Paul Temple

What Are the Prospects
for Socialism?

Forces at Work for Revolution

(July 1943)

From The New International, Vol. IX No. 7, July 1943, pp. 221–224.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

(Continued from Last Issue)

1) Starvation, hunger, disease – the depths of privation in the midst of unprecedented destruction of wealth – the cry for “Food!” More than any other single reason, this was why the peoples of Europe turned to the revolution as the way out. Conditions today are approaching a state substantially worse than they were in the darkest days then, in Germany; in the occupied countries where starvation is aggravated by the knowledge that the food is being taken away by the conqueror; even now the food situation is far more stringent in the richest country of the world, in the United States, than it was at any time during the eighteen months that this country was at war in 1917–18.

2) The slaughter. The First World War was predominantly a war of attrition – a technical-military term which means that each side settled down to see who could kill more men and destroy more wealth, like a swapping game in checkers. This war began differently, but it too has settled down to this basic pattern – a war of attrition on a larger scale. The “war of movement,” replacing the old trench warfare, has changed the game of attrition from a localized sector strategy to a world strategy. The “war of movement,” no longer a two-weeks’ blitzkrieg, has only quickened the tempo of death.

The reaction of the masses to the war slaughter is not merely a pacifistic or humanitarian revulsion against bloodletting. It becomes bound up with the question: “Why?” And to this is now added the question: “How long?”

For we have stressed before that an outstanding fact about this war is that military victory for either side is a distant hope rather than a present expectation. People can continue fighting and sacrificing as long as by doing so the hope of victory and with it peace are brought measurably nearer. An indefinite perspective of a war of governments must inspire the masses to put an end to the war themselves.

3) Class distinctions in sacrifice. Over twenty years of anti-war movements and pacifist movies, books and talk have not been totally without positive result. Where then the hypocrisy of the equal-sacrifice talk slowly dawned on the masses of people as the war went on, now it was looked for as soon as the war broke. It is impossible to overemphasize the tremendously greater awareness today that one class is living off the blood and tears and another class is shedding them – the greater suspicion and sensitiveness to the gigantic fakery of “equal sacrifice.” The outcry against war profiteering in the United States, for example, was mainly a post-1918 phenomenon. The investigation and exposure of the profiteers started with the Armistice. Today, it started with the outbreak of hostilities.

The bourgeoisie cannot help but emphasize the class lines in the “national effort.” Human nature is capable of sacrifice to a greater extent than some skeptics think, but not without powerful stimulus. Such a stimulus comes only from:

4) The war aims. The question is the conviction of the people that they know what they are fighting and sacrificing for, and that it is worth it. In 1914 and on, the slogan of War for Democracy was not only accepted, it was accepted for a substantial while naively, uncritically, enthusiastically and unquestionedly. There was then a powerful slogan which read “War to End War,” which furthermore was widely believed. It is not heard today, because no one believes it. Wilson’s fourteen-point “charter” was a dynamic bombshell in the world of 1917; the Roosevelt-Churchill Atlantic Charter was as bedraggled a wet firecracker as ever popped off; the song about There’ll be white wings over the white cliffs of Dover was a more influential statement of war aims to most people. The people have only a negative war aim: the desire not to be defeated; and a negative faith: fascism is worse. Unexampled sacrifices cannot stand up to the test on the hollow prop of negations.

So much for the revolutionary factors of 1914–18. They deserve more elaboration – for the fact is that they were the mainsprings of the greatest revolutionary movement the world has yet seen – but it is necessary to go on to the new revolutionary elements, which played little or no part in the first world conflict but which today are superimposed upon the old. We summarize them:

5) The ideological propaganda by the imperialists in terms of revolution. We have said that wars bring the psychology of change. The official war leaders and propagandists are making this specific and pointed.

“The world will not and cannot remain the same after this war,” say Churchill, Roosevelt, Willkie (above all), Wallace, down to Dorothy Thompson and pettier columnists like Samuel Grafton, not to speak of Goebbels and Hitler. (Stalin is one of the few who promises no more than the world status quo.) Those not in responsible office are not even at all chary of using the horrid word “revolution.” Even the Saturday Evening Post devoted pages to an article on the World Revolution which, it assured us, is practically going on now. It is true that the “revolution” they talk about so freely turns out to be as empty mouthing as the 1914 slogan of “A Country Fit for Heroes to Live in,” where indeed it is not the counter-revolution of fascism. But here is the fact: the war propaganda of 1914 was in terms of the status quo; the war propaganda of today is heavily tinged with revolutionary demagogy. This is both a symptom of the mass state of mind and a cause of it.

The result is not only that the people become accustomed to the idea that revolution is to be the outcome of the war, that it is “only natural.” The Italian government was forced into this line when it entered the war in 1915 for the simple reason that every bootblack knew that it had shopped between Berlin and Paris for the biggest bribe before it cast its lot with the “War for Democracy.” Prime Minister Salandra promised revolutionary changes as the reward of victory, land to the peasants, etc. And behold, when “victory” came, and with it starvation, the peasants proceeded to carry out the government’s promises; they seized the lands. It is instructive to read the historians who rebuke the Prime Minister for carrying grist to the revolutionary mill. The promises of some kind of revolutionary change are a double-edged sword for the imperialists; the people will be only too ready to take their empty words seriously.

6) The occupied countries of Europe, ground under the Nazi heel, where national-revolutionary aspirations are added to the workers’ class struggle to feed the flames of revolt. There is an essential difference between the Nazi occupation in Europe today, and the overrunning of France and Belgium by Germany in 1914. Then, the official state still existed and fought on; the only foe appeared as Germany, and the concept of national defense rallied the French people only more vigorously around the bourgeois state, in greater national unity. The hypnosis of national unity wore off far more slowly in France and Belgium than in any other country precisely for this reason. The masses of people not in uniform stood by and cheered the French army on to victory; the workers in uniform fought under the military discipline of the capitalist state and its officers’ corps.

Today, the struggle against the German occupation is primarily a people’s movement, a movement surging up from below, an underground movement, with the relative independence that this implies; it is furthermore necessarily directed not only against Germany, the foreign foe, but also against the official leaders of France, the Vichy government, and the native capitalist class which has allied itself with the Nazis. These facts are more important than the temporary distortions in the movement arising from hopes in the Allied second front or de Gaulle. For it means that the masses are driven into motion outside the straitjacket of the bourgeois state apparatus. It is true that de Gaulle would like to apply his own straitjacket, but he is not in the position of Poincaré and Clemenceau.

Victories scored against Germany by the regular army of the state lead the masses to repose greater confidence in that army and to themselves sink back into approving passivity. Victories scored against Germany and blows struck in the name of a self-mobilized mass upsurge lead to the attainment of greater confidence by the masses in THEMSELVES. That is why de Gaulle sought to restrain the anti-Hitler strike movement of the French workers, and why Churchill steadfastly refuses, in the face of tearful pleas by liberals, to appeal to the French workers and peasants to strike out behind the back of Hitler and Vichy. For once the masses of labor get into motion in the direction of independence, they will not stop where the imperialists draw the line.

7) The internationalism of the struggle for national liberation in Europe. The capitalist-imperialists, who live on the poisons of nationalism, are in actuality destroying and overriding national boundaries, as Hitler has done in the European Nazi empire, or they are talking of doing so (“Federation Now,” and the various projects for a capitalist “United States of Europe,” etc.). We revolutionary socialists, on the other hand, internationalist to the core, are once more pushing to the fore the slogans of national liberation, of the national movement, in occupied Europe.

The contradiction is superficial. The fascist supra nationalism is a means of throttling the revolution which alone can really lead to the international fraternization of the peoples. The revolutionary national aspirations and struggles are means of furthering on an international scale that revolution which alone can really give the national peoples the right to freely decide then: national fate.

More important, the German occupation has in several ways broken down a tremendous barrier to a successful Europe-wide revolution. It is teaching the masses of the European countries that their fates are interlinked. It has, in fact, interlinked them by supplying them with a common oppressor. The Achilles’ heel of the First World Revolution of 1917–21 was the fact that the widespread uprisings and revolutions took place without sufficient understandings on the part of the masses that they could not achieve their goal even in their own country by relying solely on the forces of their own country, that their revolutions had significance mainly as parts of a world revolution and as a stimulus to it. The gulf between the national movements in Europe today and the national movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is sufficiently shown by this fact, that both in political logic and in the orientation of the peoples, the present-day national struggles against German occupation tend to succeed only as an international revolution and to endure only as a proletarian socialist revolution.

8) Germany has become the new “prison of the peoples,” not only in its European empire, but within Germany itself. The importation of armies of foreign workers into Germany is not a charge of dynamite but a shrapnel shell. A blow-up inside Germany means that hundreds of thousands of uprooted foreign workers stream back to their own countries, each one bearing with him the German revolution, coming back to chaos and unleashed revolutionary ferment. Thus after 1917 did the German and Austro-Hungarian prisoners stream back to their own countries from the Russian prisons from which the Bolsheviks had released them, to become focal points and organizers of the young, revolutionary communist parties.

9) The disintegrating effect of the foreign workers imported into Germany has been highlighted in the press, but even aside from them it is not true that Hitler Germany is a quiet prison. Two recent books (Will Germany Crack?, by Paul Hagen, and The Silent War) have offered up the meager facts available about the development of the internal struggle against the fascist regime; it is not my purpose to trespass on this territory, but to point to the new revolutionary elements in this war, as compared to 1914.

A basic fact is that Hitler’s war began, as did Hitler’s régime itself, as an answer to the hostility of the workers who did not want it. Here is the contrast: the Imperial German Government of the Kaiser (its statesmen have since told us in memoirs) did not swing into the war drive until they were certain that the German workers would support “defense of the fatherland.” The Third Reich was pushed into its war policy, in part as noted above, for fear that the continuation of the status quo, bringing the inevitable intensification of Germany’s economic difficulties and disillusionment with Hitler’s promises of a new German redemption, would lead to a crack-up. For the Kaiser, civil peace was a precondition for war. For Hitler, civil peace was a hoped-for consequence of war. In this contrast appears the different levels from which the German workers started in 1914 and in 1939.

The consolidation of Nazi totalitarianism in Germany from 1933 to 1939 and its success in rooting out focal points of revolution convinced many faint-hearted people that the imposition of fascist controls was practically a guarantee against successful revolt. Once the fascists “coordinate” a nation, they argued, their modern techniques of repression are adequate to postpone revolution indefinitely. With 1939, this dark view merged into the belief that once Germany occupied a country and imported its “modern techniques of repression” into it, that country very soon became coordinated like pre-war Naziland.

Nothing could be farther than the truth. Germany has stretched itself over Europe. Has it been strengthened thereby? It would appear at first glance that this question is ridiculous; of course it has. But this extension has taken place at the cost of a tremendous inner weakening. At bottom this is true of every capitalist power. In time of war the power of the state appears greater than ever, frightfully swollen and overawing. In point of fact, the capitalist statesmen realize only too sharply that the more the balloon swells, the more the fibers weaken.

This is many times more true of Nazi Germany. Before 1939 there was one Gestapo watchdog for every five German workers; today there are ten times more to watch in Europe and a tenth of the forces to be spared for the job. The “modern techniques of repression” thin out. The stretching of Nazism over Europe has tended to “uncoordinate” the totalitarian controls of fascism, not only in the occupied countries, but within Germany itself. The stretched fibers are weakened. The forces of the revolution will burst through them and explode with a repercussion that will rock the world.

10) So far we have been reckoning only with Europe. The sweep of the First World Revolution was confined to Europe, too. There were echoes in Africa and Asia – uprisings, strike movements, etc. – but only echoes.

But the picture in the colonial world has changed radically since the other war. In the first place, the war itself – its destruction and slaughter – is taking place in that arena. Where are the battle fronts? Outside of the Russian front, they have extended over the backyards and fields of the oppressed colonial peoples themselves – in China, Burma, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Polynesia, Iran, Tunisia, Libya, Madagascar, the Dutch East Indies ... These are the battle fronts; they are also the places of the earth where imperialism is felt and hated, not merely by advanced and class-conscious workers, but by a unanimous mass of colonial slaves. The combination of these two facts is itself the guarantee that the coming world revolution will not be a mere repetition of 1917–21. Already India, still untouched by actual warfare, is at a level of revolutionary ferment which then it scarcely reached till after the war in 1919.

The “loss of face” by British imperialism in Singapore, Burma, etc., is more than a psychological fact. It destroys a tradition of invincibility and bolsters the confidence, of the oppressed. It breaks the continuity of rule and introduces a political shake-up and a condition of instability which is fatal to the British system of rule over a mass of millions by a handful of whip-wielders. The theory behind British colonial domination is the same as behind lion-taming. But now the man with the whip has stumbled, his blood has been drawn, the storm is close about his ears, and the lions are roaring.

The Japanese pretenders to the British Empire, regardless of any military success they have had or may have in ousting Britain from the colonies, cannot step into its shoes. They have neither the economic resources to do it nor the training in colonial domination to carry it off. A vacuum is created and high-pressure areas are built up.

Whether the Second World Revolution first breaks out in Nazi Europe or in the colonial world is an immaterial speculation for our present purposes. It will not remain where it starts; the lightning will jump between cloud and cloud.

11) The heaviest swell of the First World Revolution of 1917–21 occurred after the cessation of hostilities, when the masses of people, having just pulled through four years of suffering and slaughter, found what the “world fit for heroes to live in” actually looked like. It was the pay-off; but nothing like the pay-off that is slated for this conflict.

This war will leave the whole of the “civilized world” an economic shambles. This need scarcely be proved since it is hardly denied. The objective of the various post-war planners in and out of the government (there are a few hundreds of such agencies in this country alone, all expensively getting nowhere) is not Henry Wallace’s “quart of milk for everyone.” That was a nice speech. The British Beveridge Plan was franker. The sought-for “plan” is to provide a dry crust of bread for the millions – for the millions whom unemployment, hunger and disillusionment will drive into collision with a social system which can no longer feed its wage slaves.

The expected post-war crisis will not merely be a repetition of the breadline era which followed the 1929 crash. The 1929 crash of capitalism followed a period of unexampled prosperity, with the national wealth of the country at its height. The fears expressed at that time by Charles M. Schwab that the revolution was just around the corner were unduly pessimistic. American capitalism lived for a decade on its fat. The “Europeanization” of the American social scene – breadlines, government doles, state intervention, the rise of a new class-consciousness in the American working class-changed the whole temper of the nation and its classes tremendously, but was held within the limits of reform by the resources of the richest country in the history of the world.

The coming post-war collapse of capitalism will be a vegetable of another season. It succeeds, not a pork-barrel era of unprecedented creation of wealth, but years of unprecedented destruction of wealth. The declaration of peace means in short order the removal of the war-economy props under whole industries, corporations, plants, government activities. The capitalist “planners” whistle in the dark with talk of converting industry back to a peacetime basis with a minimum of dislocation, just as they were converted to war production. This is a fantasy. The relative speed with which American industry put itself on a war footing was determined first and last by the fact that it was guaranteed a market for its new products – the government; it was assured, above all, a handsome and extraordinary profit – by the government; conversion itself was even directly financed by the government. None of this will be true when the temporary war producers have to go back to putting out refrigerators, cameras, safety pins and typewriters – and selling them to millions of postwar unemployed. The economic machine powered by private profit grinds to a jarring halt in the midst of a social chaos of unemployment, inflation, economic dislocation and world ruin.

Everyone knows, of course, that on a certain scale this happened after the other World War, but the greater magnitude of the capitalist crash this time will be determined not only by the greater scale of the economic destruction and dislocation now going on. In 1918, capitalism had three safety valves; the resources of American wealth, untouched by the few months of participation in the war, which went to plug up widening cracks in the social structure of revolution-torn Europe; the reparations which France extorted from beaten Germany, and which went for important economic sustenance of France against the tide of revolution; and third, the refurbishing of the capitalist coffers through the exploitation of the colonies. None of these three can be operative to anywhere near the same extent again, even assuming Allied victory. The resources of the United States are being drained by this war, as are all other countries; the German turnip will not yield as much blood as it did before; and intensified colonial exploitation under conditions of colonial revolt would be a step the statesmen would be wise to avoid.

Nothing can stop it: out of the greatest mass misery in history will come the revolt of the millions of the earth, shaken out of dumb apathy by the war and its aftermath, and ready to fight because they have nothing to lose. Let no one think that the capitalist powers are going to stop it by using war-weary troops as an “international police force” against the people. When the British, American and French imperialists tried that in 1919 and 1920 against the Russian Revolution, they had to stop short before mutiny and general strikes – they found that they were in fact siphoning the Russian Revolution back into their own bailiwicks! Let them try it again; it will be one of the surest guarantees of the spread of the revolution back home through armies crying for demobilization.

We have very hastily sketched, in some cases barely mentioned, major forces making for revolution out of this war. One of the lessons of history is that it is so hard for us, even for socialists, to realize the tremendous impact of each of these forces, and the terrific potential which is being built up in the world working masses. But no one who wrenches his eyes away from his footsteps before him can doubt that the statesmen and political leaders of capitalism are fully justified in their fears of world-wide revolution.

It is not a possibility. The inevitability of an international revolutionary wave sweeping the globe is the only certain and fixed point in an otherwise mad world. It is not that – whether the socialist revolution will come – which we need speculate about. It is whether we, and everyone else who says in his heart that he lives to see a socialist workers’ world, will be prepared to meet it, no matter what night we pass through on the way.

Last updated on 24 May 2015