masthead vpered

Neither Washington nor Moscow

The role of Russian imperialism in support of the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad and increasing rivalry with the UK, USA and western powers has posed a challenge to the labour movement.  Some socialists have fallen into the reactionary trap of supporting one camp against the other, considering Putin’s regime as an opponent of the USA and as such some kind of progressive ‘anti-imperialist’ force.   Labor Action banenkoThere is a lessons for our generation from the Ukrainian socialists who had survived Stalinist and Nazi terror and after World War Two had re-grouped in the émigré Ukrainian Revolutionary Democratic Party. 

We republish an article from their paper Vpered, A Ukrainian Review for Workers on the question of an   third force independent of the Stalin’s USSR and the USA.  This was translated and published in the American socialist paper Labor Action.  

The author Ivan Maistrenko was a leading Ukrainian socialist active in the revolution of 1917-1921, persecuted under Stalin he was leading writer and historian of Ukraine.


The accompanying article is translated from Vpered (No. 17-18, 1951), organ of the Ukrainian Revolutionary Democratic Party (URDP), the Marxist wing of the Ukrainian anti-Stalinist resistance movement, published in emigration in Germany. A. Babenko (Ivan Maistrenko) is a leading po­litical writer for Vpered.

The term “Third Camp,” as used in our title on this page, is the one customarily employed by LABOR AC­TION, in the same sense which Comrade Babenko assigns to “third force.” While not all of his formulations would be ours, we welcome his article as the expression of a genuinely socialist position on the war, doubly valuable because it comes from a movement which is struggling militantly against the Kremlin’s tyranny behind the Iron Curtain without any political concessions to the Kremlin’s imperialist rival.—Ed.[Labor Action]


What is the “third force”?

This term is sometimes used in a very conjunctural sense, as in France where the demo­cratic parties of the center plus the right-wing socialists combine against fascism (De Gaulle) and against the Communist Party on the left and call their bloc the “third force.”.  Sometime ago, this idea was extended to the whole of Europe and understood as a third force between the United States and the USSR.

But when the U. S, sow the urgent need to set up the Atlantic Pact, the bloc of democrats and socialists  was  ordered   to  stop  playing  with  the  “third force” and support the pact, even if this pact would also include Franco’s fascist regime. Thus, the idea of the “third force” in its bourgeois European meaning is not at all athird force in reality it is only a conjunctural formation inside one of the forces, inside of the capitalist world.

By the term “third force” we mean the oppressed peoples and working classes of the whole world. In the resolution of the July 1950 conference of the URDP, we set our understanding of the “third force” idea as fol­lows:

“The composition, the program and the aims of the third force are clear: In the countries under Stalinism it is the whole people minus the class of Stalinist magnates; in the other countries it is the people minus the top capitalist layer. In the USSR the third force struggles for the freedom of nations and the classless democracy;   in the other world of capitalism, for the freedom of the colonial peoples and for the socialization of the means of production.”

As a matter of fact, the Ukrainian OUN [the nationalist wing of the anti-Stalinist underground] also takes its stand on the basis of the third force, though it does not yet use this-term.-For instance, P. Poltava [a leading theoretician of the OUN] has written in a letter to A. Babenko: “it is clear that we add to this the progressive social and political program which our movement stands for (the classless society and democracy). We are convinced that in this form our ideology is the most correct one for an oppressed peo­ple which fights for its real national and social liberation. In our epoch of the emancipation of the oppressed people from the yoke of world imperialism, and in our epoch of the liberation of the workers from capitalist slavery.”Vpered 7-8 1951 Cliff Imperialist Expansion of Russia-1

“Third force” in World War I

Prom this, it is clear that the “third force” has a mean­ing quite different from—or rather, quite opposite to—the programs and aims of the two forces which are organized in state form, namely, world capitalism and Russian Stalinism. While each of the latter two forces struggles for its own world hegemony, the third force struggles for the abolition of any imperialist hegemony in the world—for the “system of free national states for all the peoples of the world,” as P. Poltava’s letter puts it.

But, we may be told nowhere in the world does there exist any more or less significant organization which could represent the third force. The division takes the line of the above-mentioned two forces, and any attempt to take an independent attitude objectively leads to the support of one force or the other. If one follows this argument to its “logical” end, one must conclude that any struggle for the abolition of the capitalist system is grist to the mill of Stalinism, and any struggle against Stalinism is grist to the mill of capitalism.

If there had been no historical experience on this point, then the case for the third force might really be a difficult one. But there has been such historical experience, even though it is from World War I. And in the light of it, the aforesaid “logic” does not hold water.

During the First World War years there did exist an Organization of the third force. It was the so-called “Zimmerwaldians,” the organization of the left-wing socialists who held their first conference in Zimmerwald, Switzer­land, in September 5. 1915.  These revolutionists were also accused of being “traitors to the fatherland” and “agents Of the enemy”; the Russian Zimmerwaldians were accused of helping the Kaiser’s Germany in struggling against the war, and the German Zimmerwaldians were accused of helping the Asiatic despotism of the tsar. But Zimmerwald represented a movement which fought not only against the war but also for the defeat of its own government. The Russian Bolsheviks were in it, and the Russian govern­ment simply called them “German agents.”

Lenin Paid No Fare

One has to remember this fact, for today it looks espe­cially ridiculous; no one else has secured the national interests and even the national grandeur of Russia but these “German agents”—the Bolsheviks.  How light the Bolsheviks made of these accusations can be seen from the fact that Lenin willingly utilized the proposal by the Kaiser’s Germany to bring him from Switzerland to Rus­sia in a sealed carriage, in 1917. Both sides believed they were pursuing their own ends: Kaiser Wilhelm II thought he was bringing on the collapse of Russia, but Lenin be­lieved that he was going to overthrow not only Tsar Nicho­las” but Wilhelm too.

It is important to note in this connection that the Bol­sheviks did not pay any political fare for Germany’s serv­ice, It is important to note this because, in the case of contemporary Ukrainian emigres it is the opposite that ‘is sometimes true: they declare their devotion in exchange for no service at all.

It is also worthwhile to mention the number of repre­sentatives of the third force—the Zimmerwaldians—during the First World War. In her memoirs about the Zimmer­wald Conference, Rosa Luxemburg writes that all the par­ticipants in the conference were taken from the railroad station by two cabmen. This should be kept in mind be­cause after two years, these people—who needed only two cabs to hold them (or more correctly, only a section of them)—were ruling one sixth of our planet, the former tsarist empire.

In the emigration today, some people like to emphasize their numerical strength as a token of their success in Ukraine of the future. This argument is ridiculous for two reasons; for one thing, it makes pretensions for the mass of emigres which do not correspond to the real character of the mass of people in the Ukraine itself, especially con­sidering that the two exist under quite different circumstances and under quite different influences (not to speak of the other differences about the people who went into exile…),

Maistrenko standing 3
Ivan Maistrenko 

The Lesser – Evil Question

Secondly, this argument is ridiculous because even they who today may have the support of the masses in t Ukraine cannot be sure that the same will he true tomorrow. From now till then it is possible for them to compro­mise themselves ten times over.  In order to see who will lead the Ukrainian masses tomorrow one has to have a good understanding of the world transformations and changes which lie between today and tomorrow. The hand­ful of Zimmerwaldians who found room for themselves in two cabs, and who were ridiculed by the “mass” politicians, won the battle because best of all they grasped the ten­dencies of World development.

In the coming battle of the two worlds, the political emigration from the Ukraine is already attempting to de­fine its positions. But these positions are not dictated by cold rational calculation but by emotions, by a feeling of hatred for the oppressive Russian Stalinist regime. There­fore, from a humanitarian view, it is not surprising that in 1941 the people under Stalinism even looked to Hitler. But it is precisely the experience of World War II which clearly shows how wrong the emotional approach in choosing a political line is.

What would have really happened if the Allies had not won out against Hitler and the latter had become the mas­ter of the Ukraine? It would have been worse than Stalinism, because under Stalinism the forces of the future liberation grow up at least physically, while Hitler wanted to establish compulsory abortion for women in the Ukraine: . . .

Today Stalinism is opposed not by Hitler but by capi­talist “democracy,” and some people even in the ranks of the anti-capitalists are again influenced by emotional arguments in choosing sides for the “lesser evil” of the two. If one looks at the question in the abstract and stati­cally, without considering the tendencies of development of each of the two systems, then there is no comparison between them: capitalism means liberty (if only relatively) while Stalinism means an all-Union Solovky [a notorious concentration camp in the White Sea]; capitalism means the right to think and speak, while Stalinism means Arakcheyev type barracks [this refers to the compulsory re­settlement of peasants into the so-called “agro-cities” or super-Kolkhozes]; capitalism means a relatively higher material standard of living, while Stalinism means starva­tion. Can there be a comparison?

World Imperialist Trust?

But let us take both systems not statically but in the perspective of their development. First of all, capitalism does not everywhere mean liberty. We know what kind of liberty existed in South Korea before the war, in  Bao Dai’s Indo-China, etc.  We know what liberty exists in Greece today, not to mention Spain. And not everywhere does capitalism mean a higher living standard. In the United States, yes ( as long as there is as yet no crisis and unem­ployment). But a billion people in Asia live in conditions worse than under Stalinism.

There is still another argument which is brought up by a few people: What would happen to the world if a single capitalist state established its monopoly in the whole world?

“The positive Sides of capitalism appear only where it is competitively weak.   Through competition there have grown up the workers’ trade unions and the eight-hour day, freedom of speech and a free press. But the goal of capitalism is monopoly, the sole power to “sell and rule.” The realization of this goal means the end of trade unions and a free press.

Let us imagine for a moment that the whole world is ruled by a couple of trusts of one state which, controls the press, everywhere organizes its “democratic” elections, etc. What would prevent such a power from looking on every liberation movement, every effort to free oneself from its guardianship, as a “Communist conspiracy” and a “war crime”?

What would prevent such a power from unleashing thousands of “police” planes against the rebels? What would prevent it from allocating the world’s industry in such a way that the ruling power would control its com­manding sectors, so that it could carry out its will even without the planes? Even today England has been de­prived of most important raw materials, as America has bought up commodities in short supply. What could pre­vent such an imperial trust from pressing the button to bring about a 20-per-cent speed up of the belt-line all over the world? Etc.

The imaginary picture of such a monopolized world was brilliantly presented by Jack London in his novel The Iron Heel; in fact, it is Stalinism, only privately owned.

The Child of Capitalism

With regard to Ukrainian independences which to a large extent depends on the international situation; it be­comes impossible in any case, under conditions of the existence of a world monopoly by one state.  For no inde­pendent nation could exist in such a world; and not a single capitalist trust has ever even recognized the term “Ukraine.” Capitalism does not need the freedom of peoples but the freedom of trade and business in an inte­grated area which is as large as possible. The well-known “friend” of the Ukrainians, the American politician George Kennan, made it clear when he said: “The Ukraine is economically as much a part of Russia as Pennsylvania is a part of the United States.”

It may be said that this is impossible, that capitalism is inconceivable without competition. Why inconceivable? Competition is a function of relative equality among capitalists; when equality disappears and the stronger wins out, then competition disappears, and the power of monopoly comes into existence. And monopoly leaves as much room for competition as Stalin leaves for free trade in the kolkhoz bazaars.

Now let us look at the other possibility, world monop­oly by Moscow or by systems similar to Moscow’s. The imaginary picture of such a world was brilliantly pre­sented by George Orwell in his novel 1984. It is a horror.

Is it an historic possibility, in the light of historical continuity? I have developed my point of view about the Asiatic type of development toward which Russia has long tended (in my article in Vpered entitled “Is an Under­ground Possible in Russia?”). But the European world is not inclined toward such a path of development. The ex­pansion of Russian power into that world will therefore only cause the collapse of Russia. We should not forget that Stalinism has not shown any sign of historical sta­bilization. (Police stabilization, yes—but not historical stabilization.) But clearly it will exist as long as capitalism exists, because it is the child of capitalism, and, as is well-known, children live longer than their parents. This is worth remembering in order not to wander with bare hands under the wheels of history. . . .

No Responsibility for the War

Therefore, from the point of view of the movement for liberation, it is well that there is not more than a 50-per­cent chance for the total, and terrifying, victory of either of the two systems. From the point of view of the struggle for liberation of the oppressed peoples and the working classes, it is to be desired that all the pretenders to world conquest languish and strangle in their own contradic­tions until the inner forces of sanitation make an end to their fever for dominion. We believe in these inner forces of sanitation because we, who are behind the Iron Cur­tain, are also included in its ranks.

But it is the good fortune of humanity and of the Ukrainian struggle for liberation that a total victory for either of the pretenders to world domination is not as yet in sight. The American journalist Walter Lippman was right when he wrote a couple of years ago that in the next war victory will most probably go to neither side but that “anarchy” will win.  By what he calls “anarchy” we under­stand a court-martial of all the war criminals.

It would be better for the Ukrainian emigration to play the role of one of the judges rather than one of the accused. It will be well for us that Moscow will also sit on the dock. Stalin wants to rid himself of any respon­sibility for war crimes but (even if he is not the first to begin the war) he will be forced by circumstances to drop his A-bombs—that is, to help destroy the world and be re­sponsible for it too. How surprising it is, then, that some of the Ukrainian political forces in exile, which in fact have no direct relation to the means of world destruction, are doing their best to assume the responsibility (first of all, before the Ukrainian people) for the crimes of war destruction! Stalin would give much to change places with the emigration in this respect.

We are that part of the Ukrainian emigration which does not want to assume responsibility for the crimes of war destruction; and we believe, that the Ukrainian people will judge this position of ours with the best of good will.

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