Max Shachtman

Nine Lessons
of North African Invasion

(November 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 48, 30 November 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

In the last issue of Labor Action, Comrade Shachtman discussed six of the Nine Lessons of the North African Invasion. These were: 1. The Question of Who Fires the First Shot Is Not Important in Judging a War or the Participants in a War; 2. Diplomacy Is Hypocrisy and Deceit Practiced with Equal Cynicism by the Imperialists of All Countries; 3. Middle Class Liberals and Intellectuals Are Not to Be Taken Seriously When Serious Matters Are Involved; 4. This War Is an Imperialist War, That Is, a War Fought for the Preservation or Acquisition of Empires and Imperial Power; 5. This Is Not a War for Democracy and Against Fascism, for Progress and Against Reaction. Those Watchwords Are Only Covers for the Real War; 6. The End Justifies the Means Only if the Means Are in Harmony with the End, and if the End Itself Is Just.

Readers who missed the first section of Comrade Shachtman’s article are urged to write to Labor Action for a copy. We continue and conclude the article in this issue with —


A good deal of bunk and stupidity has been written in the past two years about Quislings and Quislingism, and the North African events are a good occasion for introducing some clarity into the subject.

The newspaper propaganda about the Quislings aims to show that there are good capitalists and capitalist politicians, and bad ones. The former are first-rate patriots who love their fatherland above all else and are ready to make any sacrifice they can for it; under no circumstances will they cooperate with reactionary fascism; The latter, however, are not real patriots; they do not really love their fatherland; their only aim in life is to sell it out to Hitler and then go to work for him as office-boys.

Stuff and nonsense, from beginning to end.

There is not a single capitalist or capitalist politician worth mentioning who will not cooperate with Hitler or any other fascist, or even directly create or promote a fascist movement, if such an action suits his main aim – the protection of his capital. And for that matter there is not one of them who will not fight Hitler if that will serve the same aim. The capitalists of the United Nations are not fighting Hitler because he represents fascism, which threatens democracy. They don’t give a hoot in hell about democracy. They are fighting Hitler because he represents aggressive German imperialism, which threatens their own imperialist power. They capitulate to Hitler only when they find the Germans overwhelmingly superior, only when they consider it impossible to continue the war with any prospect of victory, or if they believe that to continue the war means a working class revolution. It is only then that they become “Quislings,” that is, they subordinate themselves to a victorious Hitler, they cooperate with him in the hope of getting the best possible terms. But they never really give up their hostility toward him – not as the representative of a political system called fascism (they are never hostile toward that) but as the representative of a rival national imperialism. While “cooperating” with the victor, they bide their time. They wait for a better day, a more favorable day, when they can turn against the victor and inflict upon him the .same “peace” terms that he inflicted upon them when he had the upper hand.

That’s the way things really are with the so-called Quislings.

The French capitalists “cooperate” with Hitler not because they want to serve German capitalism but because they think “cooperation” is the best way to serve their own class interests in the long run. In exchange for their “cooperation,” they may get some relief, some concessions, from Hitler. They may get a breathing spell until the tide turns. That is how the German capitalist class and capitalist politicians “cooperated” with the victorious Allies in the last war. They waited for the turn in the tide, for the time when their representative, Hitler, could do to the others what the others tried to do to them.

Of course, there are non-cooperator, “non-Quislings,” among the French and Belgian and Dutch and Norwegian capitalists. But between them and the Vichy type there is no difference in principle of any kind. There is only a difference in judgment. In their estimation, Hitler has no chance of a durable victory. The United Nations are sure to win. Therefore, they string along with the latter. No difference in principle, we repeat; only a difference in judgment. It’s like investing in one stock instead of another. The only reason you choose one against the other is that you expect more returns on your capital.

That’s why, for example, the minute some of the Vichy rats concluded that the tide was turning, that the United Nations were getting the upper hand, they suddenly became “anti-Hitlerite,” jumped across the Mediterranean, and announced themselves again as great French patriots. That’s all that Darlan’s turning of the coat means, or Nogues’s, or Juin, or Flandin, or Pucheu or all the rest of them.

Naturally, there are some genuine Quislings, as the term is popularly understood. They include such vermin as Quisling himself, Ante Pavelich, Jacques Doriot, Anton Mussert and the like. But they are small-time political muscle-men, adventurers for hire, and they do not seriously represent the serious interests of the capitalist class. With hardly an exception, they are concerned mainly with their petty political fortunes, with a modest amount of subalternate power.

With the capitalist class itself, with its authentic political representatives, things are different. They aren’t really Quislings, in the sense of avidly obedient tools of Hitler and Hitlerite Germany. Fundamentally, they were and they remain true and loyal to their religion – the religion of capital – the Norwegian capitalists to Norwegian capital, Dutch capitalists to Dutch capital, French capitalists to French capital, just as German capitalists are true only to German capital and Japanese capitalists to Japanese capital.

Defense of the nation? Defense of the fatherland? Do not be absurd! Capitalists are interested in defending the borders of their country only when their capital is at stake. If their capital is better protected by cooperation with the foreign invader and violator of their frontiers, they choose cooperation. If it is better protected by war, they send us off to war! That’s all there is, at bottom, to the problem of Quislingism.

The religion of all capitalists is capital. The fatherland of all capitalists is capital.


Every thinking worker, and enlightened people generally, hate fascism. It isn’t Germany he wants crushed, or the German people, for what can he possibly have against those suffering victims of fascism? But he does want to see fascism crushed, no matter where it raises its head, no matter what language it speaks. It can and will be crushed. But only free people can do it, and no people is free that helps, in any way whatsoever, keep other people enslaved. The vast majority of the enslaved peoples of the world today are the people of the colonies and half-colonies.

But imperialism, the democratic variety included, is not at all interested in emancipating these peoples. Just the contrary. It is in the business of keeping them under its arbitrary thumb. The latest experience in North Africa proves it.

The United States and England announced that they came to North Africa in order to free it. That is absolutely right – if you understand by that promise the idea of freeing North Africa of German and Italian domination. But just who is it that is to be freed in Morocco, Algiers and Tunisia? The Moroccans, the Algerians, the Tunisians? Not on your life! It is French imperialism that is to be freed, and the Moroccan and Algerian and Tunisian people who are to exchange the rule of Berlin-Vichy for the “good old” tyranny of French imperialism.

That is why the secret agents of America who went to North Africa before the invasion approached the civil and military representatives of old French imperialism, and held before them the bait: If you support us, you can have your African empire back without Axis supervision or control.

That is why these agents did not approach the workers and peasants and tribesmen of North Africa with the honest proposition: If you support us, you will be free of ALL foreign domination, you will enjoy national sovereignty, as any civilized people should, you will not have your destiny and your resources ruled by others, you will genuinely enjoy that basic democratic right, the right of national self-determination. They didn’t approach the natives with such a proposition because it is not in the nature of imperialism to make, much less to keep, such a pledge. And every intelligent colonial knows it.

The colonial people therefore do not join either imperialist camp of their own free volition. We do not mean native colonial tyrants, reactionary feudal lords, beys and shahs and generalissimos, because they readily join the imperialists who are their best protection from the democratic aspirations of their own people. We do mean the people, the colonial masses.

The best that democratic imperialism can do to obtain the “support” of the colonies is to ape the Nazis and their methods. They do not (they cannot!) win the genuine support of the colonial people by saying, and proving in action, that their fight is really a fight for the freeing of all oppressed peoples, nations and persecuted national minorities. So they say instead: “Don’t go with the Axis. Don’t be impressed by its words and deeds. Just look! We are just as tough as the Axis. We can conduct blitz-war just as well as the Axis can. We can be just as ruthless and hard-boiled. If you’re smart, you’ll join us.” In other words, the colonial peoples are to be won by a species of intimidation.

You can dragoon people into supporting you by such methods, but you cannot win their genuine, heartfelt support and solidarity. Yet, such methods are not the special peculiarities of General Eisenhower, or President Roosevelt, or Prime Minister Churchill. They are the methods that are inherent in imperialism of all varieties, as inseparable from it as a salty taste is from salt.


There are many who support democratic imperialism because they say that whatever the criticism that can and should be made of it, it is nevertheless much preferable to Hitlerism, and it will at least bring freedom to many oppressed nations and peoples.

They are fooling themselves, if not others. Freedom is not a gift within the power of imperialism to give, not because it “doesn’t want to” but because it just isn’t in its nature to give it. You might as well ask a leper to bring you good, robust health.

Oh, well, that’s just a theory. Yes, but a theory based on a vast accumulation of facts, of living experience, and added to every day.

Are the Moroccans, the Tunisians, Algerians, or the Libyans or Egyptians to be liberated, or gain full national sovereignty: (the only possible basis for liberation), as a result of the victory of either imperialist camp? You have to be a first-class dope, or a political blind man, to believe that if one of the imperialisms emerges from the war, flushed with the power of victory, it will turn around to the colonies and say: All right, we quit; we withdraw; the country is yours. If British imperialism will not even make a serious concession to India now, at a time when it is in a bad jam and needs as much popular Indian support against its Japanese rival as it can get, do you think it will make India any gifts if it wins the war in Asia?

It is precisely in order to prevent the genuine freedom of the colonies that the imperialists find it so easy to come to terms with people like Darlan, Chatel, Esteva and Boisson. They need these scoundrels in order, as Professor Jean Boorsch of Yale University said the other day, “to keep the natives in line.”

We have been told that the imposition of the Darlan clique upon North Africa is just a “temporary arrangement.” But what about the imposition of the de Gaulle clique upon Madagascar a couple of weeks ago? And what about the recognition of that clique, not only as the “rightful rulers,” so to speak, of the French colonies, but as the representatives of the people of France?

If it is still permitted to put the question: Who is this leader of French democracy, de Gaulle? Who elected him? And is it the intention to impose him upon “liberated France” as her protector, as the preserver of “law and order”? Darlan and his sinister crew are semi-fascists. And de Gaulle? He is a monarchist! He wants to put a king in power in France! He doesn’t even use the French republican tricolor as his banner, but the flag of the Cross of Lorraine, the flag of Joan of Arc, that is, the flag of the present-day French royalists! As you see, he’s not like Darlan – he’s a REAL democrat, and right now he is the appointed leader of the “new France.”

Imperialism has no gift of freedom at its disposal. Imperialism comes to rule over and exploit other peoples, not to liberate them. That holds regardless of its name or nationality, or its pretenses.

The PEOPLE of the colonies can get their freedom ONLY by fighting against imperialism for that freedom. Only what the people get by fighting for themselves, under their own independent banner, is worth getting and keeping. That is true of the colonial peoples. It is true also of the working class, whose duty and task it is to be in the forefront of the fight to free all colonial peoples, for it is only by their freedom that we can win our own. Imperialism cannot and will not do that job for us.

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Last updated on 3 October 2014