J.R. Johnson

Discussion on the National Question:

The Way Out for Europe – II

(May 1943)

From The New International, Vol. IX No. 5, May 1943, pp. 149–154.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for MIA.

(Continued from last issue)

The European barbarism is embodied in the struggle of the two groups of imperialist powers. It the suicidal self-destruction is evidence of the depth and acuteness of the general contradictions of capitalism, then an examination of the more specific forms of the struggle should show today how much nearer the slogan of the Socialist United States of Europe is to our practical activity than it was in 1917 or 1939.

The Imperialists Divide Against Each Other: Eastern Europe

By the end of World War I, Poland, Finland, the Baltic states, the Czechs and other groups of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had gained a not negligible degree of national independence. As was inevitable under capitalism, however, the Treaty of Versailles ”liberated” some only to send other millions into national subjection. This subjection sometimes took subtle forms. Before Hitler, ninety per cent of Austria clamored for the anschluss with Germany, a form of self-determination forbidden by Britain, France and Italy. Internationalism, an inherent necessity for twentieth century Europe, being denied expression by the continuing class structure, took a fearful revenge by perverting nationalism into a scourge of scorpions. It became one of Hitler%#8217;s most potent weapons.

Today capitalism can no longer afford to be ashamed of barbarism. In the first of two notorious editorials, the London Times has stated that the security of Europe “will not be settled by any organizations based on the conception of national independence which entails the partition of Europe among twenty separate and jarring military and economic sovereignties”. This is the language of Hitler translated into English. Stalin demands Latvia, Lithuania, Esthonia, East Poland and Bessarabia, with an eye on Finland and Constantinople; Britain, seeking support, admits Russia’s claims to her strategic frontiers – an elastic term, which ends just as near or just as far as you can stretch it.

But Roosevelt cannot allow himself to be out-maneuvered in Europe. With a shamelessness that testifies to the sharpness of the imperialist contradictions, he pats Otto Hapsburg on the head and assiduously kisses the great toe of the Pope. Whether Russia gets her strategic frontiers or not, it is obvious that there are powerful elements in the United States and most certainly in Europe who will seek and create cordons, sanitary and insanitary, against an all-powerful Russia. Germany, yes Germany, may be forced into an anschluss with an unwilling Austria, or possibly a willing Austria may be forced out of an anschluss with Germany and impelled into some kind of Catholic federation. All this is to be decided by the relative positions and strengths of armies at the end of the war. What the armies get they will hold or barter, as a just reward for this war and as preparation for the next. Whoever wins, the small nations of Eastern Europe will have lost any national independence they ever had.

Such is their Europe. To think that in this continent, today, the slogan of the Socialist United States of Europe has less urgency than it had because Europe is now divided into one national state and several subordinate ones, that is a proposition drawn entirely from superficial forms and devoid of any content whatsoever. To propagate that idea is to encourage the most cruel delusions of the United Nations’ more hypocritical and more ignortant supporters. Even these are dropping them. The New Republic comes out straight for Stalin to have his strategic frontiers, and even Life, imperialist organ that it is, admits Russia’s probable “claims on nearby by territory, such as the Baltic nations; to the annexation of strategic areas and the setting up of satellite states – all in the name of security. And however his might violate our ideas of a just and stable peace, there is little we could do to prevent it.” Self-determination, national independence, in Eastern Europe today without socialism, is a mirage. The last peace called colonies, mandates. The next one will call the European mandates, colonies. Some will have the freedom of Egypt and the independence of Syria. That is the most they can hope for.

Have we forgotten Latvia, Esthonia, Lithuania and Eastern Poland so easily? These names have a place in our history. In 1939 we belatedly made it a principled question that the workers in those countries should fight against both imperialists, Russian and German. The German invasion was then hypothetical. Then, presumably, the slogan of the Socialist United States of Europe held its accustomed position in our strategic line. But since then the Russians have been swept out and the Germans are in. What do we now propose? To push into the background or to moderate the slogan of the Socialist United States of Europe. This is completely false. Exactly the opposite must be done. In 1939 it was necessary to foresee. Today we have only to look and see. The moment the Germans go out, the Russians are due back in. Every worker in Eastern Europe knows that. If you look at the episodic fact of Europe being today one state and subject nations, you will see the slogan further away. If you grasp the basic fact of degenerating capitalism, grasp it in its concreteness, the the slogan can be seen here in this true relation, nearer, not further away. [1]

The Imperialists United Against the Proletariat: Germany

It is German imperialism which oppresses Europe and therefore any consideration of the national question on such a scale, and particularly in the historical circumstances, must give special attention to the situation and prospects of the German proletariat. A democratic Germany meant democratic Europe. A fascist Germany means a fascist Europe. A Soviet Germany means a Soviet Europe. But if that were not enough (and it is), there is a special and overwhelming reason for centering our analysis upon the situation in Germany. There are today seven and a half million foreign workers in Germany, seven and one half millions of Frenchmen, Poles, Czechs, Lithuanians, Russians, Esthonians, etc., workers all, whose sole aim in life is to overthrow the Hitler regime! This, we mention briefly, is only in appearance an accident. It is merely a reflection of the concentration of capital and the hurling of masses of workers from one branch of site of production to another, which is its inevitable accompaniment. These seven and a half millions must also be liberated. Who is to liberate them? Is the job to be left to Roosevelt, Churchill and Eisenhower? Or is it the task of the German proletariat, with whom they suffer side by side? [2] Thus, even if we had, for some incomprehensible reason, neglected the rôle of the German proletariat in the liberation of the oppressed nationalities, the European barbarism compels us to face the question of the nationally oppressed peoples and the German proletariat against the common enemy – Hitlerism. It is precisely this which so sharply differentiates the national question in our epoch from the remote possibilities indicated by Lenin and Trotsky.

The Proletarian Revolution in Germany

First, however, Germany. Totalitarianism represents the contradictions of modern society carried to a logical extreme. Engels in his time castigated the simplicist conception of one reactionary mass against the revolutionary working class. Today in the German barbarism we have that reality, insofar as so pure a distillation can ever represent the complexity of a modern society. The fascists have destroyed every vestige or semblance of authority except their own. If and when, for whatever reason, the Hitlerian power collapses, then there is no social force left in Germany in hold the nation together except the working class in workers and soldiers councils. Even in 1918 this was true in Germany. But the proletariat was kept in bourgeois chains, for the Social-Democratic Party still functioned. In 1945, for instance, it will not be so.

Here is how one recent writer [3] envisages Germany in the moment of the defeat which now looms over it:

Besides the fragmentation of the German economic apparatus – and its bombed and worn-out factories, its shattered transportation system, its exhausted farming land, its valueless money – we must expect a bewildering fragmentation of its social and political loyalties. The German body politic will fall literally to pieces.

Although the old state of the Reich will try to resume their local rule, they will not, in fact, be able to administer their own territory. Each city in a mad scramble for available food and industrial material will become a law unto itself. Nor will the cities be able to maintain orderly government. They too will be ridden with civil war and private murder as the people settle scores with the Nazi oppressors. The units of local authority will more probably be such entities as church-parishes, political party cells, hastily formed shop unions, district farmers’ leagues, voluntary vigilante bands, improvised factional militias. And throughout the country will reign wandering elements of the former German Army which our forces will not yet have been able to disarm, looting and requisitioning, fighting one another in the name of some political gospel or slogan – the very substance of national anarchy.

True to the bourgeois trend, Motherwell writes ”national” where he should have written ”capitalist” anarchy. But there is no doubt that many trained bourgeois writers today are seeing things very clearly and consequently expressing themselves very well. This indeed will be the Germany of 1945, except for one possibility which our bourgeois commentator does not take into consideration. The break in the morale of armies, or the endurance of civil populations, is quite unpredictable. If a Germany Army is resoundingly defeated far enough from home so that the military power of the conqueror does not overawe or in other less dramatic ways, the military failure of fascism impends, then in the ensuing crisis the German proletariat may put its hand upon the power in much the same way that the Catalonian working class was de facto master of Catalonia in seventy-two hours. [4] Let us not forget, as Marx has so carefully polled out, that the working class is disciplined, united and organized by the very mechanism of capitalist production itself. Five thousand workers in a factory are in one most fundamental sense organized. They can transform themselves into a soviet in an hour, given the complete, the shameful bankruptcy and disgrace of the ruling class and the absence of any of its agents masquerading as workers’ leaders.

The Labor Front may very well find the power thrust into its hands. (What it will do with it is another question. Soviets do not necessarily mean soviet power.) But such is the future of a defeated Germany: chaos, with or without American occupation; Soviets; or a seething mixture of both. The German capitalist must have this fearsome vision before him half the day and through the watches of the night. For closely associated with fascism as he is, for him life, liberty and the pursuit of profits are at stake. Is Roosevelt aware of this? If even he were so stupid as not to be, which he most certainly is not, Goebbels reminds him of it often enough. For a similar situation in France, Roosevelt has already commissioned his strong-arm man, Giraud. But there are no influential or reliable Germans outside Germany. He seeks them in the only place he can find them – inside Germany itself.

“Unconditional Surrender”

Unless this war is different from all other wars that have been fought for the last 400 years, Roosevelt and Churchill received peace feelers from Germany, and not only from one source, at Casablanca. But whereas at the critical turn in the last war Wilson came out with fourteen points, that is to say, fourteen conditions, Roosevelt loudly demands unconditional surrender, that is to say, no conditions at all. Taken literally, this is nonsense. Generals on battlefield demand unconditional surrender, not statesmen. The conditions were not mentioned, because they were unmentionable. By this slogan Roosevelt repudiated any peace with Hitler & Co., for the simple reason that neither the proletariat of the United Nations (nor the proletariat of Germany) would stand for any peace with a defeated Hitler. But at the same time the slogan was a direct invitation to any anti-Hitler group of capitalists or military camarilla in Germany. If they would make a complete military surrender as soon as possible, in return they would get all assistance necessary in keeping the German workers in their proper capitalist place, and in any case would not risk war to the dangerous stage of complete exhaustion. If these German leaders who wish to draw out in time wanted guarantees, they could judge for themselves by seeing the welcome that was given to Darlan and Giraud while that fledgeling democrat, de Gaulle, shivered outside in the cold. The same message was probably “indicated” to those who were feeling out the possibilities. The memoirs of the last war are always useful refreshers for what is happening sub rosa in the present. Military tactics change. Imperialist tricks do not.

Not only does this flow from the whole situation and from much that has been written by the more thoughtful bourgeois, such as Hoover and Lippman. For months before, Churchill was trilling an Italian roulade, “One man alone in Italy is responsible,” in itself a stupidity not even worth contempt, but indispensable as a similar reassurance to Italians looking for a way out. It is, however, impossible to talk about one man alone in Germany. There is nothing but Hitler and the Nazi Party.

The fascist reaction was immediate. Both Hitler and Mussolini struck mercilessly at the potential opposition. Goebbels rushed to his typewriter and warned England: “Do not listen to Roosevelt. If you do, you will ruin Europe. It will mean bolshevism. And think what that will mean for you.” Whereupon Churchill countered a few days later: Fascist power must be destroyed, justice must be stern and implacable, but, however, “within her appropriate bounds.” From his Italian pronunciamento we know what are the appropriate bounds for Italy: one man alone. The German capitalists and German generals, quaking at the future, can read and understand. They know too that Stalin on this matter is with Roosevelt and Churchill. As the London Times put it in one of its historic editorials: “The proposition that it is impossible to exterminate the German people, or destroy the German state (our emphasis) has behind it the authority of Stalin himself.” The Times understated Stalin’s view. Stalin himself had already told Harry Hopkins that he is not opposed to the German people or to the German general staff. The plan will be changed or modified, as always in a war, according to the fortunes of the military struggle. But whatever their plans for themselves and against each other, the imperialists of the United Nations are united on one thing: to keep the German proletariat in chains even if it takes the German Junkers to do it.

Roosevelt has to send in armies and somehow or other fill the vacuum created by the Nazi defeat. But as Churchill says, this is a “stupendous” task, full of “peril” and ”mystery.” The proletariat is the peril and the mystery. There is the imperialist weakness and there is our strength. We have no armies but the proletariat, and the German proletariat is our main army in Europe. It holds the interior lines, so to speak. But it is in great danger and one of its greatest dangers is just this national domination of the European peoples by Germany. It is the most powerful political weapon that Roosevelt and Churchill can use against the German workers and though they fear it, they will, if need be, use it with all the ferocity and unscrupulousness of a Streicher or a Vishinsky. The revolutionary movement, whatever its size, must on this issue take the offensive. But it can do this only around the slogan, the Socialist United States of Europe. Let there be no mistake about this. Stalingrad and the American invasion of Africa marked a new stage of the war – the impending defeat of Germany. This poses for us the fate of the German proletariat. If the European proletariat allows itself to be drawn into any attempt by the United Nations to destroy Germany, the cold barbarism of the peace will be no less destructive of European civilization than the flaming barbarism of the war.

The National Question in Germany

It is here that the seven and a half million foreign workers in Germany become of supreme importance in the whole European tangle, and we can imagine with what eagerness Marx and Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, who never failed to foster and to raise high before the workers any manifestation or possibility of international unity, would have swooped upon this extraordinary phenomenon and explained both its historical and immediate tactical importance.

Let us place ourselves in the position of those workers in Germany today who are being impelled by the whole situation to work out the problem of a revolution by the German working class against Hitler. They will know by now that certain elements of the German ruling class are seeking a way out by overthrowing Hitler and making a last desperate effort to keep the German working class where it is. Foremost in their minds is the pent-up vengeance which a tortured and plundered Europe nurses in its bosom for Germany. At home and abroad these German workers can see nothing but hatred and implacable enemies. They know by heart Roosevelt’s plan for policing Germany. Sooner or later they will turn to the only allies they can speak to, the millions of French, Belgians, Dutch, Poles, Czechs, Austrians, Slovaks, Norwegians now constituting almost one-half of the German labor force. Such are the contradictions of capitalism that it is compelled to link these diverse elements. There in Germany today is a gigantic international combination of workers such as Europe has never seen before. Revolutionary theorists may ignore these workers; German workers will not. Any revolution in Germany, the tamest of revolutions, will have to say to them: “Hitler oppressed you. Before him we did not, and we wish you to enjoy your own freedom. Help us to win ours.”

But if that German revolution is a revolution of the proletariat, in a ruined and devastated Germany where no social force exists except the working class, then these foreign workers will be swept into factory committees to take their place in a truly proletarian assault on Hitler and the fascist state. Whatever the ultimate outcome, there will be forged here a unity of the European workers such as was never seen before, such a unity as can set the whole of Europe aflame and, under any circumstance, will be a never-to-be-forgotten influence on the future of the European proletariat. The revolutionary socialists will take care to emphasize the right of the oppressed nationalities to national independence. But the very circumstances of Germany and the position of the proletariat in a ruined Germany, with seven and a half million foreign workers revolting against German capitalism concentrated in the fascist state, automatically places on the order of the day the slogan of the Socialist United States of Europe. Not to see this is to miss the true depth of the European, particularly the German, chaos. Such as this is what Goebbels means by bolshevism. That is what Hitler has been blackmailing Europe with for ten years. But every bluff can boomerang. The European barbarism is not one-sided. Every stage of degeneration creates its nemesis. The fusion of the national and socialist revolution inside Germany is such. As soon as you begin to probe into the European chaos anywhere, the slogan of the Socialist United States of Europe automatically begins to take shape under your fingers.

The German Question in Occupied Europe

But if their is the revolutionary perspective inside Germany, if the compelling movement of European capitalism has concentrated the whole problem of national liberation within the borders of the Reich itself, then the revolutionary movement abroad must recognize the European situation as a whole and indefatigably bring the slogan of the Socialist United States of Europe before the workers in the occupied countries and the occupying German soldiers. In the historical circumstances of Europe today, April 1943, the national question must be posed as the combined liberation of the occupied countries and the enslaved proletariat of Germany from their common oppressor: German fascism. It cannot be posed in any other way.

This is perhaps the greatest battle that the European proletariat will have to wage, the battle for Germany. It is just beginning. It will continue through war and peace until the proletarian revolution. Let us begin it well. The revolutionary movement with resolution and with passion must scornfully repudiate the idea that Germany is a problem and must make the cause of the German people indisputably our own. That is the test of the revolutionary in the oppressed country. In the Europe of today and still more of tomorrow if he should waver on this point, he is lost. With colossal impertinence these bourgeois statesmen, who encouraged and supported Hitler in every move he made, now with their whole train of journalists, economists, ethnologists, historians, parsons and other fakers debate what they are going to do with sixty million Germans. The London Times, which yesterday, with unctuous piety, denounced Stalin’s liquidation of a few millions, now willingly by impotently, accepts with resignation the opinion of the Russian expert that the German people cannot be exterminated. Behold the true face of modern Europe. Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan would be but jackals to these butchers of decaying capitalism.

The revolutionary movement must fumigate itself and the working class against this miasma. For us there is no German problem. There is a problem of capitalism in Germany. That is all. We of the revolutionary movement will proclaim our faith in Germany, our recognition of the rôle of Germany in any reorganization of Europe, of the fatal mistake it would be for the workers to joint in any hounding of Germany, of the necessity to win the German workers and the great German people away from Hitlerism to the side of the European proletariat. But mere assertion would be capitulation. It must take the form of a ceaseless pounding day and night, of the slogan, the Socialist United States of Europe. Inside Germany, outside Germany, in every country, occupied or unoccupied, we make this an indispensable part of our platform, with special emphasis on the German liberation from Hitler.

Does this mean that in Poland, France or Esthonia we try to organize a mass demonstration for the Socialist United States of Europe, as we would try to organize a strike against mass deportations? Such stupidity need not be theoretically refuted. If attempted by some lunatic, its ignominious failure would be refutation enough. Yet the slogan is closer to reality today than before. There is a task here of combination.

III. The Concrete Application

How to apply this slogan in the occupied countries? We shall be as specific as possible so that there can be no possibility of misunderstanding.

Let us imagine half a dozen revolutionary socialists in Lyons today. They know their duty, which is to fight with the proletariat in defense of all its rights. The proletariat is being robbed, persecuted and kidnapped for “compulsory labor service” abroad by the German imperialist power. Side by side with the de Gaullists and others, the revolutionaries fight with the workers against the common enemy. They raise the banner of national freedom. But they are not de Gaullists. They have their own method of freeing France from the enemies of the French workers and they therefore address the following leaflet to the German soldiers:


What do you get by staying here? Why don’t you go home? If your officers prevent you, why don’t you deal with them? You, German workers, who are here helping Hitler and Laval to oppress the French workers, we are going to make your life here one long death-trap.

We, the common people of France, wish you no harm. We want to be friends with you and all the German people. We don’t want to see French or British or American soldiers oppressing you in Germany. But we don’t want any German soldiers marching through our cities and persecuting French workers.

All Europe hates you and is aching to destroy you. You are only storing up trouble for yourselves by continuing with this devil’s work thai you do. Your only hope is to get together with your brothers and sisters in Germany, and over throw Hitler and his fascists. Then you, the soldiers and the other workers, seize the power in Germany and punish the Hitler criminals. Why don’t you and the other workers of Germany try your hand at ruling the country? Every other class has tried. That is the true socialism: workers’ power, not Hitler’s Germany and Hitler’s crimes.

Our brothers are in Germany, seven and a half millions from all occupied Europe. Can’t you see you can make them your friends and make all of us your friends, Poles, Czechs, French, Esthonians, Belgians, Dutch, simply by putting arms in their hands and telling them to fight with you against Hitler. The moment you and they overthrow Hitler, all the blood and bitterness between us will be over. We swear to you that then we shall be your friends and your defenders. Roosevelt and Churchill would not dare to molest you then, for all Europe will be your allies and not your bitter enemies, as today.

We have to live and you have to live and work and raise our families and build a new Europe and make new contacts with the world, in place of the old struggles for power which have led all of us into the mess in which we are. All of us, as workers together, can form a real unity and peace in Europe. We shall be invincible. But as long as you do Hitler’s bidding, it will be destruction and blood-shed, your blood and ours.

Perhaps, German soldier, you are wondering if there is a way out of this misery Europe is in. Perhaps you are thinking that if you don’t keep doing this to us, American and British soldiers will do it to you and your people. The way we show you is the only way out for you. It looks as if you are going to be beaten. Think fast. Perhaps what we propose to you seemed impossible yesterday. Perhaps today it is still very difficult. But we warn you. Think fast. Talk it over with your friends. Perhaps if not today, tomorrow it wouldn’t be so hard to do. Maybe when the time comes a lot of you can even join us. We would welcome you and protect you as our own.

We would welcome you in France as friends. If you like France, you can stay here afterward. You can get work if you are a worker, and a French girl to be your wife. But as long as you stay here, doing Hitler’s work, we shall fight against you and do our best to kill every one of you.

Long live Free France!

Long live Free Germany!

Long live the power of the workers!

For the Socialist United States of Europe!

P.S. – There were many millions of good socialists in Germany only a few years ago. Many of you are still there. Why don’t you give us a sign? We will understand and it will help us to rebuild the movement here again. And when you go back to Germany, or wherever you go, tell your friends what we say.

There may be controversy in the revolutionary movement about this leaflet. Outside there will be none. Hitler, Roosevelt, Stalin, Churchill, Eisenhower, de Gaulle and Giraud will all cast a unanimous vote: against.

The German Workers in France Today

What is basically wrong with that leaflet?

Who proposes to take out of it the slogan of the Socialist United States of Europe? If so, for what reason?

Produce a leaflet for the German workers in uniform which will not have as its axis the Socialist United States of Europe?

Or is it proposed to ignore the German soldiers altogether and leave them to Hitler and Roosevelt?

Finally, who says that a revolutionary in France cannot, today, far more than in 1939, insist to French workers as he fights side by side with them, that this is the workers’ way of driving the German army out of France, defeating Hitler, preventing imperialist treachery and salvaging Europe?

That, concretely, is one method of combining the national struggle with the struggle for socialism in the present historical stage. [5]

However (to prove the point negatively), if the war was over, if Hitler remained undisputed master of Europe, if American gave up the dream of the American century, if Europe had settled down to some sort of stability, if both French workers and occupying German soldiers saw the status quo as likely to last within the guessable future, then we would have a new situation. Note well that the immediate concrete task would still be the expulsion of the German invader, the immediate slogan would be for national freedom, but, and here one difference would come in, the socialist slogan would be an echo from a distant past or a vision in the remote future. A leaflet like the above would be an absurdity. But today? No.

We present this policy to the French workers not as propaganda, but as a strictly practical policy. We present it as one of the greatest lessons of the present war, the combination of military and political warfare. It aims at disintegrating the forces of the enemy and winning him over to our side. Like Roosevelt and Hitler, we devote our main weight to our military warfare, our mass agitation, physical struggle, etc., but we combine the political with it. A French workers, sceptical, might say, quoting Voltaire ”You can kill a flock of sheep by witchcraft, but you must take care to give them plenty of arsenic first. My arsenic is my weapon and I see that you fellows, along with your witchcraft, believe in your arsenic even more than I do.” We would accept that without ill-feeling. The Darlan affair would sake this doubter considerably, as it shook all France. But far more than that, he would be impressed by what is actually taking place among the German soldiers in France and all occupied Europe today. Here is one account from a Frenchman recently returned from France, which tallies with others

The garrisons now act as if they too are prisoners of war. Perhaps they are. Certainly they behave like whipped men – either under the whip or conscious that they are beaten. The French, on the contrary, no longer behave as if they were beaten. The change in this respect in the last three months is remarkable. It is as if people in a trance had come to life.

The cracks in one imperialist structure are beginning to appear. Are we going to help close them or open them wider? To open them wider, of course, and with what weapon, pray, but the Socialist United States of Europe?

The Abstract and the Concrete

But, it is urged, the proletariat in the occupied countries is sluggish, it is not organized; the revolutionary movement is non-existent, etc. But how much bigger was the revolutionary movement yesterday than it is today? And the proletariat is resisting. It is workers whom Hitler seeks to get to Germany. It is workers who resists. To do so they must organize themselves. The general strike in Lyons which halted for a time the deportation of workers was not a movement of or-

ganized workers, but it was an organized movement of workers These arguments, apart from their theoretical invalidity, lag behind the tremendous speed of development in Europe today and the contradictory dynamics of the actual conditions.

In 1939 the French soldier went forth to war, bitted and blinkered by the French bourgeoisie. The French army, educated by the bourgeois state, was deafened by bourgeois orators, dazzled by bourgeois writers, blessed by bourgeois priests, and chained hand and foot by the bourgeois leaders of the Social-Democracy. Under bourgeois officers the army took the field against the same type of disciplined, controlled bourgeois German army. Both fought in an organized bourgeois war, advanced or fell back as commanded, killed here and were killed there, docile pawns on a chess board. Under such conditions, fraternization was something in the books, and even to the civilian population, the slogan, the Socialist United States of Europe, was abstract, something unreal, though invaluable as a summation of the socialist program.

Today these powerful barriers between workers of Europe so elaborately organized by bourgeois society, have been destroyed by declining capitalism itself. The German soldiers are in contact with the French masses, not with the French bourgeoisie “representing” the French workers, not with Jouhaux nor Marcel Cachin, nor Leon Blum. The most dangerous enemies of the militancy of the workers, the flourishing Social-Democratic and Stalinist bureaucracies, no longer exist In Europe. Despite the de Gaullist leadership, anyone who is bold, fearless, cautious, trustworthy, has his chance today to lead workers and to be listened to when he speaks. Our hypothetical half a dozen revolutionaries have an opportunity today a hundred times greater than in 1939, so long as they do not counterpose theories and slogans to action.

Also, on the German side the situation is radically different. The German worker is not meeting French divisions in an organized battle, both under rigid command. He is policing a now actively hostile civil population – the most hated and demoralizing of all military duties. Today, when the elite guards are being sent to the front, the German workers policing Europe will increasingly be comprised of civilians dragged from factories and pushed into an emergency uniform. The élan and military pride of 1940 are gone. The German workers walk downcast along the street and the French or Polish worker stands on the sidewalk and watches them go by, perhaps even say a few words sometimes; while Goebbels screams to Germany and all Europe that Europe is facing destruction. The European workers are contacting the German workers for the first time since 1933, while Europe, and particularly Germany, is blasted to pieces around them both. They fight, it is true, but it is an elemental struggle, the mass meeting the mass in occupied Europe, as in Germany itself. It is possible that under the circumstances of an invasion, (particularly if revolutionary detachments have not been built up or if they allow themselves to be drowned in the purely nationalist movement) that the slogan of the Socialist United States of Europe may once again become somewhat abstract. But today? No. The living truth is that the slogan is now more concrete than at any time since 1933.

It must be so. Socialism is not an abstraction nor an ideal in the distance. It is the concretely developing alternative to a society that can no longer exist without destroying its own achievements and at the same time creating the social relations which are to replace it. All Europe today is but an exemplification of the main theme: socialism and barbarism.

The concentration of the means of production and the socialization of labor, the slow achievement of innumerable centuries of class society, have at last reached a point where they have become incompatible with their latest integument – the capitalistic. The advancing socialist society compels the capitalists to treat the productive forces as social forces, while they maintain social relations which compel the productive forces to remain capitalistic. This is the conflict which creates the horrible, the monstrous perversions of European society today. The concentration of the capital of Europe in the hands of Germany is the bourgeois perversion of collective production. The totalitarian state, the folk community, are the bourgeois perversions of the free community of associated producers. Nationalism rampant is the bourgeois perversion of socialist internationalism. But far from checking, these perversions only redouble the convulsions of an old society stricken with a new one struggling to be free. In the very ruthlessness with which it is compelled to torture, uproot and throw together the European workers, in its forced destruction of the established superstructural relations of the old order and its incapacity to substitute new, capitalism lessens the gap between the minimum needs and the maximum tasks of the proletariat, between its immediate consciousness and its historical self-consciousness. It is this dual rôle of collapsing capital which undeviatingly and inexorably moves the slogan, the Socialist United States of Europe, from the realm of abstraction to the realm of actuality. We have seen it unmistakably in Eastern Europe and in Germany. The socialism or barbarism of Engels, a theoretical prognosis, is now the socialism and barbarism of Europe, potentiality and reality locked together in mortal contradiction. This we must, more than ever today, find ways and means to bring before the workers. In the vast vacuum created by a collapsing system, our slogan can have a mighty reverberation.


1. The same is true, though more remotely, on the Atlantic Coast. But we are confining ourselves within rigid limits.

2. We mention this only to characterize the ridiculous doctrine that Hitler, by some magical means, is able to keep insuperable barriers between the German workers and these foreign workers. Presumably two cups of ersatz coffee instead of one distinguish the German Stakhanovite.

3. Hiram Motherwell in The Nation.

4. It was, among other reasons, to prevent this that Weygand capitulated so early.

5. The immediate necessities, food, etc., the international aspects (non-European) are not included here. They are of great importance.

Last updated on 24 May 2015