William F. Warde

Europe in the Sixth War Year

(September 1944)

Source: Fourth International, Vol.5 No.9, September 1944, pp.263-267.
(William F. Warde was a pseudonym of George Novack.)
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2006 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: George Novack Internet Archive 2006; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

In almost all respects the magnitudes involved in the second imperialist world war surpass those in the first. Never before has humanity experienced destruction on so vast a scale. The total result of this total war has meant ruin for Europe, the principal theater of military operations.

Scores of cities, including London, Warsaw, Berlin, Hamburg, Rotterdam, Stalingrad and others equally famous, have been pulverized. Buildings, factories, utilities, mines have been destroyed; highways and railroads blasted. Throughout the countryside crops, fields and livestock have been laid waste.

The civilian population lives precariously amidst these ruins piled upon ruins. With the disruption of communications and transportation one community, one section of the country is cut off from others. Tens of millions have been conscripted for service in the armed forces; millions more have been drafted for labor in foreign lands. It is estimated that there are over twenty million homeless refugees.

The killed, the maimed, the wounded mount into tens of millions. How many no one knows. The majority of the living suffer from extreme hunger and the lack of the most elementary necessities. The war-weary, undernourished, harried masses are without adequate food, clothing and shelter. Epidemics are a constant threat. Disease exacts a fearful toll.

A few facts concerning food, public health and mortality rates in Italy suffice to show the plight of the population. In Rome infant mortality has increased over fourfold. Almost half the babies are dying in their first year. The general mortality rate has almost doubled within the past year.

About 200 out of every 1,000 Romans are said to be infected with tuberculosis; the death rate from this disease in Italy has jumped from 60,000 per year before the war to 200,000.

Before the war the average Italian consumed a daily ration of 2,900 calories. Since the Allied occupation a basic ration of 664 calories daily has been allowed. This is little more than half the number of calories required to maintain normal health. Prolonged undernourishment has produced a general loss of weight among the people.

The situation in France is not much better. Gen. Adolphe Sice of DeGaulle’s Ministry for Social Service reports that the child death rate has gone up 25 percent since before the war. Tuberculosis among the undernourished is rapidly spreading.

The cost of living has increased at least 300 percent since 1939 in France. Three thousand francs represents a good annual wage for a minor official or artisan. One restaurant meal in France today costs anywhere from 200 to 600 francs.

Prices are even higher in Italy. “The Italian with an income of 1,500 to 3,000 lire, which represents a fair average for the lower middle class, might just as well be unemployed as to try to exist on his earnings,” says Anne O’Hare McCormick (New York Times, August 30).

Runaway Inflation

Workers’ wages have been frozen or increased only a fraction. They remain as frozen under Allied occupation as they were under the Nazis, Mussolini, and Vichy.

Industrial activity has slowed down or come to a dead stop. Production in France is less than 20 percent of normal. During the occupation of these countries by the Nazis that industry continued operation as part of the German war-machine; occupation by the Allies has brought a sharp decline of production. Mass unemployment exists on a gigantic scale among the French and Italian workers. There are over 200,000 unemployed in Rome alone.

Successive occupations and regimes coupled with the costs and consequences of the war have generated runaway inflation. Everything is lacking in Italy today but paper money complained Marcelo Soleri, Minister of the Treasury in the impotent Bonomi cabinet. The Nazis seized the last remnant of the Italian gold reserve. The fascists in the north have been printing ten milliards of banknotes a month. The Allies in the south have been issuing their own paper lire by the millions.

The financial systems of almost all countries on the continent are in chaos.

“The money problems looming as an aftermath of this war make those of World War I appear mild by comparison,” observes the US News July 7. “Nations on all sides will be bankrupt. Japanese yen and German marks may be nearly worthless. Many varieties of currency will flood France and other European countries. China is already in a wild inflation. So is Greece.”

Amidst these catastrophic conditions, while the entire continent is bleeding to death, with famine, destruction and misery on all sides, the rich, the monopolists, the speculators have been coining money. Correspondents describe the “brilliant” social season in Rome where aristocrats and war-profiteers now entertain Allied officers instead of Nazis and Black Shirts. American corporations in Italy which prospered under Nazi and fascist rule have been returned intact to their owners. Bankers and industrialists accommodate themselves to collaboration with the Allied conquerors as easily as they collaborated with the Germans.

Such is the economic state of Europe after five years’ of imperialist war. Marx foretold that capitalism left to itself would bring the masses nothing but increasing misery and degradation. Lenin and Trotsky warned the workers of Europe that unless they moved forward along the road of socialist revolution, the capitalist rulers would plunge the continent into barbarism. Today these predictions are becoming converted into the most tragic and terrible realities.

This retrogression of European civilization is noted by capitalist commentators.

“Living conditions were already abnormal in 1940,” cables Anne O’Hare McCormick from Rome. “But an observer who left Europe then and returns today feels as if life in the meantime slipped back a hundred years... People accustom themselves to living within a narrow radius, climbing long flights of stairs, cooking and heating with a handful of charcoal in a brazier, sitting in the dark – to living, in short, in medieval fashion surrounded by the broken-down machinery of the twentieth century.”

The Downfall of Fascism

Along with this destruction of the accumulated labor of centuries and of countless lives, much that is rotten is also being destroyed. Among these is the power of fascism, which arose out of decaying monopoly capitalism as the most bestial expression of the destructive forces of imperialism. Mussolini’s regime has been shattered; Hitler’s is ready for the undertaker; Franco’s is next in order.

To perpetuate capitalist rule, the fascists smashed the labor organizations and swept aside all social gains and democratic rights. Having become dictators over the nation, they were inexorably driven onto the path of conquest by the demands of the capitalist cliques they served. While Mussolini had to limit himself to the subjugation of such small and weak countries as Abyssinia and Albania, Hitler set forth to enslave all Europe as a base for a new redivision of the world and its markets.

For a time it appeared that nothing could prevent the fulfillment of German imperialist plans. Through a series of diplomatic and military victories the Nazis seized the entire European continent and began to organize that armed camp into their “new order.” These successes of German militarism dazzled a great many people, not only in Europe and in the ruling circles of the other powers, but also in radical circles. Taken in by Hitler’s boast that Nazism would rule “for one thousand years” and underestimating both the contradictions in his position and the revolutionary power of the working class, certain renegades from Marxism hastily improvised theories that fascism had ushered in a new form of society (“bureaucratic collectivism,” “managerial society,” etc.), destined, to replace capitalism and bar the road to socialism.

Adapting their ideas in a less thoroughgoing manner to the changed war map of Europe, others contended that Hitler’s domination made the revolutionary program and perspectives of the Fourth International “unrealistic” and that the proletarian vanguard had to adopt new tasks and new slogans. Upon examination these “new” programs turned out to be nothing but the moth-eaten formulas of petty-bourgeois nationalism.

At the height of Hitler’s triumphs in June 1940 Leon Trotsky answered the arguments of the renegades and revisionists in one of his last articles: We Do Not Change Our Course. (Fourth International, October 1940). Trotsky pointed out that even in the event of a complete victory over England Hitler would be unable to stabilize his empire in Europe and reap the expected harvest from his conquests:

“National socialism is without any prescription for transforming defeated peoples from foes to friends ... One can expect with assurance the rapid transformation of all the conquered countries into powder magazines ... It would be a fatal blunder, unworthy of a revolutionary party, to turn Hitler into a fetish, to exaggerate his power, to overlook the objective limits of his successes and conquests.”

Trotsky’s Prediction

Subsequent developments have completely confirmed Trotsky’s estimate. The Nazis encountered the fiercest resistance from the masses in the occupied countries. But Hitler’s greatest mistake flowed from his incapacity to appraise the mighty powers of resistance lodged within the proletarian revolution. “Hitler, the conqueror, naturally has day-dreams of becoming the chief executioner of the proletarian revolution in any part of Europe. But this does not at all mean that Hitler will be strong enough to deal with the proletarian revolution as he has been able to deal with imperialist democracy,” wrote Trotsky.

Hitler found this out when he attacked the Soviet Union. Despite the desecration and degeneration of the Soviet state, despite the initial defeats, the Soviet masses, defending the remaining conquests of the October revolution, proved strong enough in the supreme test on the field of battle to repel the assaults of German imperialism and to hurl the invaders back. These Soviet victories demonstrated that the October revolution was still alive. In dealing blows to the army of German imperialism the Red Army at the same time struck damaging blows to the imperialist system as a whole.

The power of the revolutionary masses was not manifested in the USSR alone. Mussolini also came up against this indomitable power. Two decades after his hangman’s crew set out to rescue Italian capitalism by crushing the insurgent workers and peasants, his regime was destroyed by the revolutionary offensive of these same toilers.

If in its initial stages the war acted to deepen the demoralization and apathy of the masses resulting from almost two decades of defeats, then in its later stages the effect of the war has been to rouse them into action against their oppressors. Signs of this mass resurgence appeared in the civil wars that flared in Yugoslavia and Greece; in the resistance movement in Norway; the general strike in Denmark; most recently in the general strike followed by the uprising of more than a million workers in Paris. Recent developments indicate that the greatest of revolutionary explosions is maturing in Germany. These facts provide the revolutionary vanguard with ample assurance of the correctness of its political prognoses and policies to which it so unwaveringly adhered through the black years of reaction.

As Trotsky predicted, the downfall of Nazism will prove the most catastrophic event of modern history. It will deal a mortal blow to European capitalism. In all countries the peoples know that the fascists were the guardians of capitalist interests; that the ruling possessing classes worked hand in glove with these butchers; that they were jointly responsible for the war and all its murderous fruits. The class antagonisms which created one revolutionary crisis upon another in pre-war Europe and which the fascists sought to suppress are now breaking out in their most acute forms from one end of the continent to the other. Fascism has failed to fulfill one of its proudest boasts, that is, forever to abolish the class struggle. With the crumbling of fascist power and the threat of the proletarian revolution, the European property owners are seeking a new savior. Having expended their own forces and resources, they have no one else to turn to than the United States. On the European arena American military might is displacing that of Germany.

Role of US Imperialism

This change of the war map in Europe is in turn breeding a new set of illusions centering around the new would-be master of Europe. To pacify the masses the agents of Anglo-American imperialism and certain sections of the European bourgeoisie are deliberately fostering the myth that the Allies will bring liberation, democracy and security to Europe. The transatlantic Shylock is cast in the part of the rich uncle who will rescue Europe from ruin in the nick of time and lift the war-torn continent to its feet.

This propaganda is pure fiction. American militarism comes not to liberate but to subjugate Europe; not to heal its wounds but to further dismember it; not to invigorate its economy but to keep it impoverished. Anglo-American Big Business does not intend to grant voluntarily the slightest democracy to the European peoples but aims to set up and prop up the most reactionary military-monarchist-clerical dictatorships. Roosevelt and Churchill will not hesitate to suppress with the utmost ruthlessness the revolutionary movements of the European workers.

The real and predatory aims and counter-revolutionary schemes of the Allies have already been disclosed in Italy and France. Upon both these conquered countries the Allied rulers have imposed military-police dictatorships, caricatures of coalition governments, without any mandates from the people. Both the Bonomi and DeGaulle governments rule by decree as agencies of native and Allied imperialism.

Under Allied occupation the living conditions of the peoples have not improved but drastically worsened. Already the hopes Of the Italian and French masses that the Allies would help them regain some measure of freedom and security are being dissipated. Their opposition will increase as the Allied program of counter-revolution, plunder and enslavement unfolds in the coming period.

The belief that the Anglo-American powers will be able to consolidate their contemplated conquest of Europe and to permanently hold down the revolutionary proletariat has no more serious a foundation than the previous confidence in Hitler’s omnipotence. Roosevelt and Churchill will not succeed where Hitler and Mussolini have failed. It is undeniable that these imperialist forces represent a colossal obstacle to the triumph of the proletarian revolution. But they too are only a relative and not an absolute obstacle. As Trotsky pointed out in the case of Hitler, they also are “without any prescription for transforming defeated peoples from foes to friends ... One can expect with assurance the rapid transformation of all the conquered countries into powder magazines ...”

In fact this process is already taking place in Italy and is fast developing in France. Both these countries are today heading toward a revolutionary crisis of the greatest tension and explosive force.

The history of the last four decades has demonstrated that no imperialist power or combination of powers can solve the basic problems of Europe and save it from decline. Europe has been dragged into the abyss by the outlived system of national states with their customs houses and standing armies and by the intolerable fetter which capitalist property relations place upon its productive forces. American imperialism intends to perpetuate these conditions and even to aggravate them. The unpostponable task is the economic unification of the continent. This can be accomplished only by the revolutionary workers in irreconcilable struggle for the Socialist United States of Europe against the imperialists and all their agents.

The impending downfall of German fascism will find two main class forces confronting each other upon the European continent. One is the camp of imperialist counter-revolution headed by the United States. The other is the camp of the insurgent masses striving for socialism. The outcome of the titanic struggle between these forces will determine the fate of Europe, including the Soviet Union.

The Class Camps

Many short-sighted individuals believe that with the crushing of German militarism the Soviet Union will emerge so strong that any further menace to its existence will have been indefinitely postponed, if not altogether removed. Through their Teheran propaganda the Stalinists are doing their utmost to disseminate this false impression.

The appearance of unlimited strength does not correspond with the reality of the Soviet Union’s position in relation to world imperialism. As. a result of the war, the international position of the Soviet Union has not been bettered but worsened. The war has exhausted and devastated the USSR more than any other country.

Thanks to the superiority of nationalized economy and the devotion of the Soviet peoples to the gains of the October revolution, the USSR has been saved from immediate destruction at the hands of the Nazis at the price of incredible sacrifices and sufferings. But the Nazis represent only one detachment of world imperialism. Even before this threat has been beaten off, another appears on the horizon. Over the worker’s state stands the ominous shadow of the military and economic power of American imperialism which now bestrides the continent.

Turning its back upon the revolutionary proletariat in the sphere of foreign policy as well as domestic, the Kremlin has staked everything upon its alliances and agreements with the imperialist powers. This course has brought only misfortune upon the Soviet Union. Neither Stalin’s kowtowing before the “democracies” nor his pact with Hitler saved the USSR from involvement in the war. On the contrary, the Soviet Union became the principal battleground. By fearing and failing to arouse the masses of Germany to revolt against the Nazis, Stalin prolonged the war; and his chauvinist propaganda against the German people, has greatly helped Hitler in maintaining his regime.

For years the Kremlin’s foreign policy was dominated by dread of the coming world war and guided by the effort to escape entanglement in it. Stalin’s latest diplomatic maneuvers flow from fear of the consequences of the war. The USSR

has become economically enfeebled. The masses who have sacrificed so much and especially the demobilized soldiers will find their living standards depressed far below the pre-war levels. The Kremlin fears the reaction of the victorious Red soldiers to such conditions. The bureaucracy is well aware of the mortal danger to its power and position that is latent in the growing European revolution. In addition, despite all the public protestations on both sides, the Kremlin is apprehensive of the might of Anglo-American imperialism.

To secure aid against Hitler Stalin allied himself with the Anglo-American imperialists. He hopes to perpetuate this alliance with American imperialism to obtain economic assistance in rebuilding the war-shattered Soviet economy. In return for such aid he has agreed to sell the services of his agents to Anglo-American imperialism and to support their conspiracy to strangle the European revolution.

Stalin’s Allies

Washington and Wall Street have been willing to collaborate with Stalin and make concessions to him in order to promote their own immediate aims. They recognize the value of Stalin’s services in helping to defeat the armies of its German imperialist rival, in upholding capitalism in Europe, in seeking to curb and suppress the revolutionary masses. As Rickenbacker and others have frankly stated, they believe that Stalin’s regime is moving in the right counter-revolutionary direction within the Soviet Union.

But neither Stalin nor the Anglo-American imperialists trust each other. Stalin knows that when Hitler goes and the Anglo-American imperialists dominate Europe they will constitute a colossal threat to the USSR. Ex-Ambassador Bullitt has already begun to beat the drums for a new anti-Soviet crusade at the instigation of the Vatican and undoubtedly with the approval of a significant section of American capitalism.

The primary source of this anti-Soviet propaganda is the class hatred and hostility of the imperialists toward the worker’s state, even in its degenerated form under Stalin. Despite Stalin’s counter-revolutionary course and his valuable services to them, the propertied classes will not rest until the USSR is overthrown, nationalized property is abolished, and capitalist relations restored in Russia. This irreconcilable contradiction between world imperialism and the Soviet Union keeps disrupting relations between Washington-London and Moscow and must eventually lead to an open break between them.

To forestall such an eventuality, Stalin seeks guarantees against his allies by constructing a ring of small and “friendly” states around the borders of the USSR, just as he previously tried to protect himself from Hitler by seizing Eastern Poland, the Baltic states, and bases in Finland. While he builds buffers against his allies, he agrees to cooperate with them in their plots against the European revolution.

In Yugoslavia, in Greece, in Italy and in France the agents of the Kremlin have placed themselves at the head of the movements of the insurgent workers and peasants in order to betray and behead their revolutionary struggles. The principal beneficiary of these betrayals have been the old ruling classes and world imperialism: King Peter and his crooked gang in Yugoslavia, King George and his clique in Greece, King Michael and the court camarilla in Rumania, the capitalists in Italy and France.

The victories of the Red Army have given a mighty impulse to the revolution throughout Europe. But the rising proletarian revolution threatens to upset Stalin’s alliance with the imperialists and in the subsequent course of its development the positions of the bureaucracy within the Soviet Union itself. A victorious revolution in any major European country would have enormous repercussions within the USSR and arouse the Soviet masses to struggle against the usurpers. That is why the Kremlin is so terrified of the revolution and is not only willing but anxious to curb and crush the revolutionary actions of the masses.

The Kremlin is the most valuable agency of imperialism in Europe today. Stalinism is the gravest danger within the working class movement to the revolution. But the influence and power of Stalinism is not insuperable. The Stalinists are able to exploit for their own reactionary purposes the victories of the Red Army and the unawareness of the masses that Stalin has long ago betrayed Bolshevism. But the Kremlin cannot indefinitely conceal the truth. The masses will learn through their own experiences the counter-revolutionary nature of Stalinism. This is already beginning to happen in Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia. Marshal Tito has just had to defend the sell-out agreement he recently signed with King Peter’s Yugoslav Government-in-exile against what he said was “a lack of understanding from our fighting men and people.” It is obvious that the Yugoslav partisan ranks are beginning to understand only too well the meaning of Tito’s betrayal.

The Danger of Stalinism

The entry on September 3 of five Stalinist leaders of the EAM into Premier Papandreou’s cabinet of the Greek monarchist government-in-exile is likewise provoking fierce opposition from the Greek partisan ranks. So far as Italy is concerned, the London Times correspondent cabled from Rome on August 18 that

“Signor Togliatti’s step in joining the government has created a crisis among Milan Communists. The views he has publicly expressed are considered to be too conciliatory, and he is accused of having moved too far to the right. Moreover, many Communists do not agree with certain developments of Marshal Stalin’s policy and profess reluctance to becoming mere instruments of the Kremlin.”

One of the main tasks of the Trotskyist vanguard is to speed this process of liberation from the influence of Stalinism. What Trotsky said in reference to Hitler in 1940 applies equally well to Stalin in 1944. It would be a fatal blunder, unworthy of a revolutionary party, to turn Stalin “into a fetish, to exaggerate his power, to overlook the objective limits of his successes and conquests.”

It is necessary to remember what conditions gave rise to the Stalinist bureaucracy and permitted it to consolidate power. Trotsky pointed out that both Stalinism and fascism had their roots in the same world political conditions:

“In the last analysis, Soviet Bonapartism owes its birth to the belatedness of the world revolution. But in the capitalist countries the same cause gave rise to fascism. We thus arrive at the conclusion, unexpected at first glance, but in reality inevitable, that the crushing of Soviet democracy toy an all-powerful bureaucracy and the extermination of bourgeois democracy by fascism were produced by one and the same cause: the dilatoriness of the world proletariat in solving the problems set for it by world history. Stalinism and fascism, in spite of a deep difference in social foundations, are symmetrical phenomena. In many of their features they show a deadly similarity. A victorious revolutionary movement in Europe would immediately shake not only fascism, but Soviet Bonapartism.” (The Revolution Betrayed, pp.278-279.)

The conditions in Europe which gave rise both to fascism and Stalinism are quickly vanishing under the onset of the resurgent masses. The decisive test of the stability of Stalin’s totalitarian regime will come in the not too distant future.

As the war enters its sixth year, the entire continent of Europe is entering the road of revolution. The first movements of the masses have pushed to the forefront the Stalinists and the Social Democrats, the traditional mass parties in the European labor movement. These bankrupt and perfidious organizations cannot long remain at the head of the revolutionary workers and peasants. A new leadership will supplant them.

This leadership will come from the vanguard organized around the program and banner of Trotskyism. To the imperialist attempts to perpetuate misery and ruin in Europe, the Trotskyists counterpose the Socialist United States of Europe, a free federation of the peoples with a socialized economy in which the profit system will be replaced by the cooperation of the toilers.

Bourgeois democracy is completely bankrupt. The only democracy now possible in Europe is proletarian democracy, the system of Soviets, the elected organs of the working people. There is only one road out of slavery, exploitation and misery for the European people – the road of socialist revolution. The victorious socialist revolution will drive all the imperialists from the continent and save the Soviet Union from destruction by overthrowing the Stalinist bureaucracy and restoring worker’s democracy. It will clear the way for the regeneration of Europe.


Last updated on: 5.2.2006