Reply to WV No. 900

The current issue of the Spartacist League’s (SL) Workers Vanguard (No.900, 12 October) features a heated denunciation of our supposed “anti-Soviet embellishment of German imperialism,” and alleges that we exhibit “anti-Communist nostalgia about the Bundeswehr (German army)” because of a mistaken formulation that appeared in Bolschewik, publication of our German section, characterizing the military apparatus of West German imperialism during the Cold War as “a defensive army.” The polemic originally appeared in the Summer 2007 issue of Spartakist, publication of the German affiliate of the SL’s International Communist League (ICL). Workers Vanguard does not bother to inform its readers that three months ago we repudiated the “defensive army” formulation in a posting on the German section of our website (see Appendix No. 1 below).

Throughout the Cold War the West German bourgeoisie was a critically important component of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a predatory imperialist military alliance led by the U.S. aimed at “containing” and ultimately “rolling back” the system of collectivized property that existed in the USSR and Eastern Europe. While NATO’s strategic planners envisioned the primary immediate objective of West German forces in a major conventional confrontation to be blocking any westward advance by Soviet forces (pending reinforcements from the U.S. and other imperialists) Bonn’s military could not be said to have an essentially “defensive” character vis-à-vis the Warsaw Pact.

The triumphant counterrevolution that swept the Soviet bloc between 1989 and 1991, which was marked by the absorption of the former East German deformed workers’ state by German imperialism, produced a shift in military focus. Today, German imperialism is concerned with enhancing its ability to independently undertake military operations, particularly outside Central Europe. As we pointed out in our correction to the mistaken “defensive” formulation, the German bourgeoisie’s military has always been prepared for aggressive wars.

In addition to the question of the German army, the Spartakist polemic recycles much of the ICL’s standard litany of bogus charges from their 1995 pamphlet, “The International Bolshevik Tendency—What Is It?” We reprinted the entirety of this document, along with a point-by-point refutation, in “ICL v. IBT,” Trotskyist Bulletin No. 5.

The only slightly new wrinkle in the recent polemic is their attempt to brand as “Stalinophobic” our criticism of the SL’s declared willingness to take responsibility in advance for whatever idiocies and atrocities they [the Stalinists] might commit” in the course of suppressing the counterrevolutionaries of Poland’s Solidarnosc movement in 1981. Trotskyists are prepared to militarily bloc with Stalinist bureaucrats against capitalist restorationists, as we explained in “Solidarnosc: Acid Test for Trotskyists.” The article reprinted in WV deliberately misrepresents the issues in dispute, claiming that the IBT:

declared that our statement of military support to the Kremlin Stalinists, should they have intervened to stop Solidarnosc counterrevolution in 1981, was a ‘Stalinophilic perversion of the Trotskyist position of unconditional military defense of the bureaucratized workers states.’ Au contraire—it is the BT that perverts Trotskyism! Theirs is the politics of Stalinophobia.”

This falsification of our position is as brazen as it is cynical. We have reprinted the entire exchange (see Appendix No. 2 below) and invite interested persons to draw their own conclusions.

Appendix No. 1

—translation of a 14 July 2007 posting on the German section of

‘Defensive Army’ – a Mistaken Formulation

In Bolschewik No. 24 we published a mistaken formulation. We wrote:

“New weapons systems were acquired to provide the capacity for rapid intervention in pursuit of German interests around the world. The Bundeswehr’s [German army] structure was adjusted in accordance with this objective. The army was reduced in size, and changed from a defensive army into an aggressive assault army. The Kommando Spezialkräfte (KSK) was created as an elite unit designed to overwhelm opponents. The ‘Stabilisierungskräfte’ was introduced for the purpose of occupation, while logistical support was assigned to the ‘Unterstützungskräfte,’ which was to ensure that necessary supplies were provided from the homeland.”

Readers of Bolschewik have pointed out that our formulation [highlighted above] was mistaken.

We do not consider that West German imperialism had a purely defensive strategy exclusively concerned with territorial defense. Our misleading formulation was intended to describe how the orientation of the Bundeswehr changed after the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Warsaw Pact.

West German imperialism, as a member of NATO, was always involved on every level in the military threats posed by NATO to the Warsaw Pact. The Bundeswehr has always been prepared for aggressive wars. The current rearmament and military reorientation reflect German imperialism’s perception that it must be able to pursue its interests independently of its imperialist rivals.

We hope that this misunderstanding is now clarified.

Appendix No. 2

On Stalinist ‘Idiocies and Atrocities’

ICL charge:

“From their inception, the BT claimed to hold many positions in common with us. For example, they too raised the slogan ‘Stop Solidarnosc Counterrevolution in Poland!’ But when the question of stopping Solidarnosc was most urgently posed, they went crazy over our statement that if the Kremlin Stalinists intervened militarily, in their necessarily stupid and brutal way, that we would support this and take responsibility in advance for whatever idiocies and atrocities they might commit. The Trotskyist position of unconditional military defense of the deformed and degenerated workers states meant exactly that, i.e. no conditions. For the BT, this was simply further evidence of our supposed ‘Stalinophilia.’”
—"The International Bolshevik Tendency—What is it?"

IBT response:

This paragraph is a Stalinophilic perversion of the Trotskyist position of unconditional military defense of the bureaucratized workers' states. As we noted in ETB No. 1:

"Trotskyists give unconditional military support to Stalinist regimes battling internal counterrevolution (i.e., Solidarnosc) or external capitalist forces (i.e., Finland 1940). This is quite a different matter than extending political support to the Stalinists. We take no responsibility for the crimes of the Stalinists against the working people whether in the course of military defense of proletarian property forms or otherwise. Military support is extended despite such crimes."

The SL's willingness to "take responsibility in advance for whatever idiocies and atrocities they [the Stalinists] might commit" is precisely the opposite of the position put forward by Leon Trotsky in the context of the defense of the USSR against Nazi Germany in World War Two:

"While arms in hand they deal blows to Hitler, the Bolshevik-Leninists will at the same time conduct revolutionary propaganda against Stalin preparing his overthrow at the next and perhaps very near stage.

"This kind of 'defense of the USSR' will naturally differ, as heaven does from earth, from the official defense which is now being conducted under the slogan: 'For the Fatherland! For Stalin!' Our defense of the USSR is carried out under the slogan 'For Socialism! For the World Revolution!' 'Against Stalin!'"
—"In Defense of Marxism, (emphasis in original)

The slogan "Against Stalin!" signified that instead of "taking responsibility" for the anti-working class crimes of the bureaucrats, the Fourth International opposed the atrocities committed by Stalin and the caste he represented.

“ICL vs. IBT,” Trotskyist Bulletin No. 5

Posted: 23 October 2007