Leon Trotsky
Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (Sri Lanka)

Stalinism betrays post-war revolutionary upheavals

7-1. Trotsky’s prognosis that the bloody horrors and deprivations of the war would bring a post-war revolutionary upsurge was vindicated throughout Asia. The massacres carried out by Japanese imperialism in China, Korea and other countries under its domination were paralleled by the criminal manner in which US imperialism brought the war to an end. The intense American bombing of Japanese cities, including the extensive use of incendiary devices designed to maximise civilian casualties, culminated in the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. The chief aim of these last two atrocities was to demonstrate the devastating power of the new weapon to the Soviet Union and to bring the war in the Pacific to an abrupt halt as the Soviet armies advanced rapidly into China and Korea. Six years of imperialist barbarism, following the acute hardships of the Great Depression, had exposed capitalism before the eyes of humanity. The efforts of the discredited ruling classes to reassert their control provoked determined opposition from the working class and revolutionary upheavals internationally.

7-2. As the Transitional Program explained, the central issue was revolutionary leadership. While the Trotskyists had fought courageously to unify and mobilise the working class against the war, the Fourth International had been seriously weakened by the sheer scale of the repression against its sections—by the so-called democratic powers, the fascists and the Stalinists. Moreover, the Soviet bureaucracy emerged from the war with its prestige enhanced by the Red Army’s victories over the Nazi armies. Stalin, however, was terrified that successful revolutions in the West would give an impetus to a movement of the Soviet working class against his regime. He struck a series of deals with Roosevelt and Churchill at Tehran (1943), Yalta (February 1945) and Potsdam (July 1945) to help preserve capitalism in return for a limited Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. In France and Italy, where the bourgeois parties were thoroughly compromised by their connivance and outright collaboration with the fascists, the Communist parties, following Moscow’s directives, disarmed resistance fighters, joined capitalist governments as ministers and suppressed any independent activity by the working class. As part of the capitalist government in France, the French Communist Party supported the efforts of French imperialism to regain control over its colonies, including Algeria and Indochina. In Japan, the Communist Party played a no less treacherous role in containing a huge upsurge of the working class. Based on a bizarre version of the Stalinist two-stage theory, the Japanese Communist Party claimed that the American occupation forces were carrying out the “democratic revolution” and, on this basis, subordinated the strike movement of the working class to the dictates of General Douglas MacArthur. As a result, capitalist rule was salvaged and Japan transformed into a crucial ally of US imperialism in Asia.

7-3. The role of Stalinism in betraying the anti-colonial movements in Asia was also vital to the global restabilisation of capitalism. The end of the war generated an anti-imperialist movement of the masses throughout the region of unparalleled scope and intensity. The crushing Japanese defeat of the old European powers during the conflict had shattered the basis for their Asiatic empires. In every case, whether that of the French in Indo-China, the Dutch in Indonesia or the British in Malaya and the Indian subcontinent, the attempt by the former colonial rulers to resume control of their possessions met with mass opposition. In China and Korea, the collapse of Japanese rule gave rise to broad movements against the dictatorial regimes that US imperialism sought to install.

7-4. In War and the Fourth International written in 1934, Trotsky had paid special attention to the colonial and semi-colonial countries of the East, explaining: “Their struggle is doubly progressive: tearing the backward peoples from Asiatism, sectionalism and foreign bondage, they strike powerful blows at the imperialist states. But it must be clearly understood beforehand that the belated revolutions in Asia and Africa are incapable of opening up a new epoch of renaissance for the national state. The liberation of the colonies will be merely a gigantic episode in the world socialist revolution, just as the belated democratic overturn in Russia, which was also a semi-colonial country, was only the introduction to the socialist revolution.” Thus the democratic tasks of the post-war anti-colonial struggles could only be achieved under the leadership of the working class as part of the broader struggle for socialism internationally: but that road was blocked by Stalinism.

7-5. Throughout South East Asia, the Stalinist parties were instrumental in derailing the post-war anti-colonial struggles with far-reaching consequences for which the working class and oppressed masses are still paying. None of the states established in the region after World War II has been able to meet the aspirations of working people for basic democratic rights and a decent standard of living. In Indonesia, the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) subordinated the working class to the nationalist movement led by Sukarno even as he manoeuvred first with the Dutch, then the US. In return for Washington’s support for independence, Sukarno carried out a bloody crackdown on the PKI in 1948 in which thousands of PKI members were killed. That did not stop the PKI from renewing its alliance with Sukarno paving the way for the CIA-backed military coup of 1965–66 that resulted in the deaths of at least 500,000 PKI members, workers and peasants, and three decades of dictatorship. In Malaya, the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) and its Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army openly welcomed the return of British forces and collaborated with the new British administration as it sought to re-establish itself. Having consolidated its control by 1948, Britain turned on the MCP and over the next decade ruthlessly crushed its guerrilla forces before handing over power to the conservative Malay communal party—the United Malays National Organisation—that has dominated Malaysia ever since. The MCP’s support for Lee Kuan Yew and his People’s Action Party laid the basis for the present-day one-party police state in Singapore.

7-6. The Indochinese Communist Party (ICP) led by Ho Chi Minh played an especially criminal role in assisting France to re-establish control over their colonies. Following the Japanese surrender in August 1945, the Stalinists formed a provisional government with bourgeois parties and sought to barter with the British and French as their military forces landed. The Trotskyists of the La Lutte group and the League of International Communists fought for the independent mobilisation of the working class and urban and rural poor amid a burgeoning movement for national independence. Mass demonstrations erupted in Saigon, peoples’ committees began to mushroom and a provisional central committee was established. As tensions sharpened in September 1945, the Stalinists disarmed the peoples’ committees, suppressed the provisional central committee and murdered scores of Trotskyists, including La Lutte leader Ta Thu Thau. Far from securing independence, the ICP’s collaboration with the French only helped restore colonial rule in the south. The Vietnamese people were to pay a horrific price for the betrayal of the post-war revolutionary upsurge and the subsequent manoeuvring of the Stalinists with French and then American imperialism. Thirty years of war left the country devastated and millions dead.

7-7. The Stalinist betrayals in Europe and Asia enabled the United States, which emerged from the war as the dominant imperialist power, to implement a series of initiatives to stabilise the world capitalist economy. The Bretton Woods agreement established the dollar as a stable global currency by pegging it against gold at a fixed rate; the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade aimed to expand trade and prevent a return to the disastrous protectionist policies of the 1930s; and the US provided substantial aid to rebuild the shattered economies of Western Europe and Japan. Having gained a measure of capitalist stability, US imperialism launched its “Cold War” counteroffensive against “Communism.” The opening shots were US support for right-wing regimes in Greece and Turkey, and the launching of the Marshall Plan that transformed Western Europe into an anti-Soviet bloc, but these soon extended into a global confrontation. The US responded to the 1949 revolution in China with a massive military intervention in Korea to prop up its right-wing dictatorial regime in Seoul. The 1950–53 Korean War cost the lives of millions and left the peninsula permanently divided and scarred.