threatened by counter-revolutionary elements which originate here and there (…). It is no use sending the comrades back to immerse themselves in the Marxist texts so that they can find out the causes and conditions which give birth to revolutions. It is not that they are unaware of Marx’s theory; they reject a revolutionary policy in the USSR (…).
Furthermore, the comrades, who are sarcastic about the “naivet of the workers frontists” and of comrade D, tell us that the bureaucracy is not homogenous. This is the ABC of Marxism, and if they believe this adds anything to the debate this only goes to show their own naivety. There does not exist and there has never existed in class society a social category or class which is, or can be, strictly homogenous. That is even truer for the proletariat (…) but classes in spite of their lack of homogeneity have fundamental characteristics in common which distinguish them from other social classes (…). The bureaucracy, in spite of its lack of homogeneity is very precisely distinguished from the working class and the peasantry (…) the Lords of the Kremlin and their Praetorian Guards in the GPU have a very different life from that of the chairman of a village collective farm, but the life of the latter differs much from that of the mouzhik. However, these two from the highest to the lowest are bound together by their common interests against the workers and by their wish to keep and to reinforce their privileges (…).
The greater or lesser degree of cohesion of the bureaucracy will be revealed when, for the fourth time, the heroic proletariat of the USSR once more raises up its head (…).
The comrades then write “We see three main tendencies within the bureaucracy: 1. The Butenko grouping; 2. the Reiss tendency which represents the lower levels of the privileged; and 3. the centre faction of Stalin. The majority of the bureaucracy is influenced by the first two centrifugal tendencies.” The Stalinist faction is not a centrist grouping that wavers between Marxism and reformism., but a blood-stained Bonapartist clique which, in the interest of the counter revolution, exterminates working class militants from every tendency with fire and sword (…). What is more it is by no means certain the Reiss tendency represents the lower levels of the privileged. This is no tendency in the sociological sense of the term and it does not represent the interests of part of the bureaucracy because no section of the bureaucracy provides an economic basis for such a clearly proletarian tendency. Rather the matter concerns revolutionaries who have not been corrupted and who, though very few and scattered, can still exist in the state machine which came out of the revolution (…).
3. The USSR and the War
Always and in all circumstances Marxists have said that the destiny of the USSR is entirely determined by the destiny of the world revolution. “The October Revolution has created the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia … This opens the epoch of World revolution.” Such are the opening words of the Bolshevik party programme. In sum, without a victorious outcome for the proletariat’s world revolutionary struggle, at least in the most advanced capitalist countries and the support for this by the USSR through economic and political state methods, the dictatorship of the proletariat would be condemned to founder (…). This fundamental position is found in all the serious works by the leaders and masters of Communism starting with Trotsky and Luxemburg. Those comrades who, replying with a childish naivety to those who see the destiny of the USSR played out by the proletariat in the industrial centres of Europe write, “In spite of everything … the USSR stays upright” show that they have understood nothing of the USSR, the world revolution or the bonds that exist between these two things. Trotsky knew something more than the anti-defeatist comrades when he wrote “more than ever the fate of the October revolution is bound up now with the fate of Europe and the whole world. The problems of the Soviet Union are now being decided on the Spanish peninsular, in France, in Belgium. At the moment when this book appears the situation will be incomparably more clear than today, when civil war is in progress under the walls of Madrid. If the Soviet bureaucracy succeeds with its treacherous policy of people’s fronts in ensuring the victory of reaction in Spain and France – and the Communist International is doing all that it can in that direction – the USSR will find itself on the edge of ruin. A bourgeois counter-revolution rather than an insurrection of the workers against the bureaucracy will be on the order of the day” The Revolution Betrayed, New York edition, 1973, p.290.
(…) If the working class does not finish the war by revolution, society and civilisation are threatened by a retreat and catastrophe that the most pessimistic imagination cannot conceive. The USSR will not survive this unprecedented catastrophe (…).
The welfare of the USSR today depends absolutely not only on the struggle of the European working class, but upon the transformation of the existing war into a civil war. The achievement of this objective will need all our forces and all our efforts. Our political initiatives, our least important tasks and our slogans must all be subordinated to this fundamental and immediate task, and are only correct to the degree that they help it. For the party of the revolutionary working class in the capitalist countries it is very clear: we must use the suffering caused by the war to develop the political activity of the masses and to transform the imperialist war into a civil war to overthrow capitalism. It is absolutely the same for all capitalist countries irrespective of their political regime, or whether they are allies of the USSR. In no case would a “modification” or a “different interpretation” be justified, and the following paragraph from the report on the war by the majority of the Acronauplia cell of the EOKDE is very odd in this regard: “Some particular problems of a tactical nature which could occur in the Greek section of the IVth International during a war in case of a Soviet-Anglo-French bloc supported by Greece.” What can these be? In a struggle for its demands, whatever these may be, the proletariat in the war has no other weapon than the class struggle and its application which leads to revolution and the defeat of the government. Can these “particular” questions make us use different means from those which determine our principles, and, more concretely, our immediate basic task? If not, what is the meaning of this very strange paragraph? This paragraph leaves an opening whereby social-fascism and the concept of an “anti-fascist” war can be swallowed, and through which the Party can sink to treason. The removal of this passage is for us, and we would hope for the majority of the Party, a matter of principle. There is no “particular problem of a tactical nature” for the working class of a country which may be allied to the USSR, and the call for “Defence of the USSR” loses all its practical value in a world war, and can only create confusion. Those comrades who maintain the contrary must quote us some concrete “particular problems”. If they cannot, they give us the right to say that they are deliberately trying to smuggle the idea of an “anti-fascist” war into the party. The duty of a “Workers’ state”, whose destiny will be determined in a decisive fashion by the ability of the world working class to put an end to this frightful war by a revolution, is to help the world working class accomplish this task, to denounce the aims of the brigands of war from both sides, and to call upon the workers of the belligerent peoples to join hands against their executioners and to proclaim that their army serves to toughen, encourage, and to give hope to the revolutionary working class (…).
This job cannot be done, or even thought about, without the overthrow of Stalin. And that is the job of the Russian working class (…).
The call for the transformation of the war into a civil war within the capitalist countries, as the duty of the proletariat alone, in whatever conditions or circumstances, and the call for a revolutionary struggle to overthrow the bureaucracy by the Russian proletariat, whatever the temporary consequences at the front, will concentrate activity and attention upon a distinct and clear objective and will ideologically prepare the masses for the carrying out of this task when conditions allow (…).
4. The Tactic of War on Two Fronts
We again insist on this problem, and we would particularly want to draw the attention of all comrades to the above. The very grave errors committed by our “anti-defeatists” not only result from an erroneous appreciation of the situation in the USSR and the character of the bureaucracy, but from a more general point of view from the tactic of “struggle on two fronts”, which is totally opposed to the programmatic principles of revolutionary Marxism. The broad lines of the positions, so openly right-wing but also so naive, identical to those defended buy our anti-defeatists, appeared inside a party of the IVth International during the Spanish Civil War with Nin’s position and its critique by Trotsky and the secretariat of the IVth International (…). In Greece illegality prevented the Trotskyists taking any active part in the debate and the organisations were happy simply to solidarise with Trotsky and the secretariat and, as is apparent today, at least as far as the majority of the EOKDE cell is concerned, to condemn the participation of Nin in the Catalan government without however really understanding the errors of the POUM and Trotsky’s criticism.
As we are going to show, the existence in our ranks of such profoundly opportunist positions which revolutionary Marxism had resolved years ago, is neither surprising, nor does it justify any disillusion in the future of our party: it is enough that the Marxist critique will not be withdrawn and that we will not try to cover up errors and conciliate the opposition for a broad and shallow “agreement”. It is shown for the nth time that the broad acceptance of our programme by any group does not ipso facto make that group revolutionary.
(…) The comrades refer constantly to the “difficult”, “complex” or “composite” character of the problem, and of the “surprises kept in reserve by the dialectic” as if they wished to suggest that if they had not succeeded in giving a concrete analysis the responsibility fell on … the problem itself. But one can tell a Marxist by his ability to clarify and analyse all the most difficult and complex problems, and, as part of his analysis, to trace out his perpectives and tasks. The confusion does not reside in the problem but within the comrades’ skulls.
In all their writings the majority comrades in the EOKDE cell systematically avoid concretely posing the problem of the struggle on two fronts, and try to persuade us that it means nothing more than the simultaneous struggle of the working class on several fronts against different enemies, as let us say, in the first years of the Russian Civil War when the revolutionary proletariat fought the counter-revolutionary bands and the imperialist armies both in the interior and on the frontiers at the same time.
Our debate would not make sense if it was about that. The working class revolution then fought the same enemy on every front: counter-revolution and international imperialism, which were allies and which together tried to strangle the revolution. Though spread over the interior and the frontiers, there was only a single front. On the contrary the tactic of the struggle on two fronts which the anti-defeatist comrade advocated for the defence of the USSR results from an arrangment of fronts and relationship of enemies which are entirely different. At least that is what these comrades think.
The proletariat is faced by two enemies who are themselves enemies. When these face one another, the proletariat helps one against the other which it reckons is the most dangerous, while simultaneously it carries on another struggle against its ally. Such is the theory of the struggle on two fronts that is also known as opportunism (…).
Both before and after 1905 the same theory was formulated by the Russian Mensheviks in the course of debates on the character and motor forces of the Russian revolution, as against the theory of permanent revolution. They said that the task of the Russian proletariat was, in alliance with the liberal bourgeoisie, to overthrow Tsarism and feudalism, and push through the most democratic measures while at the same time it had to struggle for its own interests as a class against the bourgoisie. But inevitably by the same logic of this “war on two fronts” the Mensheviks found themselves during the revolution on the same side as the Tsarist generals and foreign imperialists. In Spain the POUM also adopted this tactic, and it was precisely this that led the revolution to disaster (…).
The centrist theory of the struggle on two fronts by its nature and its own logic does not differ from the traditional reformist theory of an alliance with the democratic bourgeois parties against the reactionary “tendencies” in bourgeois society (…).
This theory arises in periods of calm and retreat and does not take into account the changes which occur in consciousness and spirit of the masses in revolutionary periods which this recipe is for (…).
There is no section of the bourgeoisie whose economic interests push it to ally itself with the working class against another section of the bourgeoise. The petty-bourgeois layers can be conquered by the proletariat, not when the latter makes deals with and allies with “their parties”, but only when it has won its independence and when it shows, by its policy and its behaviour, that it is ready to become the master of society (…).
In a revolutionary situation real power and force are to be found in the street. The bourgeois and petty bourgeois “workers” parties are stripped of all their real influence. But they still keep an influence which is explained by links with the past. The revolutionary masses will only free themselves from this “influence” by the revolutionary party’s unrelenting struggle against these parties, and with calls for the “destruction of the state machine” and “all power to the organs of the revolutionary masses”. Then the old parties will be forced to throw away their “democratic“ and “socialist” mask and to reveal their real face. The slightest retreat in favour of “the unity of all against fascism” leads inevitably to the victory of the “allies” first and fascist reaction afterwards (…).
The real opinion of the comrades of the EOKDE is the following: the bureaucracy, which is not itself the counter-revolution, and whose interests coincide with those of the Worker’s State, will defend the USSR against foreign imperialism. Tthe working class has the duty to it to repel the imperialists and to prevent the enslaving of its own country. Thus in time of war it will find itself on the same side as the bureaucracy. Until then, their idea is logical, it will doubtless give satisfaction to all “friends of the USSR” (…). If the comrades stop at that point their attitude would be very clear, and the fronts sharply marked. But at the same time they tell us they will fight not just for the defence of the borders but for the revolutionary overthrow of Stalin.
Nevertheless, the war does not only happen on the frontiers but also in the rear, and it demands a total unity and discipline both at the front and in the interior. All governments know this very well, and that is why they give such enormous importance to the home front. It is not only keeping morale high; with modern techniques today war takes on a truly totalitarian character, and the entire population participates in it. The revolution, if we do not in a criminal fashion play with the words and if it is a real task for us and not just a hollow phrase, needs the development of the class struggle inside a country, and the breaking of national unity and its discipline, that is to say a war in the interior of the country against the government. Every manifestation inside the country, every strike, every demonstration will have an immediate and disintegrating effect on the front. The army is not built in some separate area apart from society, but is an integral part of society, of its flesh and blood. The revolution will influence it also and pass through it. The enlisted workers and peasants will go over to the side of the revolutionary masses, the officers and the offspring of the bureaucracy, to that of the government and to counter-revolution. The defence of the frontiers and the simultaneous struggle for the revolutionary overthrow of the government are irreconcilable (…).
The masses will make their appearance on the scene when there is a decisive defeat at the front, a foreign revolution or a serious crisis of the regime. At the moment when, breaking national unity, the masses range themselves against the government and the war, civil war will break out in the country. At that precise moment everything will depend on the preparation of the vanguard. The bureaucracy will turn against the masses in revolution under the cover of the “defence of the borders” and the “saving of the country threatened by the foreign invaders”, accusing the revolutionaries of being agents of the enemy. The slogan of the “struggle on two fronts” will then acquire force and significance. Its job will be to hold back the revolutionary enthusiasm of the masses and to terrify them with the danger of a foreign invasion. It will then become a weapon in the hands of the bureaucracy against the working class.
During the whole period leading up to the rising, the role of those who defend this slogan will be to contain and hold back any anti-governmental demonstration, above all when the fronts run the risk of being broken and when defeat threatens. To the extent that it depends on them, they will contribute to the unity and the discipline of the home front, that is to say, submission to the bureaucracy.
As a result the slogan of the revolutionary overthow of Stalin and the bureaucracy, independently of its consequences at the front, concentrates the struggle of the proletarian vanguard on a concrete objective and prepares for an unrelenteng struggle against the bonapartist clique and the counter-revolution (…).
And what of the frontiers of the Workers’ state? In April 1938 our cell gave the following answer, “It is very likely that revolutionary struggles inside the country will let the enemy over the frontier…. But internationalist revolutionaries are absolutely convinced that Stalin is leading the country to a catastrophe, to defeat and dissolution, and only that can save the USSR from the totalitarian catastrophe. The victorious proletariat will at the same time be able to be enthusiastic and to mobilise the country of October, to give a revolutionary character to the war on its own side, to dissolve the opposing armies, to fraternise with the workers and peasants in uniform, as much in the fascist countries as in the `democratic’ ones, and to hurl them against their own scaffolds”.
5. Revolutionary Defeatism
In view of their arguments that the anti-defeatist comrades use in their polemic against revolutionary defeatism in the USSR, we can make two hypotheses: maybe they are intentionally giving a wholly inadmissable interpretation to this slogan which is amongst the most fundamental of Bolshevism, or maybe they have a idea of revolutionary defeatism which is both naive and dreadful, and evidently reject it and throw it away for every country in the world, and not just the USSR.
If the ommission of this slogan in their attitude to the war is not chance – and how can the omission of a slogan which is precisely the one that distinguishes us from all sorts of social patriotism and pacificism be chance? – then we must suppose that it is the second theory which is correct, at least for some of the anti-defeatists. For these comrades revolutionary defeatism means – open the borders and deliver the country to foreign imperialism. We know that reaction has always tried to give such an ‘interpretation’ to this slogan making the revolutionaries out to be the agents of the enemy to justify vicious measures against them.
Other comrades assert that revolutionary defeatism imposes itself on the working class in the advanced capitalist countries because they have nothing to defend, while in the USSR on the other hand the workers have seized the shop and are ready to defend it. (…). The working class would be truly unworthy of its great mission if, faced with the great historical events which determined the outcome for the world, its attitude was determined by such a miserably miserly point of view. The present day proletariat has nothing in common with the slaves of the Roman Empire, it is concerned with the productive forces of society of which it will be the historical inheritor, and on this base it will build the future happiness of mankind. Revolutionary defeatism conditions the success of the proletarian revolution is the only way to save human society from the chaos and catastrophe to which rotting captalism is taking it. A revolutionary defeatist policy flows from the reactionary character of the capitalist system and modern imperialist wars and of the historical necessity for a proletarian revolution and not from the point of view that “we have nothing to defend”(…).
We do not fold our arms during a war and say that we might just as well be chopped into little bits because “we have nothing to defend”, but we fight for the transformation into a civil war precisely because we have to defend human civilisation (…).
We carry out our fight against the government only by means of class struggle (…). What we want, and what we do, all advanced workers want and do. Thus, our struggle is part of a world struggle. Until the revolution starts we cannot know which is the weakest link in the capitalist chain. But we are convinced of the historical necessity of our struggle. We are convinced that the weakest link will break, that the revolution will raise its flag and that it alone will put an end to the war and free humanity from its horror and destruction for ever.
The working class does not seize political power to defend its own little “business” and to create its own national state. The working class is a class which bears the civilisation of a world which will abolish frontiers, and unite all peoples of the world in a world society. It defends the borders of a country when it holds political power there solely in the sense that it defends the cause of international socialism in a region of the world where it happens to be. It does not think that its task ends by overthrowing its own government and the taking of power, but it puts all the strength which state power gives it to the service of the world revolution.
Revolutionary defeatism very sharply distinguishes us from all other tendencies in the workers’ movement, and because of that it must be brought out very clearly in our resolution on the war. But far more than mentioning it in our resolution, we must understand its essence and its significance. If the drafter of a report on the war understood that, he could not slip any passage on “particular tactical questions” into his text. Thus revolutionary defeatism excludes the appearance of any other question than those of class posed by our struggle for the overthrow of the government. At the same time it can never be a matter of “parallel” struggles to overthrow the dictatorship, to transform the war into a civil war, as that which appears in another article by the same comrade. In the war we struggle against the government of the bourgeoisie which is carrying out the war, whatever it is, and not just because it is the dictatorship of Metaxas. If in war conditions, Metaxas is replaced by someone else (which is very unlikely) that will be because of the need to carry on the war more effectively and to deceive the masses. Our open and courageous revolutionary defeatist position puts us into absolute opposition to all the “democratic” and “workers’” parties and forewarns against any deviation. Furthermore, a parallel struggle against the goverment which we wage to transform the war into a civil war does not exist. The resulting struggle for the transformation of the war into a civil war becomes a part of the struggle to overthrow the capitalist government, whatever it may be.
Our tasks in relation to the war must be clear. It is a question of life and death for our party and for the working class and the comrades who understand that must insist on the drafting of an absolutely clear resolution without ambiguities or double meanings (…).
The Russian proletariat will only defend borders when this means defending the cause of international socialism. And that will only be possible when it has overthrown the bloody bonapartist clique and swept the country clean of the leprous bureaucracy (…).
Acronauplia, October 1940
Updated by ETOL: 25.10.2003