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Fourth International, December 1942


The National Question in Europe

Three Theses on the European Situation
and the Political Tasks

(19 October 1941)


From Fourth International, Vol.3 No.10 (Whole No.28), December 1942, pp.370-372.
Transcription: by Ted Crawford & Einde O’Callaghan.
HTML Mark-up: David Walters & Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
Copyleft: Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL) 2004. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Continuing the discussion on the national question in Europe, we publish in this issue the theses submitted by a group of European comrades and an answer by Felix Morrow. The official position of the Socialist Workers Party on this question appeared in our October issue.

It is as clear in the third year of the new World War as it was at it’s beginning that this is a war of long duration, a war that has no prospect of being decided by means of military power and thus reach its “natural” end. In ever increasing tempo it has changed the economic, political and social face of the earth; it has destroyed dynasties and nations, enslaved peoples and half-exterminated them. Poland, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, France, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Greece and a large part of Russia have one after another been conquered and occupied by the German armies. Austria, formerly incorporated, Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria and Rumania are under German domination and control, while the rest of Europe (Sweden, Switzerland, Finland and Turkey) is to a great extent under German influence. In all these countries the regimentation of human life is making gigantic progress and changes them to German prisons. The prisons, the new ghettos, the forced labor, the concentration and even war-prisoners camps are not only transitional political-military establishments, they are just as much forms of new economic exploitation which accompanies the development toward a modern slave state and is intended as the permanent fate of a considerable percentage of mankind. As always, the first victims of a system that has become impossible are the “politically untrustworthy,” Jews, foreigners, refugees, of whom the “published” number in France alone was admitted to be over 120,000 on August 20, 1941. This economic ruin is accompanied by a callous destruction of human lives and values and a migration of peoples of colossal extent. “Resettlements,” transfer of workers, etc., which amount to hundreds of thousands, follow the movement of armies of millions. The German radio made known in the middle of August 1941 that a country, such as Belgium, had already supplied 200,000 workers to Germany.

All this is the result of a process which began a long time ago and only increases in intensity in the present war. Far from being “planned organization,” this process follows laws of compulsion and seeks to break through by force, where it cannot shake off, the competition on the international scale. Before as after, the accumulation of capital and unheard of riches on the one side entails the accumulation of misery, suffering, ruin, destruction and barbarism on the other side. The world-wide economic crisis of 1929 cost already as much as the First World War, but the technical rationalization which followed it flowed into the greater crisis of the new war ten years later. Confronted with the choice of lagging behind and seeing cannons, tanks and airships of the dominant powers turned against them, German capitalism organized its own war machine and beat down the world competition with its cannons, airships and tanks. So mechanization with progressing capitalist application leads itself ad absurdum. The means of destruction which are supposed to solve the crisis and lead to a solution, force production of further means of destruction and cause unprecedented economic disproportions which subject the whole world. England and America answer German expansion with a rearming which is to surpass any previously known and again set back the production of consumer goods.

The English dominions, Latin America and the resources of India are drawn in increasing measure into the conduct of the war and thus, together with the deep-going changes in Asia and Africa, strengthen the tendency which leads to the universal reduction in the standard of living of the masses, to destruction, to the preparation of greater disproportions and greater crises. Not only have the productive powers of mankind ceased growing, not only have technical discoveries and improvements brought about no further increase in material wealth, but economy is retrogressing. In contrast to the use of complicated machinery, and in contrast to the concentration and over-development of an industry fit only for war purposes, there is compulsory labor, that is, the mass use of manual labor which is cheaper than machine labor, the founding and extension of small and middle-sized firms because of the shortage oft consumer goods, the restoration of handwork, the dissipation and ruin of the monetary system. Uneven development is recapitulated in the whole world and along with it, agricultural production decreases constantly. Wherever one looks, there are destruction, gangrene and anarchy in alarming degree which seal the catastrophe of culture.


As a result of the brutal suffering and terrific pressure which the war imposes upon the nations, hate, rage and despair are accumulated and unleashed at first in the countries conquered by Germany. The political situation in these systematically exploited countries is characterized above all by the destruction of workers’ and non-fascist bourgeois parties. Step by step unions, political and cultural societies of all kinds, religious organizations, etc. are wiped out according to the German pattern, changed or in some way put under direct fascist control. With certain exceptions, where this process has not yet been fully completed, there is no longer an independent traditional bourgeois or proletarian political or workers’ movement, and in these countries (especially in Poland and Czechoslovakia) even the “national” bourgeoisie is being more and more crushed by such means as “aryanization,” compulsory sales and direct expulsion. All that is left of the old organized movements are today nothing but illegal circles, which have little connection with each other and can in no way act as an entity. Under such circumstances protest against growing suffering must find another outlet. In the face of unbearable conditions, it directs itself against the one visible and consistently present enemy in the form of the German Conqueror. As it is pushed to that limit which is daily drawn closer and closer by this enemy, it levels all and everything and takes a direction which can be described as nothing but a “drive for national freedom.” In a few countries (Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, in part Poland, etc.) this drive has crossed the limit and has turned into a real people’s movement, which also passes the limit of the old movements. In it participate all classes and strata, from workers, farm laborers, farmers, urban petty bourgeoisie (tradesmen and artisans, that is, together with the farmers, those classes, which in spite of their large numbers are remnants of pre-capitalistic modes of production) to officials, priests, intellectuals and generals. In other countries, where it has not reached the point of mass resistance, the movement goes underground and finds respective expression in individual acts of sabotage, arson, train wrecks, accidents, assassinations, etc. But everywhere involved in protest movements, at the side of workers and peasants, etc., there are students, journalists, professors, officers, priests, merchants. And they range without distinction amongst the victims of the German repression. The longer the war lasts, the more will German fascism appear as the main enemy to the enslaved and exploited peoples. Everything will be leveled to a desire for the overthrow of this enemy and, in fact, it must be recognized that without it there can be no question of change in existing conditions.


If in the Europe dominated by Germany there is no longer an organized and active workers’ movement and even the bourgeois organizations are out of the picture, there can also be no talk of the existence of real revolutionary organizations, insofar as they are understood as united structures, which, even if illegal, would be willing and capable of influencing the development by means at least of correct agitation and propaganda. What is left of the revolutionary tendency are individuals and weak and uneven groups, which are more or less correctly oriented on the general evaluation of the situation and the abstract principles, but living at the brink of events and failing to understand how to formulate their concrete tasks. The mood and initiative of the masses, for which every revolutionist, as every revolutionary party, should have a fine sensitivity, met these organizations completely unprepared and passed over them to the order of the day which can be called “struggle for national liberation.” It is no exaggeration to state that revolutionary socialism may once again miss a chance and compromise itself, if it continues to face this struggle any longer without taking part. The responsibility lies with international socialism, to take up the demands of all oppressed – in no matter what form they appear – to raise its voice loudly and clearly, mobilize its forces, to enlighten the world on the meaning of events, to assist the national sections in word and deed, and to lead them to the right path. There is no more burning problem in Europe than the national liberation of nations enslaved by Germany, and its solution with the help and through international socialism is important and indispensable for three reasons.

First, these are democratic demands, which must always and everywhere be supported and without the realization of which socialism cannot win.

Second, socialism cannot find the necessary allies in city and country for the accomplishment of the revolution, cannot mobilize the masses for the final battle and cannot win their sympathy if it hasn’t stepped forward as the determined defender of their demands during an entire period and thus won the leadership in battle.

Third, only revolutionary socialism is in the position to realize the democratic program and to give a goal and direction to the movement at hand, without which it must sooner or later relapse and bury socialism under itself.

Along with these general reasons which are applicable under all conditions, there are specific ones which arise from the present situation.

In Europe in order to be able to restore the tie between socialism, isolated because of retrograde development, and the workers’ and mass movement, it is necessary to build revolutionary parties and restore the labor movement. But to change the existing cadres and cadre elements into revolutionary parties, it is necessary to have a more sympathetic milieu which allows them under illegality to test their forces, to school themselves, to educate new forces, to gather the most progressive elements around it, to overcome the leveling, to introduce the absolutely essential differentiation and to step forward as the vanguard of freedom. The gulf, which up to the moment of revolution exists between on the one hand the program of socialist revolution and the ripeness of the objective conditions, and on the other hand the consciousness of the masses and the immaturity of the proletariat and its vanguard, is today especially wide. This gulf, the most important element of which is at present the inexperience of the younger generation, can be bridged only by a system of transitional demands, but the world situation and the peculiar conditions in Europe make such a system a matter of life and death in the near future.

However one views it, the transition from fascism to socialism remains a Utopia without an intermediate stage, which is basically equivalent to a democratic revolution. The advantage of the European situation consists in the fact that the masses are being forced on the path of national freedom and that the struggle for this because of the general situation offers a complete transitional program which encompasses all democratic demands from freedom of assembly, press, organization and religion and the right to strike to the right of self-determination of nations. It would be absolutely false to conceive it possible to take part in politics and ignore the democratic demands; it would be very dangerous to take the attitude that national freedom could not further socialistic interests. The danger of standing with “tied hands” does not confront the one that takes part in the restoration of democracy and becomes its daring standard-bearer but the one who stands passively by, does not participate and allows the movement to pass him by and thereby permits the imperialists, “democrats” and reformists to give it a bourgeois instead of a socialist character. The passive bearer of the socialist revolution is comparable to those Italian Maximalists who upon receiving word of an uprising in Turin decided, after the collapse of the uprising on the fifth day, to deny their aid because it was not a question of a “true communist” uprising. The result was the victory of fascism, the discrediting of socialism, the crisis of proletarian leadership, the Second World War. With the continuation of the World War the “European” problem becomes acute even for American socialism and makes a clear, active connection with it essential. It is enough for every revolutionary to render an account of the forces led into battle in this war in order to come to the same conclusion which was our starting point: It is a war of long duration, which must completely destroy all human culture, if the rebellion of the masses does not end it. Nothing can free World Socialism from the duty of stirring up this rebellion, preparing for it and acknowledging all means of struggle, which correspond to the forces at hand and which permit the formation of a revolutionary party and that has prospects of assuring results most favorable in a given situation. An abstract attitude toward revolution, however, which fails in the secondary as well as the most important tactical questions, can lead to nothing but another defeat.

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