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The New International, April 1940


For the Third Camp!


Editorial, New International, Vol. 6 No. 3, April 1940, pp. 67–68.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Cartoon by Carlo

THIS IS THE WAR that every one expected and that has taken every one by surprise. Every one knew there would be a second world war, if not after Munich, then over Czechoslovakia, and if not then, by some miracle, over Danzig. And Danzig did indeed prove to be the spark that set off the powder barrel. But once the war was under way, it produced one surprise after another.

Every one had assumed that this war would begin like the last, with big-scale military operations, accompanied by a new refinement of civilization: attempts to wipe out the enemy’s chief cities by air raids. Instead both sides cautiously parried and fenced, partly because of fear of revolution, partly because it was strategically almost impossible to break through each other’s lines. For seven months of “war”, Armageddon failed to materialize. At this writing, it looks as though the war is at last entering the “active” stage.

This miscalculation as to the military character of the war led to an equally great error as to the length of time it would take for the United States to enter the war. On the assumption that the Allies would soon need our military help and that Goering’s bombers would lay waste London and Paris and thus arouse pro-war opinion over here, the press of the Fourth International – along with most other observers – confidently predicted America’s entry in six to nine months. The victim of this illusion himself, President Roosevelt put on an open and intensive war drive in the first month of the war, only to be forced to backwater when the war failed to materialize. Today, in the eighth month of the war, American entry looks farther off than it did in the first.

So, too, above all with the Soviet Union. Of all the surprises of this surprising war, none were greater than the Hitler-Stalin Pact, the partitioning of Poland, and the invasion of Finland. Most people thought the Soviet Union would line up with the “democracies”. Some expected her to be neutral. A few – including ourselves – thought she might make a defensive alliance with Germany. But no one – again including ourselves – anticipated that the Soviet Union would take the offensive alongside of the Nazis in Poland or that she would impose her hegemony on the Baltic states and invade Finland. Nowhere in the many pages devoted to the subject in the press and resolutions of the Fourth International is there a single indication that the Soviet Union might conceivably take the offensive in the next war. Every possibility was foreseen except the one that actually came about.

Let us confess it candidly. Our analysis was incorrect, and we must either shut our eyes to events – the course which Trotsky and the Majority faction of the Socialist Workers Party have chosen – or else we must revise our conceptions of the war to fit in with the data. We have chosen the latter course.

In what terms, then, do we see the war abroad? As a struggle to the death between two mighty contenders for world power, whose conflict, postponed, compromised, patched up for years, has now reached the point where it must be settled by the crushing of one or the other. The ancient, rich, and still powerful British Empire, pulling in her wake the satellite France, is locked in battle with the dynamic, hungry, young Nazi state, provisioned and supported by the Soviet Union. In this war, neutrality has become a grim joke. One nation after another is sucked into the maelstrom: Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Esthonia, Finland, Denmark, Norway. Those that are not yet involved in the war are pressed diplomatically and economically by each side to enter its camp. There is no other alternative: either London-Paris or Berlin-Moscow.

But are there in fact only two camps? Certainly one would think so to read the capitalist press, the labor press, and even nine-tenths of the radical press. Just as the warring powers try to force the neutrals to choose between two camps, so the world’s rulers, from Wall Street to the Kremlin, try to convince the masses that there are only two camps and that to be an enemy of one is to give support to the other.

The idea of there being only two camps is put across to the masses in various costumes and disguises. The three most important are:

  1. The war is a crusade to save the world for democracy; with England and France playing St. George to Hitler’s dragon. This is the classic line of the last war, merely substituting the word “Hitlerism” for “Kaiserism”. It is going over almost as well in the United States this time as in 1914. We say “almost” because there are hopeful signs that the American masses have acquired a certain scepticism about imperialist wars fought for democracy.
  2. The war is a crusade by the vigorous, healthy young German people to smash the corrupt, decadent old plutocracies and restore liberty and justice to the world. This line gets little support in this country, but it is dangerously effective among the subject peoples of the Near East and the Orient. These peoples have a burning and entirely justified hatred of their French and British overlords. But to follow Hitler-Stalin in this crusade to shatter the British Empire, this would be merely to exchange one yoke for another.
  3. The war is an imperialist attack on the Soviet Union. The two camps here are those of the imperialists and that of the workers’ fatherland (with Hitler hovering in the background as a “temporary” and “limited” ally). This is the line of the Daily Worker, the Socialist Appeal, and, with the sincerest regret we say it, of Leon Trotsky. Under the guise of “defending the nationalized economy”, this line ties the workers of the world to the gun wheels of Hitler-Stalin.

For our part, we reject all three of these variations on the two-camp theme. We reject the basic idea they all have in common: that the masses must fight under the banner of one or another of the existing imperialist powers, be it the stars and stripes, the union jack, the swastika, or the hammer and sickle. We say there is in this war a third camp independent of either of the two warring imperialist camps, the camp of the world working class, cut off from all political control, inarticulate, brutally repressed when it raises its head, but ceaselessly in ferment, pushing up from below, breaking through the surface to assert its human rights and needs. This is our camp, the camp of the hundreds of millions of men and women with black and white and yellow and brown skins who have no say about whether “their” country sends them to death. To accept any of the two-camp alternatives, however good and noble one’s intentions may be, is to give aid to the war-makers, since all three slogans are essentially more or less well disguised devices to enlist the masses under one military banner or another. The policy of the third camp, the camp which fights under the banner of world revolution to overthrow all the existing governments of the two imperialist camps, this is the only realistic anti-war policy.

Some will sneer at the term “realistic”. Where is this “Third Camp”? they will ask. Where is its press, where is its army, its cabinet or central committee, its guns, its factories? It is true that the Third Camp has none of these – yet. But it is a reality nonetheless.

What does the Third Camp mean?

It means Czech students fighting the Gestapo in the streets of Prague and dying before Nazi rifles in the classrooms, with revolutionary slogans on their lips.

It means African natives going on strike in the Rhodesian copper mines and fighting bloody battles with the police.

It means the Irish Revolutionary Army keeping green the traditions of the Easter Rebellion with a brilliant and implacable guerilla campaign against British authority in the heart of England.

It means Indian steel and textile and jute workers forcing concessions from the British Raj in militant strikes.

It means the Red Army soldiers who shot their officers and fraternized with their brothers in the Finnish army.

It means the anti-conscription rioters in Australia, the millions of AFL and CIO rank-and-filers whose pressure is causing American labor chiefs to talk isolationism, the Polish peasants who seized the land when the landowners fled and the Polish workers who set up short-lived Communes in Vilna and Lvov before the coming of the Red Army.

No, the Third Camp is not a myth. It exists, and its members are legion: the submerged, smoldering working masses of the world, those who do the working and starving in peacetime and the dying in wartime. It is our aim and our revolutionary duty to organize these, to make our press the voice of the Third Camp.

For the defeat and overthrow of both imperialist camps! For the victory of the Third Camp!

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