From New International, Vol. VII No. 2, February 1941, pp. 19–22.
Transcribed & marked up by Damon Maxwell for ETOL.
WHAT ARE THE WAR AIMS of the British government or of the American government, or, for that matter, of all or any of the belligerent governments? First of all to win the war. That is what Churchill says today. That is what Clemenceau said yesterday. But hat, too, is Hitler’s aim. And if it is a virtue to plan and scheme and devote oneself entirely to victory, then it will be hard to deprive Hitler of first prize for war aims. The next answer is that Hitler is fighting for world domination and the British in defense of freedom and democracy. They have recently been joined by the Greeks. China, which struggled on against Japan, neglected for four years, now suddenly becomes another stronghold of democracy and America becomes the arsenal of democracy (immediate profits limited to eight per cent). It is or ought to be clear. Hitler, the evil spirit or dragon; Britain, St. George, and America supplying St. George and allies with the tools and doing everything to help win the war. But still the cry rises from the people, “What are your war aims, Churchill? What are your war aims, Roosevelt?” True, it is voiced chiefly by some isolationists who use it to embarrass the war-making executives in Washington. But it springs from the people. You can see that in Britain where the workers, though threatened with invasion and battered from the skies, still clamor through their Labor Party for a statement of war aims. It would seem that to them it would be enough to reply, “We’re fighting to prevent Hitler doing here what he has done a Poland.” The fact remains that it isn’t enough. If the American workers had means of political expression we would have had a far more vocal, insistent, and organized inquiry, “What, exactly, is the British government fighting for? And why, specifically, are we so mixed up in it?”
The British workers and the American workers, if drawn into war, would have no hesitation at all in stating what they were fighting for, especially if they were in charge of the war. The British working class knows quite clearly what is its immediate aim in this war. It is to prevent Hitler coming to Britain. After that it hopes for a better Britain. In that desire the Fourth International is heart and soul with them. (Where we differ with the great majority of the British workers is on the way to do this.) But the demand to Churchill and to Roosevelt shows that the workers on both sides of the Atlantic distrust their governments. They heard lot about a war for freedom and democracy once before. They seek assurance that it will not be the same old swindle over again. “I know what I am fighting for,” says the British worker, “but you, who control everything, what are you fighting for?” It is that doubt in the minds of millions of French workers which paralyzed France for years and finally destroyed it.
Now, no man in America has talked more about the war than Franklin Roosevelt, and no man has said less. Particularly about war aims he has been modest, not to say reticent, not to say secretive. Why? It would have been simplicity itself for himself and Churchill to make a joint statement denouncing Hitler, promising to restore democracy and the independence of small nations, swearing to God (as Lloyd George swore) that they wanted not one single inch of territory, etc., etc. Yet they don’t do it. If they do say anything at all, it will be dragged out of them, and we can tell in advance that it will be model of nebulous phrases, large promises with larger reservations, wrapped up in such equivocations and avoidance of issues that it will chill supporters and offer the most devastating targets for enemies. Freedom for small nations? But what about freedom for large ones? What about India? Roosevelt does not have only Puerto Rico to explain. He knows that American imperialism may at any time have to lay violent hands on Latin America. Hemisphere defense? But to defend a small nation does not mean that you have to swallow it. And how does hemisphere defense require that the American workers should sacrifice themselves to prevent Japan taking Indo-China from the French imperialists? Or the East Indies from the Dutch? When the people insist, “What are your war aims?” it means that vague phrases about aggression will not be sufficient. They have had those and are not satisfied with them. If they were, they wouldn’t ask for further clarification.
But there is a much deeper reason than these obvious ones for the hesitation of Churchill and Roosevelt, and it is rooted in the bankruptcy of bourgeois society. They do not even know their war aims themselves. They want to win the war. That is certain. They wish to divide between them as much as possible of the profits and the power of the post-war world. But what sort of world they want they do not exactly know. Note how vastly different they are in this respect from their rival, Adolf Hitler. Hitler knows what he wants. Driven by the poverty in natural resources of Germany, the absence of colonies, the apparently interminable class conflicts always verging on civil war. Hitler is determined to have a “new order.” In many respects it is “new.” The old customs barriers and divisions of Europe into little scraps of bantam-weight states must go. A United States of Europe is needed. Hitler knows that much. But for this to be feasible Hitler knows that one imperialist power must dominate. If not, its rivals will constantly be interfering among the smaller nations and forming rival blocs. That Hitler will put an end to. Germany will rule. He will organize a United States of Europe, governed economically and politically from one center – Berlin. Planned economy? He will plan the economy, down to the last vitamin with which the Polish worker must be supplied, so as to get twelve instead of ten hours of labor from him.
For this “new order” Europe will have to pay. It will have to acknowledge the Germans as masters and bow down to and worship them. The nations will be moulded to the German pattern, but on an inferior scale. The wealth produced will flow to Germany and just enough will be allowed to remain to maintain the millions of slaves and their local sub-masters. For nobody except a crazy fool will believe that the German bourgeoisie or the Nazis are organizing Europe for the benefit of the workers of Europe, or for anybody’s benefit except the benefit of the ruling class of Germany. If it is only by that means Germany can live, then it will be that way, for Germany must live. Parliamentary democracy, liberty of the subject, individual freedom, even a pretense at truth, honor, and all that western civilization has held as an ideal for a thousand years, however imperfectly realized, these must go, in private as well as in public life. Instead we have already Goring’s “cult of brutality.” The boys must be tough. And tough they will have to be, with the blow first and the word after, if they are going to hold a continent down. The Nazis have no illusions about this “new order” of theirs. It is founded at home and abroad on violence, and will be maintained by violence, naked and unashamed. That some day, after the period of stress, will come happy days when the tension will be eased, has no place in their philosophy. More food from the plundered countries, yes. And some new houses? It is not improbable. But not too much of that. To a German today real coffee instead of ersatz, real wool instead of ersatz, 50 hours a week instead of 60 will seem like heaven. This paradise will not come too soon. Because there is the Latin-American market and some of Africa, to make the living space really fit for living in. This will involve war with America. But Hitler is prepared for that. He has carefully trained his followers and the nation in the idea of world domination. They will get and hold by war. These are Hitler’s war aims. Everybody knows them. If there were free speech in Germany tomorrow some would say that they were in favor of these aims and others would say that they were against. But not a single soul would ask, “What are the Fuhrer’s war aims?” With some incidental and tactical changes, they are in Mein Kampf and in a hundred thousand speeches by Nazi officials, high and low.
But Roosevelt and Churchill? Nobody knows and, we repeat, they do not know themselves. A fascist Europe and America, under their control? If it comes to that or socialism, as it must inevitably do, then they are for fascism. Churchill has said as much. But they do not want fascism. The bourgeois freedom that they have they cherish. When the workers are to be disciplined they, the bourgeois democrats, do not in the least hesitate to pass bills abrogating democracy and, if necessary, shoot the workers down. But fascism disciplines not only the workers but the bourgeoisie as well. It costs the bourgeoisie an enormous amount. Furthermore, whatever Wall Street and the City of London may be thinking, Roosevelt and his outfit and Churchill and his outfit are satisfactory to their masters only because they can still catch the ears of the masses. But should these great leaders dare even to dream of a Britain-dominated Europe they could not say so. First, it is manifestly impossible. Secondly, not a British worker, not an American worker, but would begin to protest that what he was fighting or sacrificing for was not that. A French-dominated Europe? France tried after 1918 and failed, first through economic weakness, and secondly because Britain would not allow it. Britain needs two groups of powers in Europe, one to play off against the other – the celebrated balance of power. Britain played France against Germany up to 1918, then played Germany against France up to 1939; then turned back to play France against Germany, but got a shock with the collapse of France, and is now trying to play Russia against Germany. A French-dominated Europe is impossible and dangerous to Britain in any case. What then? Back to 1918? But it is that which led straight to the 1929 crisis and the catastrophe. That cannot work. Then break up Germany? But to say that is to double the force behind Hitler and, in the event of victory, to intensify the chaotic conditions which the Treaty of Versailles created in Europe. Churchill has some general war aims. His war aims are his peace aims in general. He told the Conservative Party when it made him its leader instead of Neville Chamberlain: My intention is to preserve the British Empire and the historic continuity of life in our island. For this the Conservative Party gave him a great ovation. Poor Neville Chamberlain was trying to do just that. But the British workers and the vast majority of the American people will not be stimulated to sacrifice themselves for that. Roosevelt is in a similar position here. Hence ringing rhetoric from Churchill and plenty of chat from Roosevelt’s fireside. But war aims? None.
If you wish to see how bankrupt these people are, you have only to read their liberal and labor supporters in England and America. Lacking the responsibilities of government, they are usually very specific about the particular brand of sticking-plaster with which they propose to cure a continent in sores. The 1914 “war for democracy,” the League of Nations, the Kellogg Pact, the New Deal, the Popular Front, with Stalin for socialism (tomorrow) and democracy (today), against fascism, there is not a political patent medicine on the market which these have not drunk themselves in large doses and offered to the public as a sovereign cure for all ills. Today, however, they are as empty as their Churchills and their Roosevelts. The British pinks, with Laski at the head, cannot talk any longer to the British workers about the happy days to come after the war. The British workers have had two Labor governments and they know that you cannot do anything with the economic system by playing with it. They know, too, that Europe needs a reorganization, though what exactly that must be they cannot say. Hence the great vogue of Laski today, who outlines a new Europe, a new order that demands a revolution. Only he calls upon Churchill and the British Conservatives to make the revolution. In America, Dorothy Thompson bluffs the American public by calling Britain socialist. The other liberals are cheap editions of Roosevelt. They wish to defeat “the aggressors,” they wish to “destroy” fascism, but their war aims? What, exactly, do they want? They, least of all, have any plans, because they had denounced the inadequacies of Versailles only too well. Some of them play around with Streit’s Union Now, a stupid scheme for joining up Britain sitting on India and half of Africa, Jew-baiting Poland, France, divided into two since 1934, and who else cares to join, all under the banner of democracy. What German imperialism wants is markets and the destruction of its rivals. That is what British imperialism needs, and French imperialism. Before the war Poland demanded African colonies. The home market, even when protected with tariffs, quotas and electrified barbed wire, is too small tor all of these countries. How do you solve that by joining them all up just as they are?
Not a single coherent idea comes from the united pens of all these warmongers. United on the necessity of stopping “aggression,” they have nothing concrete to say of what causes “aggression” and how to put an end to that. And the more futile their ideas, the louder they seek to drown reason with the slogans of the day. Fascism or futility. That is the alternative before bourgeois society today. As long as the futile vaporings of liberals and labor leaders can keep support from the dangerous and distrustful masses the heavy industrialists and the bankers tolerate liberalism, though they are quietly making their plans. The workers will find out some day what exactly are the war aims and the peace aims of Churchill and Roosevelt And then there will be no more futility but the brazen throat and steel gauntlets of fascism to reckon with. In the middle of February, Mr. Mander of the British Labor Party asked Churchill once more what were Britain’s war aims. Mr. Mander said that America wanted to know. We can presume that Mander wanted to know himself. Said Churchill, “There is such thorough comprehension in the United States of what we are fighting for, and what we stand for, that I cannot recall any occasion when the question of peace aims or reconstruction has been mentioned by any representative of the American government whom I have seen or corresponded with.” Isn’t that beautiful? Churchill and Roosevelt understand one another so well that there is no need even to talk about it. And yet the great body of people in each country cannot get a single precise word out of these great paladins of government of the people, by the people, for the people.
The Workers Party, we of the Fourth International, have our war aims. Like Hitler, we demand an end to the monstrous Versailles system, but we are also against a Hitlerite Versailles. We too demand a United States of Europe, with this difference, that it must be a Socialist United States of Europe. A Socialist United States of Europe deprives not even the smallest European nationality of its national and cultural rights. A nation has every right to its national existence, unsubdued and undominated by any other nation. This is one of the cornerstones of Bolshevism. In 1918, Lenin speaking on the rights of small nations to secede from Russia, uttered the following memorable words, “Once upon a time Alexander I and Napoleon traded peoples, once upon a time tsars traded portions of Poland. Are we to continue these tactics of the tsars? This is the reprobation of the tactics of internationalism, this is chauvinism of the worst brand. Suppose Finland does secede, what is there bad about that?” If these small nations intrigued against Russia with foreign imperialist powers, then the socialist revolution would intervene without mercy. But their freedom was theirs, for Lenin knew that only on such freedom could any lasting unity be built. Stalin’s lies, deceptions and imperialist intrigues for the division of Poland, slices of Romania, and provinces of North China have no foundation whatsoever in the principles of socialism. They are exclusively the result of the bureaucratic usurpation of workers’ power in Russia and the accompanying destruction of the Bolshevik Party.
We proclaim against Hitler the national, cultural and economic rights of the peoples. But these can flourish without the bitterness and jealousy and warfare which have characterized them hitherto, only on an economic basis which develops and does not constrict the economic life of Europe. What is all the Balkan mess due to, but the memories of past imperialism, the constant intrigues of Slav, Italian and German imperialism, all flourishing in a bed of poverty, backwardness and ignorance? We propose to tear up every tariff barrier and break down every customs house in Europe and to substitute, not an armed Germany sucking the life-blood from a conquered and enslaved Europe, but a free association of all the peoples, planning their economic lives in accordance with their needs, and making use of the tremendous opportunities which the development of technique has offered to men. That is our program. Utopia? Yes, certainly Utopia, it we are waiting for Churchill and de Gaulle and Queen Wilhelmina to do it. But we are not looking to them. The masses of the people, led by the organized proletariat of Europe, must destroy the capitalist states and the capitalist economic system, the monopolization of wealth by a few. They, the armed people, will set up their own Soviets and their own worker-controlled organizations in London, Paris, Vienna and Moscow, and create the new Europe. The people slaved and suffered and died in 1914–1918. They have been promised and deceived and promised and deceived, until today, 1941, they are once more destroying each other. And for what? To be offered the fascism of Hitler or to ask in vain from Churchill and Roosevelt some simple, direct statement of what they propose in return for the enormous sacrifices they demand.
The people will find their way to socialism or perish. Either the possibilities which society offers today must be fully realized or the vast majority of human beings will be reduced to the level of Chinese coolies. We do not believe this will happen. Humanity has always found the way out in the past. It will find its way out again, for the simple reason that the way exists. Our program does not stop at Europe. The European proletariat will call upon the colonial peoples to revolt against imperialism, to join the new order of socialism. The Indians and Africans who cannot hear, and when they hear are deaf to the words of Churchill and Roosevelt, will hear a socialist call and leap like one man to the support of the cause. We have seen these things in history before. Such is our program. These are our war aims and our peace aims as well. They are as clear and easy to understand as Hitler’s. Like Hitler’s, they are based on a reality, the needs of the proletariat, the poor farmers and the colonial masses, the great body of the people in every country. Today, their emancipation is the emancipation of society. Hitler’s program is based on another reality, the needs of bourgeois society, of the exploitation by the few of the many, the preservation of this system in the period of its decay and corruption. Roosevelt and Churchill are echoes of a day that is past, the day of capitalist expansion and prosperity. They still have some popular support, but in the face of the realities of the day, they and their liberal and social-democratic friends have no program. Lies and deceptions, then more lies and more deceptions. But that cannot go on forever. The masses demand, “What are your war aims?” There is an enormous significance in that demand. These two bluffers cannot evade an answer indefinitely. A mass demand is an historical demand. History is asking the question, and to every question that history asks, sooner or later it demands an answer. History is not a theoretician. It asks no questions save those which demand solution.
Last updated on 25 October 2014