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Fourth International, April 1943


The Editors

Month In Review


From Fourth International, vol.4 No.4, April 1943, pp.99-102.
Transcribed, marked up & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


The Anti-Soviet Offensive in the “Democracies” – Churchill’s Speech: the Post-War Crisis of British Economy – Giraud and the Jews: A Mirror of Capitalism – Soldiers’ Poetry: A Sign of the Coming Storm – The Fight to Save The Militant</>

THE RED ARMY’S REVERSES IN THE SOUTH AND the bogging down of both sides in the spring thaw have also slowed down public expression of the anti-Soviet offensive in the “democracies.” But that offensive, which we described in detail last month, still goes on. Eden’s statements in Washington, repudiating the Times of London proposal to recognize Soviet frontier claims, appears to have solidified at least for the present the British-US united front against the Soviet proposals. Earlier, the British censorship of March 5 “requested” English and foreign-language newspapers to “refrain from printing anything except official utterances” on the Polish-Soviet dispute – but this order came after “assurances from Britain” to the Sikorski government which were “like a breath of fresh air for the Polish cabinet” (New York Times, March 3). The assurances are not described in the dispatches, but apparently Britain promised to back the Poles in the post-war dispute over frontiers. The censorship, let us note, muzzled, pro-Soviet utterances just after the pro-Polish arguments had had their innings in the British press. Likewise the New York Times, which on February 14 called for “a frank discussion of the problem” of Soviet frontiers and on that basis gave full vent to its anti-Soviet orientation, now (in a March 23 editorial) wants to cut off discussion, declaring that “Nothing has done more harm to the cause of the United Nations than the recent arguments about Russia’s post-war frontiers.” In short, the anti-Soviet offensive of the “democracies” merely marks time, waiting for developments at the front. As Raymond Daniell rather cynically describes the situation in a dispatch from London:

“Now that the Red armies have suffered reverses in the south, it is hard to realize that only a couple of weeks ago the ‘Colonel Blimps’ were worried about whether they would stop at the Rhine ... With the suddeness of a change of scene at a play, the emphasis has shifted from speculation as to where the Russian drive will end to a debate about whether Premier Stalin’s forces will be able to withstand the Nazi counter-offensive which is surely coming.” (New York Times, March 21.)

But new Soviet victories would revive, in ever more virulent form, the hostility to an all-out soviet triumph over the Nazis. Of that we can be certain. For the issue is not, at bottom, a question of frontiers at all. The real issue is the fundamental antagonism between the system of private property and the nationalized economy of the Soviet Union, product of the October revolution.

Stalin’s reactionary policies, depriving the Soviet Union in large part of its revolutionary attractive power for the great masses of Europe, temporarily dulled the fundamental antagonism between “democratic” capitalism and the Soviet Union. But the antagonism remains, likely to flare into open struggle at any moment. This is attested to not only by the statements of those openly hostile to Soviet interests, but also of the most “friendly” capitalists. It was a matter of course for the most starry-eyed proponent of “cooperation,” Vice President Wallace, in his March 9 speech, to say that a third world “war would be inevitable if Russia should again embrace the Trotskyist idea of fomenting world-wide revolution.” Wallace knows well enough that world revolution was not only Trotsky’s idea but also Lenin’s and that its material foundations are ever-present in the nationalized economy of the Soviet Union. His statement shows that he correctly fears that Stalin and his contrary policy may not survive the war. As John G. Wright explains in The Civil War in Yugoslavia in this issue, Stalin himself is being driven to take steps which may well go beyond his control and in the end undermine the Kremlin bureaucracy and unleash the European revolution.

Wallace’s statement also shows how hypocritical are the crocodile tears of the “democrats” about their “mistakes” after the last war. Post-war Europe after World War I was crystal. Iized primarily on the basis of the war of world capitalism against the young Soviet republic. In telling us that war would be inevitable “if Russia should again embrace the Trotskyist idea of fomenting world-wide revolution,” Wallace is also telling us how the “democracies” are going to act toward the revolutions which are certain to come in Europe. They will act precisely as the Big Four did toward the October revolution. Terence Phelan’s Woodrow Wilson and Bolshevism, which we publish in this issue, is not only a description of the past but also of the methods which the democracies are certain to attempt in the future. As for the myth that America “isolated itself” from Europe after World War I, Phelan’s article shows how false it is; and where he leaves off the story is picked up by Trotsky’s Europe and America,” which we begin publishing in this issue. Trotsky’s document is dated 1926; but it has never been more meaningful than it is today, when it is indispensable for an understanding of America’s role in Europe after this war.

THE KEY TO CHURCHILL’S SPEECH OF MARCH 21 discussing the post-war world is the following sentence: “It is absolutely certain that we shall have to grow a larger proportion of our food at home.” Why will this be so, in the face of Churchill’s boasts in the same speech about the 50 per cent increase in electrification of British industry and its adoption of mass production methods? Why can’t England with its improved industry send manufactured goods abroad and receive in return all the necessary food – from Australia, South America and the United States, areas far better able to raise food and raise it more cheaply? Churchill’s statement is a confession that postwar England will have a smaller foreign trade than before the war and will therefore not be able to purchase as much food abroad. Thus Britain, which practically abandoned raising its own food during the period of its industrial supremacy after 1842, is playing the historical film backwards. This also means a post-war world of fierce competition in foreign trade among the capitalist victors – quite the opposite of the idyllic picture they are painting of world “cooperation.” The consequences for declining British imperialism were stated in an unusually frank outburst in the Times of London of December 1, 1942: “If British economic recovery is to be attempted by competitive power only, it will entail the most sensational fall in the standard of living in this country which has been seen anywhere since the Industrial Revolution.” But the grumbling Times has not, and cannot have, a fundamentally different program than that of Churchill. No return to higher standards of living is possible under capitalism. This fact poses point-blank the revolutionary task of the British working class. We are sure they will assume it. If the relatively small decline in British foreign trade after 1918 led to the British General Strike of 1925 (sic – the British General Strike was in 1926 – ETOL), the catastrophic decline begun during this war and worsening with peace will inevitably bring the class struggle to the road of revolution.

GIRAUD’S SPEECH OF MARCH 14 IS BEING PASSED off as the end of Darlanism in North Africa. But, as a Russian proverb says, a spoonful of tar can spoil a barrel of honey. In this case the spoonful is Giraud’s abrogation of the French citizenship of the Algerian Jews. The foul taste of this could not be concealed despite all the press and radio talk about the “reinstitution of democracy.”

There are 100,000 native Jews, something less than a million French, and over seven million Arabs in Algeria. Everybody admits that the Arabs want independence. As a dispatch to the March 22 New York Times says, “The extension of the franchise to the Arabs as well as to the Jews ... would mean that the French would be voted out of office.” Therefore? Therefore obviously! – disfranchise both the Jews and the Arabs. This is explained as a concession to the Arabs who, “an experienced French officer” told the Times, “do not accept preferential treatment for the Jews.” Of course they do not accept preferential treatment for the Jews – nor for the French. They want equality and independence. Instead of that, they are given the disfranchisement of the Jews. Let us underline the meaning of this fact. In place of equality the Arabs are given a scapegoat. Is there any difference in method between this and Hitler’s use of the Jew as a scapegoat? The people are discontented? A blow against the Jews will fix that!

Jews in America and elsewhere are being urged to accept Giraud’s action because, says the Times, “the ultimate alternative to the abrogation of the Cremieux law ... would mean that the French would be voted out of office, the Arabs would be installed and the present Jewish difficulties would be multiplied a hundred-fold.” That is, the Jews should support continued enslavement of the Arabs because if the Arabs became the government they would do more than disfranchise the Jews. What more would they do? This question is important for the Jews not only in Algeria and the similar situation in Palestine, but in the whole post-war world. There is friction between the Jews and the Arabs, but it has nothing to do with race or religious questions. The Algerian Arabs are predominantly peasants. In the hill villages the shopkeepers are usually Jews, in the cities they are mostly retailers and jobbers. Inevitably these Jews appear as exploiters to the peasants. Of course the lion’s share of the exploitation goes to the imperialist regime and to the French big capitalists. Nevertheless, the peasant comes directly in contact with the Jewish agent – involuntary, a product of existing society but nevertheless an agent – of French imperialism. Hence the antagonism of the Arab peasants toward these Jews. It is certainly true that Arab self-government on a capitalist basis would begin a process whereby the Jews would be pushed out of many of their present economic positions by the Arabs who will be striving to create an economy independent of French imperialism and its agents. But the alternative offered by the “democracies” – support Giraud and his anti-Jewish measures against the Arabs and similarly support the British in Palestine – means to deepen the conflict between Jew and Arab throughout the Middle East.

Decaying capitalism, if it is not overturned by the proletarian revolution, will pose the same problem to the Jewish survivors after the war. Devastated Europe is certain to be far worse than the pre-war conditions of Europe even if Washington does send some food to the counter-revolution. Yet the pre-war condition was sufficiently bad to produce anti-Semitism not only in Germany but also in Poland, Rumania, Bulgaria, etc. Those who held to a perspective of the continuation of capitalism could find a “solution” only in driving out the Jews so that the declining number of jobs and shops could go further in maintaining the non-Jews. If Europe is re-established on a capitalist basis, this process will repeat itself – and not only in the countries in which it was previously most malignant. Already in England, pleas to admit the 70,000 Jews whom the Rumanian government has offered to release to the “United Nations,” has been refused by Home Minister Morrison because it would cause anti-Semitism. Let us denounce Morrison for the scoundrel that he is, pretending to be fighting fascism but refusing to save its victims. But let us also recognize the reality behind his words: the average pro-capitalist Britisher, knowing that mass unemployment and shopkeeper bankruptcies will follow the war, would resent the competition of immigrants, whether Jews or otherwise.

The same course is already observable in the United States. Washington, like London, has refused to lift a finger for the Rumanian Jews. As for the political tendency in Washington, the November 20 Congress Weekly, organ of the American Jewish Congress, had this to say on the November elections:

“Congress is more reactionary than ever. Whatever small prospect we may once have had to get legislation enacted against anti-Semitism and similar bigotries is now more remote than ever. We must face the fact that we now have fewer friends and more enemies ... in Washington than we had prior to November.”

Everywhere decaying capitalism inevitably gives rise to anti-Semitism. This undeniable fact is beginning to penetrate even conservative Jewish quarters. Thus the February 1943 Contemporary Jewish Record publishes an article by Waldo Frank which says:

“In medieval and Renaissance Europe, the bourgeoisie was the progressive class, the revolutionary class, the creative class. The loyalty of the Jews to the bourgeoisie in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, therefore, determined their position of harmony with social justice, with Progress and with creative life. This harmony brought them strong allies among the Gentiles during their darkest hours within hostile Europe. This alliance with other progressive elements of Europe in large part explains their survival.

“Today the situation is far different. The bourgeois class has deteriorated; it has now passed from the period of evolution to a stage of dangerous devolution. Fascism is a symptom of its disease. An important part of the Jews, in their implicit loyalty to the middle class, is in the paradoxical position of being loyal to the very social forces which seek the Jews’ destruction.”

But Waldo Frank draws no decisive conclusion from this correct analysis. He merely concludes that the Jews must undergo “a radical change in social outlook” – vague words which may mean everything and anything.

By contrast with the Nazis, the treatment of the Jews by the “democracies” may be deemed better; but that is the argument of slaves. Giraud’s blows at the Jews and the refusal of Washington and London to open the doors to the 70,000 Rumanian Jews are indicative of the future. The best elements of Jewry must begin to draw the necessary conclusion. Just as the bourgeoisie in earlier centuries made possible the survival of the Jews because the bourgeoisie was a rising class, so today the proletariat rising toward socialism will be the “strong allies among the Gentiles” without whom the Jews are doomed. Many Jews in America begin to understand this but – a minority seeking immediate strong allies – are turning to the Stalinists. To realize what Stalinism is, however, they need only examine the reactionary record of the Kremlin toward the Jewish refugees, whom it refused to admit into the Soviet Union. We Trotskyists may not appear to be strong allies today. But, like Lenin and Trotsky in 1916, we have the program and the cadres for the immediate tomorrow. The only hope of Jewry is in the success of that program – the socialist revolution.

THE GATHERING STORM FIRST SHAKES THE TOPmost branches of the trees; so, too, poets and intellectuals in general are very sensitive barometers of coming social convulsions. Intellectuals never lead the masses – not if they remain merely intellectuals – but they are harbingers of social movements. In Czarist Russia and other countries the Marxist movement learned to pay close attention to the mood of the students, for student protests and strikes were invariably the forerunner of revival of the workers’ movement after a period of reaction. The truth worked both ways: the onslaught of reaction produced degeneration of the intellectuals, as was seen in Europe since 1848 after the defeat of every revolution. Likewise in America, the turn of the intellectuals to the left during 1929-34 was reversed as the war drew near and they jumped on the bandwagon.

What is happening now to the intellectuals as the war drags on? Having embraced the war, endowing it of course with the most idealistic aims – as if they had anything to say about it! – the intellectuals were prostrated by the realities indicated in the very first American offensive action – the Darlan deal in North Africa. But the generation of intellectuals typified by Eastman, Hook, Hemingway, Dos Passos and the Nation and New Republic groups – is no longer of serious interest; they have lied too much to retrieve themselves and they will have no moral credit with the young generation as the program of the “democracies” unfolds its full implications.

The generation of intellectuals which interests us now is that of the young men and women in their early twenties, who are first entering the arena. What are they thinking? It is not easy to discover, for most of these young men, and many of the young women, are in the armed forces. As yet, little of their writing has appeared in print (nobody considers the soldiers’ camp papers, published under close officer supervision, as indicative of their thoughts). There is little time for writing in the army. Furthermore, it is unlikely that they will publish much prose during the war; prose is too explicit and the critical-minded will scarcely expose themselves.

But the medium of poetry, enabling broad social moods to be phrased in the language of feeling, offers a relatively safe avenue of expression. We have been on the lookout, therefore, for representative bodies of poetry written by soldiers. A group of soldiers’ poems published by the New Republic, an anthology of soldier verse, and a volume by a soldier – these three together may perhaps justly be considered indicative of the trend today. Even better than our own comments on them would be is the dismayed survey of them by a pro-war intellectual of the older generation, Stanley Edgar Hyman, in the March 15 New Republic. His perturbed statement is worth quoting at length:

“The best available body [of American soldier verse of this war] seems to be the New Republic’s soldier poetry, obtained through a contest. The serious poems in the group, including some on a very high level of competence, reflect almost unanimously a single mood: one of hopelessness, confusion, resentment, inability to be stirred by the slogans of the war, and sense of personal doom. Only the doggerel speaks of ‘fighting’ and ‘winning,’ echoes slogans like ‘don’t be a slacker.’

“If the New Republic’s poetry seems atypical, with the possibility that the New Republic may just have hit a handful of depressed poets, the English experience is instructive. Two books of verse by British soldiers have appeared in America recently, one an anthology of war poems by younger poets [Poems or This War by Younger Poets, edited by Ledward and Strang, Macmillan Co,], the other a book of poems by a young Welsh soldier named Alun Lewis [Raider’s Dawn, Macmillan Co.]. Reading the anthology, a large percentage of it written by soldiers, is a frightening experience, not so much for what the poetry says as for what it omits. Out of some hundred-odd war poems, there is not one that speaks out against the enemy, any enemy; there is not one that makes any political statement whatsoever about the war, or even names Germany or Nazism; there is not one that speaks in terms of a just cause, or meaningful killing, or even some possible hope in the future. The imagery is the imagery of chaos and confusion; of pointless, dreamlike acts; of love or beauty or some fragment kept alive through all the turbulence; of lonely life and lonely death. Alun Lewis’ war poetry is similar, with the same death obsession, the same hopelessness and confusion, the same utter inability to find any meaning in being a soldier.”

Hyman wailingly concludes that all this poetry “is not true to the realities of this peoples war as distinguished from the last rather dubious one” – a complaint which is sufficient disproof of his previous assertion that not one of the poems “makes any political statement whatsoever about the war.” For soldier-poets to be silent about whether this is a “people’s war” is in itself an extraordinarily eloquent political statement. But they are more than silent; they are saying in terms of personal moods that they do not believe the official propaganda of the “democracies.” And, let us understand to the full, these are not poets writing in Greenwich Village or in an ivy-covered building on a campus, whose contact with the masses consists in rubbing shoulders with them in the subways or on the streets. No, these are a new kind of poet, immersed among the masses in the greatest mass organization of our time – the armed forces. Sensitive barometers, they are undoubtedly expressing the moods of the best elements around them. The topmost branches, they are being shaken by the first gusts of the coming storm.

THE FIGHT OF THE MILITANT TO WIN BACK ITS second-class mailing rights got off to a good start with a rousing mass meeting at Manhattan Center on March 26. Spokesmen of various labor and liberal organizations were on the platform to express their solidarity with The Militant and the Civil Rights Defense Committee, which is challenging in the federal courts Postmaster General (and Democratic Party National Chairman) Walker’s ukase of March 7. Among those who spoke at the meeting were John Finerty veteran labor defense attorney, for the Workers Defence League; Clifford Foerster, for the American Civil Liberties Union; Layle Lane, of the National Executive Board of the Negro March-on-Washington Committee; and Emanuel Garrett of Labor Action. Among the newspapers and magazines which have protested the government’s action are the Social Democratic New Leader; La Follette’s Progressive; the Nation; the New Republic; the Weekly People; the Socialist Call. Only the Stalinist press has endorsed the Post Office censorship, the Stalinist Freiheit asserting that this action against the “Trotskyist-fascists” shows how justified was Stalin’s execution of Erlich and Alter as pro-fascists! This, too, in the face of Attorney General Biddle’s letter to the Postmaster-General requesting abrogation of The Militant’s mailing rights on the ground, among others, that the Trotskyist newspaper was making “charges of Fascist collaboration by the United States.” During the Minneapolis “sedition” trial the Stalinists complained because the government was characterizing the Trotskyist defendants as revolutionists. Now, especially in their press abroad, the Stalinists are pretending that the Trotskyists were convicted of being fascists and that The Militant has been suppressed because of its fascist line. Despite the desires and activities of the Stalinists, however, The Militant is still being published and sent to its subscribers by US mails – more expensive than the regular newspaper rates of which it has been deprived. A considerable sum must be raised to finance the appeal to the federal courts against the Postmaster-General’s order. Whoever believes in a free press is in duty bound to aid this fight. Funds should be sent to James T. Farrell, Chairman, Civil Rights Defense Committee, 160 Fifth Avenue, New York City.

As our subscribers are made aware each month, the Fourth International is still held up for examination for weeks at the post office.

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