From Fourth International, vol.4 No.1, January 1943, pp.18-21.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
EDITOR’S NOTE: Continuing the discussion on the national question in Europe, on which we have published articles in each issue since September, we publish comrade M. Morrison’s contribution. Other comrades have indicated that they intend to contribute articles to the discussion in subsequent issues.
The terrible oppression to which the peoples of the occupied countries are subject has naturally led some very serious comrades to propose that the slogan of national liberation be adopted for all countries in Europe now under the heel of German imperialism. A close study of the connotation of the slogan and of all the factors involved in the present European situation is necessary before deciding whether to accept or reject the proposal.
Now that a victory for Hitler appears much less likely than it did a year or so ago, when a few comrades presented the Three Theses (published in the December 1942 issue of Fourth International), it may be argued that the question need no longer be discussed. This argument is not at all convincing. For, in the first place, the same problem may arise with the occupation of Europe by the forces of the Allies and, in the second place, the proposal involves a question which, since it has been raised, should be discussed for the sake of theoretical clarity.
All parties adhering to or sympathetic with the Fourth International have as part of their program the right of all nations to self-determination. This principle of the right of nations to self-determination is of course also applicable to imperialist countries that have been defeated and occupied by Hitler’s army – France, for instance. France is now in the category of oppressed nations. It must be understood, however, that recognition of the right of France to national freedom does not mean that revolutionary Marxists would support the war carried on by any section of the French ruling class against Germany. When the war began it was imperialist in character and the defeat of one of the imperialist nations does not alter the character of the war.
In the light of the fact that we accept the principles of independence of nations and the right of self-determination, it must be assumed that those in our movement who now propose the slogan of national liberation for the occupied countries mean something more than the mere recognition of these principles. The slogan of national liberation is raised by us in China, in India and in other colonial and semi-colonial countries. It must be assumed that the comrades who propose the raising of the slogan for European countries mean that we apply it in the same way in these countries as we do in China and India. This is not explicitly stated either by the authors of the Three Theses or by Marc Loris in his articles in the September and November 1942 issues of Fourth International. It is almost certain that such is the case with the Three Theses. It is not so certain as far as the articles of Loris are concerned and therein lies one of their ambiguities.
Whenever Marxists have advanced the slogan of national liberation it has been under circumstances where they were willing to support a struggle for independence even when it was under bourgeois leadership. In China we support the struggle for national liberation against Japanese imperialism in spite of the fact that it is under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek representing the Chinese capitalists and murderer of tens of thousands of revolutionary workers. In India we support the struggle for national independence against British imperialism regardless of the fact that it is under bourgeois leadership. True, we distinguish ourselves from that leadership and we give it no political support. Nevertheless we support the struggle.
Our support of such struggles is based on the proposition that the struggle of colonial and semi-colonial countries for and achievement of independence weakens the imperialist system and furthers the growth of the productive forces of the oppressed nations. In addition, national freedom is a democratic demand and any struggle for national freedom is one which Marxists are in duty bound to support even though it is led by capitalist elements. At all times, socialism must stand out as the champion of freedom and democracy for the oppressed masses and nations.
Were we to adopt the slogan of national liberation for the occupied countries of Europe, consistency would demand that we pursue the same course in these countries as in China and India, that is, that we support the struggle for independence even if led By representatives of capitalism. Assuredly, enough quotations can be found in the writings of Lenin to show that when a nation is under the heel of an oppressor, revolutionary Marxists are obligated to struggle for the independence of the subject nation and to support such a struggle even if under the leadership of bourgeois elements. But it is quite elementary for all Marxists that to solve a new problem it is not at all sufficient to quote Marx or Lenin or Trotsky. What is necessary is to use the method that our teachers used, that is, to start from the concrete and analyze all the factors of a given situation.
The central factor in the European situation at the present moment is that an imperialist war is still raging in the world to determine whether German imperialism or Anglo-American imperialism is to control Europe and the colonial world. Revolutionary Marxists refuse to support either one of the imperialist camps. They refuse to support the governments of the small European nations invaded by German imperialism. Not because they are indifferent to the fate of small nations but because the governments of these small nations represent a class whose interests are inextricably tied up with the interests of the big imperialist powers. Had Germany’s invasion of any small country been independent of the imperialist conflict all revolutionary Marxists would have gone to the defense of the small nation. But it is impossible to separate the current struggle of the small nations of Europe from the imperialist conflict and because we refuse to be involved in this conflict we refrain from giving support to the small nations of Europe.
If we retain the meaning that Marxists, up to the present, have given to the slogan of national liberation, that is, the sense in which we use it in China and India, it is difficult to see how its adoption would not entail supporting those sections of the bourgeoisie of the occupied countries who are participating in the struggle against the German occupation. But the struggle of the bourgeoisie of the small nations of Europe, at the present time, is part and parcel of the imperialist conflict. In effect, then, to adopt the slogan of national liberation as an independent slogan, retaining its historic meaning, would mean to change our course and support the small nations of Europe in the imperialist conflict. I do not think that anyone intends to propose such a change in our course.
Are we not, however, supporting the Chinese struggle against Japanese imperialism, even though China is allied wjth Anglo-American imperialism? We have explained that our support of China is predicated on the fact that the Chinese struggle in its origin was clearly one against imperialism and that China’s formal alliance with the Anglo-American imperialism has not as yet changed the essential character of its war. Analyzing all the factors in the war China is waging against Japan we, conclude that it continues to be independent of the imperialist war; doing the same thing with reference to the small nations of Europe we conclude that their war continues to be part of the imperialist conflict.
When asked whether the slogan of national liberation for Europe is similar to or analogous with the same slogan in China, comrade Loris went off on a tangent to show that Lenin criticized Rosa Luxemburg and other Marxists for making a distinction between the European countries and the colonial world. The distinction which must be recognized at the present time between China and the small countries of Europe is not the general distinction made by Luxemburg, Radek and others. They falsely held that the slogan of self-determination is applicable to the colonial world but is not applicable to European countries. The distinction I insist upon is one between a country where the struggle for national liberation can be considered as independent of the imperialist conflict and countries where the struggle by sections of the bourgeoisie against German imperialism is inseparable from the imperialist conflict.
If the slogan of national liberation means to support a struggle even though led by bourgeois elements then its adoption means, under present conditions in Europe, to support a struggle which we refused to support when Hitler first invaded the occupied countries. Is there any sense in refusing to support the Greek or Norwegian or Yugoslav governments at the time of the invasion and supporting them after the countries have been occupied? Now that the countries are occupied the struggle pursued by the fallen governments or their representatives within the occupied countries is the same struggle waged by them when their countries were invaded. Were we to come out with the slogan of national liberation it would appear as if we are not willing to defend independence before it is lost but only to regain independence after it has teen lost.
It may be contended that Loris, at least, does not mean to use the slogan of national liberation as justifying support to any struggle within the occupied countries led by bourgeois elements. That is not at all clear from his articles. In previous answers to written questions (published in an Internal Bulletin of the National Committee of the Socialist Workers Party) he strongly implied that support of the struggle led by Mikhailovitch is possible. I think he has changed his mind on this question as he is careful, in his articles written subsequently, to avoid saying anything implying such support.
The Mikhailovitch example shows how dangerous it would be to adopt the slogan of national liberation for the European countries. If we support the struggle of Chiang Kai-shek, why not that of Mikhailovitch? It so happens, however, that the latter is the minister of war of the Yugoslav government in London and that the war he is carrying on is only a continuation of the war which he waged at the time of the invasion. Mikhailovitch is no worse than Chiang Kai-shek but the war led by him cannot be distinguished from the imperialist war while that led by Chiang Kai-shek is independent of the imperialist conflict.
It should not be concluded that it is impermissible, under all circumstances, to support a struggle led by a Mikhailovitch. Lenin mentioned the possibility of the political subjugation of all of Europe by some imperialist power, in which case the struggle for national liberation would come on the order of the day. Were Hitler victorious, it is quite possible that after a certain period the struggle for national liberation would, even in Europe, become the central struggle, with the revolutionary Marxists wholeheartedly supporting it.
But a definitive victory and the subjugation of Europe is only a historical possibility. It is as yet far from an actuality. It seems that the authors of the Three Theses as well as comrade Loris, when proposing the adoption of the slogan of national liberation for the occupied European countries, could only have done so by assuming Hitler’s victory as definitive. They do not take into consideration the fact that the imperialist war is still going on. To ignore that factor is to ignore the most important factor in the whole situation.
Loris places great emphasis on the fact that the struggle for national liberation is now being waged largely by the workers; and he states that Germany’s occupation of the European countries raises the national problem in a unique manner. These statements indicate that he does not view the adoption of the slogan as necessarily implying the support of a struggle for national liberation even if led by bourgeois elements. In this he separates himself from the authors of the Three Theses who appear to be willing to accept all the logical implications of the slogan. In fact the phraseology of the Three Theses is so vague as to justify the inference that the authors intend to ignore all class distinctions. If that is what they mean, it constitutes a fundamental break with Marxism.
There is of course no law making it obligatory to give the slogan of national liberation a meaning which would necessitate the support of a struggle led by capitalist elements. But certain difficulties arise if one insists on the use of the slogan in a sense different from its historical usage in Marxist literature. In the first place, it will be constantly necessary to explain that we are using the slogan in a different sense than that given to it in the past. Confusion will also result from the fact that in colonial and semi-colonial countries we mean by the slogan that we support a nationalist struggle even if led by a Chiang Kai-shek or a Gandhi. In general it is advisable to retain the historic meaning of a slogan and to give it the same political content everywhere.
Furthermore, to use the slogan of national liberation in the European countries, independently of the slogan of the Socialist United States of Europe, is actually to place before the eyes of the workers the goal of national liberation under the capitalist system. As indicated above, it might be that we shall in the future be compelled to do that very thing, but to do so now would constitute a serious error.
Socialism has been on the order of the day, as far as Europe is concerned, for many years. Objective conditions have been more than ripe for the unification of Europe on the basis of proletarian regimes in the various countries. This does not mean that a struggle for national independence was excluded in the isolated countries where such independence had not been achieved. It means only that revolutionary socialists emphasized over and over again that the national problems confronting the European masses could be solved only by a Socialist United States of Europe. The betrayals by the official socialist leadership of the European countries, particularly of Germany, permitted the reactionary force of fascism to gain the adherence of the middle classes and bring to Europe the agony which is now its lot.
No doubt, the masses of the occupied countries prefer that which they had prior to Hitler’s conquest to the misery which they are experiencing at the present moment. But it would be a mistake for Marxists, at this time, to shift, in the slightest degree, from the central slogan of their propaganda in the past years. For in the minds of the masses there must also be a serious doubt that the restoration of the conditions existing prior to the conquests of Hitler will in any way solve their problems. They have not yet forgotten their misery under the pre-Hitler regimes and, while they may not know and understand all the reasons for the rise and success of fascism, they know that capitalist democracy did not prevent the fascists from gaining power. More so now than at any other time is it necessary to stress the idea of a Socialist United States of Europe.
The fact, stressed by Loris, and we accept it as a fact, that it is the workers who are putting up the fiercest struggle against German oppression, makes it all the more necessary for us to give the struggle a socialist character and aim. What shall we tell the workers to struggle for? For national liberation implying a return to the pre-Hitler period or for the proletarian revolution which would give them both national and social freedom?
Loris speaks of the necessity of having independent states before proceeding to have a Socialist United States of Europe. Ignoring the schematicism inherent in such a formulation, it tends to imply that the workers, in their struggle against the German imperialist oppressor, should aim at national independence under capitalism before going over to the task of the proletarian revolution and a Socialist United States of Europe. It is difficult to see why, if the workers are the mainstay of the struggle against the foreign oppressor, they should not aim to achieve a Socialist United States of Europe. At the very least it is the duty of revolutionary Marxists to concentrate the attention of the workers on that aim rather than on the aim of national independence. Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that the workers are struggling only for national independence under capitalism, it still remains our duty to raise a slogan which would direct them into the right channels.
It would seem that Loris agrees with this viewpoint, for he expressly states that “to speak of freedom now and to remain silent about the only means of attaining it, by the proletarian revolution, is to repeat an empty phrase, is to deceive the masses.” But if, at the same time, he proposes the adoption of the slogan of national liberation without expressly stating that it should not be used independently, he practically nullifies his statement about the necessity of the proletarian revolution to attain freedom.
It goes without saying that under no circumstances should a revolutionary party ignore the natural and justifiable sentiments of the masses for national freedom. The masses must at all times see in socialism a champion of the right of self-determination of nations. That is true during the imperialist war as well as before or after it. It is not at all a question, as Loris puts it, of abandoning the demand for national freedom during the war.
It does not at all follow, that, in order to be the champions of national freedom, we must under all circumstances use the slogan of national liberation. At the present moment, in the occupied countries we must concentrate on three things. We must refuse to support or participate in any way in the imperialist war; we must stand out as the champion of national freedom; we must emphasize the necessity of socialism as the solution to the problem confronting the European masses. Insofar as one slogan is capable of indicating these manifold tasks, the slogan of the Socialist United States of Europe best serves that purpose.
To any question whether we are for national independence, an unhesitating answer in the affirmative must be forthcoming, with the explanation that in order to achieve it the masses must struggle for power to the workers.
We must be careful not to confuse the question of the proper political slogan with the question of whether we should support a particular group of workers struggling against German oppression. Under all circumstances revolutionary Marxists are obligated to support workers struggling against either a foreign or native oppressor.
Where there are groups of partisans offering resistance to the German imperialist conqueror it is necessary to study the composition and leadership of a particular partisan group before revolutionary Marxists decide to join or support it. If it is a group led by representatives of the official government, then it is participating in the imperialist war and support of such a group is out of the question. If it is a group of workers and peasants who are driven to take up arms against the foreign oppressor, it may be advisable and necessary to join and support such a partisan group and try to give the struggle the direction which we would like it to have, try to educate the workers and peasants to adopt our slogans. In the extremely complicated conditions existing at present in the occupied countries there can be no rigid formula worked out to serve under all and any conditions.
There can also be no question about the necessity of fighting for and supporting democratic demands such as the right of free speech, free press and free assembly. Democratic demands are to be supported regardless of whether one expects a proletarian or bourgeois democratic revolution to follow the reign of fascism. When the masses begin the revolt against the fascists it will be our duty to urge them to establish Soviets and take over the governmental power. They may not follow our advice. In all probability the parties of revolutionary Marxism will not be strong enough, if the revolt against fascism should break out in the near future, to have a decisive influence over the workers at first. A combination of liberal democrats, reformist socialists and Stalinists may gain control of the masses before they accept the leadership of revolutionary Marxism. No one is in a position to predict the exact course events will take.
At all times we participate in the struggle of the masses for greater freedom and at all times we point out to the masses the path which they should follow to attain that freedom. The masses must know that our central aim is to establish a Socialist United States of Europe. Any slogan which at this time will tend to take away the attention of the masses from this central idea is incorrect and harmful to the socialist revolution.
We cannot say what changes we shall make in our program if either one of the imperialist camps succeeds in subjugating Europe, politically and economically. We can only say that, while the imperialist war is still raging and while in the memory of the masses the conditions prevailing before the conquests of Hitler are still fresh, the slogan of the Socialist United States of Europe must continue to be the central political slogan of revolutionary Marxism.
Last updated: 25.6.2005