Max Shachtman

An Analysis of Imperialist Diplomacy

Nine Lessons of the
North African Invasion

(November 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 47, 23 November 1942, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The invasion of North Africa by Anglo-American troops is indeed a sensational event. It ought to be studied by every thoughtful workingman. There is a good deal that can be learned from such a study as to the nature of the war and the way it is being conducted.

Of all the lessons worth learning from this invasion, arid the circumstances surrounding it, there are nine that are of special value:


When one power is secretly or half-secretly preparing for war with another power, each side tries. every trick in the book to put the moral onus of “starting” the war upon the other. Half the business of diplomacy is to cover up the war preparations of its own side and to provoke the other side into acts to make it look as if “they” are the aggressors, and “we” are the defenders. The other half of the business of diplomacy is to shoot out a steady stream of rumors about the enemy getting ready to attack us. Whether the rumors are based on fact or not is of secondary importance, because both sides are doing the same thing. The really important thing is to prepare public opinion to accept the fact that “our side” finally fires the first shot – to prevent the enemy from getting the jump on us by doing the same thing.

That is what the Japanese imperialists did at Pearl Harbor. That is what the American imperialists did at Casablanca, Algiers and Oran. The Japanese attacked an American colony, that is, they “freed” it from American imperialist rule in order to enslave it to Japanese imperialist rule. The Americans attacked a French or a Franco-German colony, that is, they “freed” it from the rule of one master in order to enslave it to another.

Imperialist wars are caused by the social system of imperialism. They are caused by the rivalry of the big imperialist powers for the control of the earth and its wealth, of raw materials, of cheap labor, of fields of investment, of markets and the like. Anything else they say is a lie to cover up this dirty reality.

Wars are not caused by the one who fires the first shot. The shot merely announces that the long period of preparation for the war has come to an end and the hostilities are on in earnest.

Imperialist wars are not divided between “defenders” and “aggressors.” The only possible difference between two camps in such wars is that loot stolen in the past is defended by one bandit from the attacks of another bandit.


On the lips of imperialists, be they fascist or democratic, all talk of “open diplomacy,” of honest dealings with other nations,” is a fraud from beginning, to end.

If there were any doubts about it up to now, Secretary of State Cordell Hull’s recent justification of his “Vichy policy” should be enough to dispel them.

Do you remember the tricky policy of Japanese diplomacy in Washington, of the protracted “peace negotiations” by Nomura and Kurusu while Tokyo secretly prepared to strike its military blow? Remember how this policy was used for cold-blooded military, imperialist reasons? Remember how indignant all the American statesmen and editors were after Pearl Harbor?

Cordell Hull says that the policy of “friendliness” and “negotiations” with Vichy had just as cold-blooded a series of objectives. It aimed at making possible Allied espionage in France and her colonies. It aimed at steaming up French politicians to undermine and overturn the government with which Washington was ostensibly maintaining friendly relations. It aimed

“to pave the way and prepare the background in the most effective manner possible for the planning and sending of the military expedition into the western Mediterranean area, and to assist the movements supporting present British operations further east in Africa.” (New York Herald Tribune, November 9)

Change a couple of words here and there, translate it into Japanese, and you have the instructions Tokyo must have issued to Nomura and Kurusu.

The beginning and end of all imperialist diplomacy, in Berlin or Paris, in Rome or London, in Tokyo or Washington, is trickery, hypocrisy, dishonesty, cynicism. That is, it is trickery, hypocrisy, dishonesty and cynicism when the “other side” practices it. When “our side” does exactly the same thing, it is honorable, noble, unselfish and, above all, damned clever. On all sides, however, it purpose is to keep the masses of the people in a state of ignorance and befuddlement. All they are supposed to know is how to obey orders and keep their mouths shut.


Between windjammers like editors of The Nation and New Republic, like self-styled liberal columnists with heads, as big as watermelons – on the one side – and serious representatives of imperialism, like Roosevelt or Hull or Churchill – on the other – the latter have much more to recommend them.

The imperialist-liberals clamorously demand that the imperialist war be fought with democratic means (more or less, in any case). You might as well demand that murder be committed without killing anyone, that robberies be conducted without lootings, that oppression be organized to free the oppressed.

The imperialist-liberals whined and wept and begged that Washington break off all relations with Vichy, stop “appeasing” Vichy, and concentrate on supporting a democratic popular movement of the French people. Washington paid no attention to such nonsense. You don’t fight an imperialist war with any but imperialist, that is, reactionary, methods. You don’t fight an imperialist war for the purpose of promoting democracy or a democratic popular movement. Keeping up the game of collaboration with Vichy was necessary for the Allied imperialists, on the one side, just as it was necessary for the Axis imperialists, on the other. When the Allied imperialists had gained sufficient military strength to do without Vichy (but not without many of Vichy’s pillars), they turned their backs on it without so much as a fare-you-well. Similarly, now that Hitler no longer needs the semi-fiction of an unoccupied France, he occupies it without a moment’s hesitation.

That is serious imperialist politics, the only kind imperialism knows how to play, or can play, and the only kind you will see in an imperialist war.

All that the self-appointed liberal experts accomplish with their “democratic” babblings is to promote confusion among the already confused, to deceive people into hoping or believing that a reactionary imperialist war can be fought with any but reactionary imperialist means.


Hitler talks of a “new order,” but all his actions are directed toward expanding and consolidating the power of German imperialism, subjecting to it as many slaves as Nazi arms can conquer. Tojo talks of the “Asiatic Co-Prosperity Sphere,” but all he means is the ousting of Western imperialism from control of the Pacific and of Asia, and the substitution of Japanese imperialism.

London and Washington talk about “four freedoms” and “Atlantic Charters” and the “century of the common man.” But that’s just to throw sand in the eyes of the people. Do you expect them to say right out in so many words that we must fight for imperialist domination of the slaves and the wealth of the world? Yet, sometimes they do just that!

Reporting to Parliament on the African campaign, Churchill said: “We mean to hold our own. I have not become the King’s Prime Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.” (New York Post, November 10.) By the way, Churchill was telling this not so much to Hitler, or even to Gandhi – but to American imperialism, which has a covetous eye on the disintegrating British Empire which a thousand Churchills will not succeed in holding together for long. But be that as it may, the fact remains that, according to Churchill, England is fighting to maintain her empire, her profitable control of hundreds of millions of colonial slaves, of their lands, of their natural resources, of their markets.

What about America, however? Isn’t she fighting for freedom for all peoples? Let us learn the answer from the latest invasion!

In Africa alone, France, with a population of 42,000,000 and an area of 212,000 square miles, rules a colonial empire of 41,000,000 people with an area twenty times as large, 4,208,000 square miles. How did France get this empire? By treachery, by deception, by cruel repressions, by cold-blooded violence and massacres of the natives, in other words, by the means always employed by imperialism to extend its sway over other peoples, by the same means now employed in Europe by Hitler and his gangsters. By what right does France rule her African empire? By the right of the sword, of the rifle, of the machine-gun, of terror. What d the people she rules over have to say about it? Nothing, absolutely nothing, because they have been deprived of their fundamental right – the right to govern themselves – just as Hitler has deprived the Poles and Czechs and Belgians and others of the same right. What does elementary democracy demand? What do the “Four Freedoms” demand? What does the “Atlantic Charter” demand? That not only the Italo-German fascists be driven out of the French African Empire, but the French imperialists as well! That the French Empire be blown sky high! That Algeria be returned to the Algerians, Morocco to the Moroccans, Tunisia to the Tunisians, Madagascar to the Madagascans.

But that is not what happens in an imperialist war!

General Eisenhower’s first proclamation to the French said: “We have no designs either on North Africa or on any part of the French Empire.” To make perfectly clear what he meant by this, he added a few days later, in a proclamation of tribute to the memory of the French Marshal Lyautey: “It is particularly fitting that I should pay tribute to Marshal Lyautey, since the forces under my command bring with them a solemn assurance that his achievementa North African empireshall remain French.” (New York Times, November 12.) General Patton, on the same day, led the tribute to Lyautey in Rabat in exercises commemorating his birthday.

Who was Lyautey? He was the subduer of the people of North Africa. He was the imperialist bandit-in-uniform who put the natives to the sword, in no essential different from what Hitler is doing in Europe today. He directed the massacre of the Riffs, the natives of Morocco who rebelled against French imperial rule the way Serbs and Croats are right now rebelling against German imperial rule. We pay tribute to his memory!

And this great hero, General Giraud, whom the Americans have just appointed commander-in-chief of the French forces in North Africa – who is this paladin of popular freedom? He is the man who led the French imperialist troops in the bloody suppression of the Riff uprising in Morocco in 1925, under the leadership of Abd el-Krim. Certainly he is uncompromisingly opposed to Hitler. He is firm in his belief that if people are to be made slaves and kept slaves, at the point of sword and pistol, it is French and not German imperialists who should wield that sword and pistol!

In an imperialist war, expect nothing but imperialist leaders. In an imperialist war, expect nothing but a struggle to preserve imperialist power or to extend it or to acquire it. Churchill fights to keep his empire from German robbers; Giraud fights to keep his empire from German and Italian robbers; American imperialism fights to carve out for itself, at the expense of everyone else, the biggest empire in history.


As we have already said, the most elementary principle of democracy demands that the first act of victorious democrats in a territory should be the proclamation of self-government, of national sovereignty, for a people that has been deprived of it. Instead of calling upon the disfranchised peoples of North Africa, the Anglo-American invaders promptly sat down to negotiate with such notorious reactionaries and fascists and semi-fascists as General Giraud, Admiral Darlan, Admiral Michelier, General Nogues and others of their stripe.

In face of the almost universal protest against this open collaboration with ultra-reactionaries, Roosevelt has explained that it is due only to military considerations and is not supposed to substitute for eventual popular democratic government.

That will not wash! A genuinely democratic, liberating army would, or at least might, negotiate and maneuver with all sorts of political elements in the course of a war, including the most reactionary, for reasons of military expediency. To facilitate a victory, to prevent the needless loss of life of soldiers – that justifies military negotiations and maneuvers with anyone. But only to facilitate a democratic victory, which means, at the very least, to facilitate the liberation of oppressed peoples.

Negotiations, maneuvers, tricks, “temporary” expedients that mean the perpetuation of oppression for the peoples, that mean imposing upon them an old tyrant or a new one – that’s a typical imperialist crime!

That is what has been done in North Africa. Darlan – the infamous Darlan – has been made the governor of the more than 40,000,000 African slaves of French imperialism! Giraud, who crushed the rebellious Riff tribesmen, is made commander-in-chief of the French imperialist troops in Africa! Who appointed them? The “liberating” invaders! With the consent of the governed? Of course not! The governed in North Africa are gagged and fettered slaves of imperialism.

Is it any wonder that every reactionary scoundrel who could get out of Vichy is flocking to the camp of the invaders in North Africa – people like the sinister Flandin, admirer of Hitler and adept of Hitlerism, and Pucheu, another of the same kidney? Why not? Imperialists can make themselves at home in either imperialist camp. Reactionaries can make themselves at home in either reactionary camp. They know that this is no fight for democracy, or for the freeing of the oppressed peoples. It is high time everybody else learned these truths.


“What terrible people the Marxists are,” the capitalists always say. “They preach the immoral doctrine of any means to an end.”

But just pick up your paper. See how cynical they all are – the generals, the statesmen, the editors, the columnists, all the apologists of imperialism. Did we practice a game of deception with Vichy? Yes, but the end justifies the means. Are we collaborating with Darlan and others whom we denounced so violently as Hitler’s stooges only yesterday? Yes, but the end justifies the means.

The point is that the Marxists sanction only those means that are in harmony with a just end, a progressive and noble end – socialism, the end of exploitation, of oppression, of all class rule, and therewith, by the way, of all war.

In a sense, the imperialists are like the Marxists, too, in that the means they employ to attain their ends are in harmony with their ends! What is their aim? The preservation and consolidation of imperialist reaction! What is surprising, therefore, if in reaching that aim they employ reactionary and imperialistic means? That’s what the ox-headed liberals and imperialist-democrats cannot understand. Yet it is as simple as ABC.

Once you understand this simple idea, you can understand such things as, the Kurusu mission to Washington, the Leahy mission to Vichy, the Murphy mission to North Africa, the fraternal embrace between England and Monarchist de Gaulle, the welcome extended to reactionaries like Giraud, Darlan, Nogues and their ilk, the secret efforts that are undoubtedly being made to win over Italian fascists to the “camp of democracy,” and more and more of the same.

For imperialist ends, imperialist means. Nothing is more inevitable.

(Concluded in next week’s issue)

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