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The New International, February 1943

The National Question in Europe

Its Relation to the Socialist Revolution


From New International, Vol. IX No. 2, February 1943, pp. 38–46.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Editor’s Note: The following is Part Two of the resolution of the Workers Party of the United States on The Struggle of the National and Colonial Peoples for Freedom, and deals primarily with national movements in Europe, concluding with the program of the party on this all-important question.

It is no longer possible to consider the struggle for national independence a progressive task only in the colonial countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, and in a few tiny countries at the outskirts of the modern capitalist world. The struggle for national freedom is now on the order of the day in advanced capitalist countries as well. Unless this is clearly understood, the resurgence and victory of the proletarian revolution in Europe may just as well be postponed to the Greek Kalends, for this revolution depends to a great if not decisive extent upon an understanding of the new phenomena.

Fascism is an arch-reactionary stage of decay of capitalism. Even the capitalist countries that are relatively most democratic today are studded increasingly with the economic and political characteristics of fascism. As the World War continues, these fascist or totalitarian “warts” on the face of democratic capitalism tend to spread until they become the “face” itself. Why is fascism reactionary, that is, why does it represent retrogression, a hurling back of society? If the question is to be answered specifically in terms of the problem dealt with in this resolution, the answer is: Fascism is reactionary (among other reasons) because it removes from the top of the order of the day, or tends to remove from the top of the order of the day, the direct struggle for proletarian, socialist power, and to put in its place the historically outlived, anachronistic struggle “for democracy.” To put it differently, it tends to replace at the top of the order of the day the direct struggle for social democracy (socialism) by the struggle for formal or political democracy, or for specific demands in the program of formal democracy.

To declare that world capitalism is overripe for socialism, that the proletariat has matured for the struggle for power, is to repeat a fundamental truth of our historical epoch. This statement does not obviate the need, however, of taking into account the concrete realities of the decay of capitalism in each country, the changes in class relations, the inner conflicts of the ruling classes, the political manifestations of these conflicts, and the manner in which they affect the strategy and tactics of the revolutionary proletariat. The totalitarianization of capitalism, the spread of fascism, is precisely one of these concrete realities, one which is of tremendous importance, particularly in its effects upon revolutionary policy.

If the struggle for democracy, at least in the advanced capitalist countries, is an anachronism, it must be borne in mind that fascism is reactionary precisely because it throws society backward, and compels it to take up “outlived” tasks all over again, even if not in the same form and by the same methods.

The struggle for national independence is part of the struggle for democracy. In a whole series of countries of Europe, the advance of fascism has not only made the struggle for national freedom necessary once more – a century and more after the period of the formation of the great national states! – but has made this struggle an indispensable prelude, and part of the struggle for socialism.

German Fascism and Imperialism

The old imperialist powers built their empires at or beyond the rim of the advanced capitalist countries basing them, with very few exceptions, principally upon the rule of the advanced white imperialist over the backward colored colonial slave. The only plausible argument for the progressive character of imperialist rule and expansion, specious though it was in reality, was that they lifted the backward countries and peoples out of their historical stagnation and brought them at least some of the benefits of modern capitalist civilization. The fulfillment of that task was the notorious “white man’s burden.”

German imperialism, in its second incarnation, comes upon the world scene belatedly and in its most reactionary form. With all its boasted strength it has not yet been able to break out of the rim of Europe and into the classic lands of imperialist exploitation. Like the rotten old Austro-Hungarian Empire, it must establish its colonies at home. But German imperialism cannot even put forward the hypocritically plausible argument by which the older imperialisms (British, French, Dutch, American) sought to justify their colonial annexations. The blessings of its “civilization” are to be bestowed not upon backward peoples, stagnating on the sidelines of history, untouched by modern culture, but upon modern, culturally advanced peoples at the very heart of contemporary civilization. It is a striking commentary on the depths of depravity plumbed by moribund capitalism when it must record that in order to live nowadays it finds itself compelled to reduce to a most barbarous colonial slavery tens of millions of advanced and civilized peoples!

That is what fascism has done in the conquered countries of Europe. Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, the Ukraine, White Russia, Yugoslavia, Czechoslavakia, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Luxemburg, Greece – all these are now colonies, to all intents and purposes, of the German Empire. Allied countries, like Rumania, Slovakia, Hungary, which, have a somewhat preferred position in the “New Order,” are not very much different from semi-colonies. Even Italy is threatened with reduction to that level. Continental Europe is now to Germany what the great Asiatic and African empires were, and to a large extent still are, to Great Britain.

The announced economic policy of Germany toward the conquered countries is substantially the same as that pursued by imperialist motherlands toward their far-off colonies: to prevent them from existing or developing as industrially advanced countries, to keep them within a Greater Germany primarily as agricultural hinterlands. The political policy of fascism toward the conquered countries easily matches and often exceeds the colonial cruelties of old and infamous memory. For the “white man’s superiority” the Nazis have substituted the still more aristocratic and more preposterous “Nordic superiority” of the German over all the other peoples.

The conquered countries enjoy no political rights whatsoever. They are all ruled by pro-consuls, supported by massed bayonets and the Gestapo. In some places, particularly in the East, wholesale transplantations of peoples are undertaken for the purpose of dispersing the national community, of atomizing all national coherence. Conquered peoples are placed in the position of legal inferiors, that is, in the eyes of the victor’s law, the German and his subject are not equal. These legal disabilities are only a reflection of the economic, political and social disabilities, discriminations and disfranchisements to which the conquered are subjected. Lack of docility, to say nothing of active resistance, is answered by the most appalling wholesale persecutions, arrests and massacres known in our time. Millions are rounded up for shipment to Germany to be used as slave labor, subjected to conditions at least as cruel as the enslaved diamond miners in England’s African empire.

The closest parallel that can be found is in the records of the most cruel of the classic imperialist systems in the colonies.

Growth of Resistance to Hitler

This enslavement of the workers and peasants is accompanied by corresponding actions against the bourgeois classes. The small merchants, the middle classes, the better-off professionals are dispossessed, expropriated, driven into the ranks of the working class or the peasantry, and their wealth and positions generally turned over to a deserving Nazi, if not of German nationality then to a subservient Quisling. The big bourgeoisie and the ruling governmental bureaucracies of the conquered lands are treated with no more, if any, consideration. The policy of the conqueror has been to confiscate the big bourgeois properties in the conquered countries, or to force their owners to sell them to the German trusts and corporations at ridiculously low sums of money which the involuntary seller is more often than not deprived of by any one of a number of devices employed by the Nazis. Those bourgeois elements who, for one reason or another, cooperate with the conqueror, or make a pretense at cooperating with him, are vouchsafed a privileged position – but privileged only in comparison with the slave position of the traditional native compradore bourgeoisie in the colonies of the East. The aim of the Nazis is not the preservation of Czech capitalism, or Norwegian or French or Belgian or Greek capitalism, but the destruction of all of them in the interests and for the benefit of German capitalism.

This unprecedented regime of totalitarian exploitation and oppression in Europe has generated a mass movement of opposition to the fascist overlord in every country. Under conditions of the all-pervading Gestapo espionage and terror, this movement has not reached the stage of centralized and integrated organization, democratically representative, programmatically equipped, hierarchically construed. It is scattered, atomized, decentralized, isolated, local, inchoate, with very few exceptions. But whatever its form in the different countries, there is no doubt whatever of its composition, the support it enjoys, and the aims it pursues. Its ranks are composed overwhelmingly of the most active and sacrificing workers and peasants; large sections (comparatively) of the petty-bourgeois participate in the illegal groups and the work they carry on or else give them sympathetic support; bourgeois and petty bourgeois intellectuals are also to be found there; so are some of the demobilized military officials, bureaucrats of the conquered regime, members of the clergy; finally, so also are some members of the big bourgeoisie – just how many is hard to tell in the very nature of the movement, but it is reasonable to suppose that their numbers are not great and where they do support the movement it is more with sympathy and financial aid than with direct personal participation. There is no doubt that wherever these groups carry on a struggle against the German oppressor, they enjoy the almost unanimous support of their countrymen. As to their aim, however much the various groups in the various conquered countries may differ on any number of questions, what they have as a common objective may be summed up in the two words: national freedom.

Movements of Independence

Another phenomenon must be recorded along with this one. The working class movement, as an organized independent class movement (unions, political parties, cultural organizations, cooperatives, etc.) exists nowhere in Europe, except in the form of a tradition (a living tradition, to be sure), and in the form of small “cadre” groups, generally isolated from each other. Of cohesive, centralized organizations, there are none, or virtually none. The working class (this applies with ten-fold force to the peasantry) feels atomized and paralyzed from a swift succession of terrific blows: the outbreak of the war it did not want and for which it was unprepared in any sense whatever, the stupefying speedy defeat at the hands of Germany, the shattering of their economic, political and social lives and the crushing installation of the new regime. To think that a working class that has undergone these vicissitudes in the period of three-four years, is just as alert, as vigorous, as militant, as confident as it ever was, is to believe in a special bureaucratic kind of miracle. What these workers want is fairly clear. The inhuman class exploitation to which they are subjected is so thoroughly interlinked with the national oppression of the land, the two are so closely identified in their minds, that the first thing they want, hope and long for, is the restoration of national sovereignty by driving out the fascist invader.

The working class as a whole is still in a sort of strangled stupor. But the most aggressive, most conscious, most heroic elements of that class have already shaken off the mood of defeat and have entered the field of organized struggle in the illegal groups. The intensity of the exploitation and oppression of the conqueror, rising constantly, helps to enlarge the ranks of these groups by driving the more spirited workers to join them, and the indications are that this trend will continue.

It would, however, be a gross error to conceive of the “underground” movement as “classless” or politically uniform.

In the first place, it is more accurate to speak not of a movement but of movements, not of a group but of groups. Despite the difficulties in the way of getting reliable reports from continental Europe, it is sufficiently clear that every political current, from native, anti-Hitler fascist to revolutionary-socialist, is represented in the general movement in varying degrees of strength and popularity. It is also clear that, far from fusing completely with each other, each political current seeks to assemble wider sections of the population, more specifically, wider sections of the underground movement, around its program and its organization and, as speedily as possible, to acquire political and organizational leadership over the underground movement as preliminary for leadership over the people as a whole. There is a general national movement in the conquered countries which enjoys almost universal popular support, not in the sense that it has no program save “national freedom” but in the sense that only this demand is common to all the groups – and no other. All the Polish underground groups are united in their strivings to be rid of the German oppressor; not many of the groups are united on how this is to be accomplished; still fewer among them agree on what kind of free Poland must be established. Similarly for the movement in Yugoslavia, or France, or elsewhere.

In the second place, although there are members of all classes and all social strata in the underground movement, it does not follow that all are equally represented or that they are of equal weight. The bourgeois elements are rarely to be found in the underground movement; those who are not following the course of enthusiastic or ostensible collaboration with the Nazis confine their support of the underground to financial aid and, above all, to direct and indirect efforts to dominate the movement ideologically and politically. What is left of the middle class elements supports, as a rule, the movement for national freedom, but it has neither the tradition nor the stomach for sacrifices on an organized, systematic scale, much less for the exceptional sacrifices demanded of any genuinely anti-fascist movement under Hitlerite rule. The vast majority of the active participants in the underground movement and groups is therefore made up of workers and, to some extent, of peasants. That is, by its social composition the movement is overwhelmingly proletarian. The proletarians in it, generally speaking, have been educated and trained in the socialist, communist or at the very least the trade-union spirit and from the standpoint of the bourgeoisie they retain to a large extent most of their class “prejudices,” even if their class point of view is now heavily tinged by nationalist and even imperialist influences.

In the third place, the workers in the underground movement, as well as the peasants who most often support it, are not striving for national freedom and nothing else, that is, for a return of the status quo ante bellum, that is, for the Poland, the France, the Yugoslavia, the Greece of August 1939. That is the falsehood that the various “governments in exile,” their propagandists and apologists would have the “outside world” believe. The masses want to be rid of foreign rule in order that, under conditions of national independence, they may be able to put their native capitalist class “in its place.” Wide differences undoubtedly exist among the masses as to what the future “place” of the French, Polish, Yugoslav, Greek, Dutch, etc., capitalist classes should be. Views on this score surely range from the vague notion that a “people’s government” should keep firm control over the bourgeoisie to the revolutionary conception of a workers’ government that expropriates the bourgeoisie of all its social power and lays the foundations of socialism. Whatever the precise nature of these views may be, not a single serious report indicates that any substantial section of the people is striving to drive out the German oppressor in order to welcome back with enthusiasm the rulers or the regime they had up to the outbreak of the war.

What Is to Be Done?

What is the task of the revolutionary vanguard?

In the first place, it must find its place right in the heart of this underground popular movement, especially now, when the movement is still in a fluid state politically, before it has become programmatically and organizationally rigid in a bourgeois or petty-bourgeois sense, that is, before any of the bourgeois Or petty-bourgeois political currents in the general movement has succeeded in completely centralizing it and imposing its political program and leadership upon it. This it must do for several reasons:

  1. The aim of this movement, in the very first place, is a just one: it expresses the legitimate aspirations of the masses of people in Europe for freedom from national oppression. As at present constituted, it is for the most part a genuinely popular and democratic movement.
  2. This movement is made up of the most revolutionary and most courageous elements of the population in general, and of the working class in particular. In the struggle for freedom, the weight of the proletariat – due not only to its social position in general, but also to its strategical position in economic life (factories, transportation, communications) – will be greater than that of any other social grouping. The old (and new) trade union activists of diverse political tendencies, who constitute the factory cadres today, will become the leaders of the proletarian wing of the struggle and powerful leaders in the national struggle “as a whole.” It is impossible to influence the revolutionary elements without participating in their struggle and by their side.
  3. This movement is the only serious mass movement in Europe today, and it is impossible for the otherwise completely isolated revolutionary Marxists to establish contact with the masses without becoming part and parcel of this movement.
  4. Precisely because elements from all the social classes participate to one degree or another in this movement, and because all sorts of political views are represented in it (from the extreme right to the extreme left), a social and political differentiation in its midst is absolutely inevitable. Unless the revolutionary Marxists are in the movement from the beginning, it will be impossible for them to accelerate the process of differentiation and influence it in the direction of revolutionary proletarian hegemony and policy. The proletarian forces in the movement will come under the influence and domination of the national bourgeoisie through the medium of the middle class and its ideology. Or, given a favorable development of the situation, and a correct policy by the Marxists, the latter can influence the middle class elements (peasants, small merchants, etc., lower rank army officers, students) through the medium of the working class.
  5. In the same sense, there is at present every good reason to believe that the recreated economic and political mass movement of the workers will have its origin in the underground “national” movement in which the process of differentiation, both social and political, is still incipient. Again, to accelerate its rebirth, to influence its political character, the presence and activity of the Marxists in this movement is indispensable.

The Leadership of Imposters

The participation of the Marxists in this movement is made possible as well as necessary by the fact that it is not yet a homogeneous, centralized political organization, dominated by an organized bourgeois-imperialist or social-imperialist leadership. Far from it! That is what the various “governments in exile” would like to believe, would like to be true; but it is not.

Even if there were not already enough concrete evidence at hand, it would still be reasonable to suppose that various secret rank and file movements in the oppressed countries do not feel they owe any allegiance, much less acknowledge the impudently assumed leadership of the various “governments in exile.” The heroic militants of underground Poland can hardly be expected to acknowledge the Sikorski gang as their leadership, or as the government they yearn to put in power once they have the Hitler gang off their backs! The French fighters are not going through their tenacious resistance to the Gestapo in order to bring gentlemen of the stripe of de Gaulle and de Kerillis into power, to say nothing of the newly-baked democrats like Darlan, Giraud, Peyrouton, Nogues and the rest of the fascist scum drained off from Vichy and already imposed upon North Africa! The protests from the rank and file inside France against the policy of “Darlanism” show that the underground fighters have not abandoned their class view in taking up the banner of national struggle, that they oppose the Nazis not only because they are Germans (i.e., foreign oppressors) but because they are fascists, and that fascists of French birth and under a French flag are not acceptable to the masses at home. They want to drive out the German fascists in order to be able to settle accounts with their own fascists, their own reactionaries. To a greater or lesser degree, that holds true in every other case of the relationship between underground movements at home and the reactionary bankrupts who call themselves “national committees” and “governments” abroad. The latter are working with might and main, and of course with the approval of their Allied masters, to achieve a good stranglehold on the rank and file movement. But thus far they are still far removed from success.

This is not to deny that the underground movements are imbued, for the most part, with democratic-imperialist illusions and prejudices. They are, and this fact represents a grave peril to their revolutionary development. Reactionary elements, from the extreme right to the social-democrats and Stalinists, work night and day to deepen these illusions and prejudices in order to facilitate the establishment of their political and organizational dominion over the movement. But this, too, is still far from accomplished. The presence of the revolutionary vanguard elements in the movement, and above all, a correct policy, are urgently required to counteract reactionary imperialist and social-imperialist currents. Otherwise, the definitive victory of these currents will convert the movement into a reactionary tool of imperialism and nullify its progressive significance.

Inside the movement it is necessary to combat mercilessly the two most dangerous, because relatively most powerful, forces, the imperialists and the Stalinists.

The imperialists seek to convert these movements into obedient, disciplined auxiliaries to the Anglo-American armed forces. The achievement of this aim would mean the corruption of the movement, inasmuch as it would be deprived of any independence of program or movement, would cease to be a popular democratic movement, and become a mere instrument of the imperialist powers. Not only that, but it would cease to be a movement for genuine national freedom, having been converted into a weapon for the restoration of the reactionary empires which existed on the eve of the war, in which Poles oppressed Ukrainians, Lithuanians and Jews, Czechs oppressed Hungarians, Slovaks and Germans, Serbs oppressed Croats, Slovenes and half a dozen other nationalities, in which the Dutch oppressed a vast East Indian empire and the French a no less exploited Asiatic and African empire. Furthermore, the movement would become a means of freeing the now oppressed countries only in order that they, or some of them, might rule a Germany reduced to the level of a colony. How disastrous the domination of the popular movement of resistance by the imperialists can be, is beginning to be illustrated by the consolidation of the control of the Serbian reactionaries, represented by Mikhailovich, over the fighting forces who simply want an end to German tyranny and not the restoration of Greater Serbian national oppression of other peoples. The struggle against the imperialists and their ideologists is a sine qua non to the healthy and progressive development of the national movements in Europe.

The Threat of Stalinism

The seizure of control of these movements by the organized Stalinists – not the sacrificing rank and file militant, but the organised bureaucratic clique – can be no less disastrous for the future of the struggle for national and socialist freedom. A victory over the German oppressor which brought the Stalinist bureaucracy to power would open up the road to a new totalitarian slavery for the just-liberated people. To realize this truth it is only necessary to look at the national oppression and disfranchisement suffered by numerous non-Russian peoples under the totalitarian rule of the Great-Russian autocracy. The revolutionary Marxists must be tireless in their explanations to the workers of the real significance of Stalinism. The idea that because the Stalinists are strong and influential, and not yet completely discredited among the workers, it is correct revolutionary policy to raise the slogan of “Let the Communist Party take power,” is based on a complete misunderstanding of what appears to be a similar slogan raised by the Bolsheviks in Russia in the middle of 1917. When the Bolsheviks called for a Menshevik-Social Revolutionary government (by their slogan of “Down with the Ten Capitalist Ministers”), it was on the basis of the belief that such a government would be a democratic (i.e., a bourgeois-democratic) government, which would allow such democratic political rights to the workers and all other parties, the Bolsheviks included, that the Bolsheviks could sincerely pledge themselves not to resort to violence against that government but confine themselves to persuading the masses propagandistically, utilizing their normal democratic rights. To apply such a tactic to the Stalinists would be absurd. A social-reformist regime is a bourgeois-democratic regime, more or less. A Stalinist regime, call it “proletarian” or anything else, is unmistakably a totalitarian, anti-democratic regime. From all experience, the conclusion flows with unquestionable certainty that whatever such a regime may hold in store for the bourgeoisie, its first action would be the utilization of state power for the promptest possible physical extirpation of the revolutionary proletarian elements, to be followed immediately, if not accompanied, by the destruction of all democratic and independent working class organizations and institutions. The revolutionary Marxists must seek to organize the firmest and bitterest proletarian resistance to the seizure of power by the Stalinists in the present national movements as welt as to the seizure of state power by Stalinist reaction. The triumph of Stalinism can only result in the gutting of the movement for national freedom or proletarian socialism.

It is not enough, however, to resist the deleterious and reactionary tendencies represented by imperialism, social-imperialism and Stalinism. The revolutionary Marxists must elaborate their own positive program in the ranks of the nationalist movement.

A Marxist Program

The Marxists seek, first of all, to establish the hegemony of the proletariat and of proletarian policy in the general movement. They must therefore agitate for the incorporation of progressively bolder economic demands for the workers into the program of the national movement and into its daily activity. If the bourgeois elements, against whom such demands would be directed, at least in pan, threaten to desert the national movement, if the workers press their own class economic demands, it is only proof of the Marxian contention that the bourgeoisie holds its property interests higher and dearer than its devotion to the cause of national freedom.

The working out of a militant, concrete program of economic demands to protect and promote the interests of the workers, is therefore the most urgent task of the revolutionary vanguard inside the national movement. From the standpoint of re-educating and training the proletarian elements to the fulfillment of the great independent class tasks ahead of them, the elaboration of such a class program is of the highest value. It is no less valuable from the standpoint of speeding the process of freeing the working class forces from political and ideological domination by the “national bourgeoisie” and from the reformist and Stalinist factions which preach to the workers the pernicious doctrine of economic and political self-abnegation, self-effacement and self-emasculation in order “not to alienate” the bourgeoisie of their own country, the “good” bourgeoisie which is cooperating in the “national front.” The priority of the working class, of its interests and its program, must be persistently pressed with the greatest emphasis placed upon the idea that all the sacrifices made and energy expended at the present time will have been of little avail if the workers succeed only in exchanging their new slavery for the old slavery.

The same course applies just as forcefully to the question of the peasants. No section of society in Europe has suffered so cruelly from the devastation of the war and the nightmare of fascism as the peasants. The revolutionary socialists must work out a concrete and bold program of economic demands for the peasants, particularly for those in the Eastern and Southeastern countries of Europe, where feudal relations existed side by side with capitalist industry even before the German victories. In general, for these countries, the slogan of destruction of the big landed estates, the land to those who till it, and a moratorium on all debts, is best calculated to satisfy the hunger of the peasant, undermine the position or expectation of the reactionary landlord class, and win the agrarian masses to the side of the urban proletariat.

The “hegemony of the proletariat” in the national movement does not mean the abandonment of the struggle for national liberation in favor of the “purely socialist” struggle, in view of the fact that in the actual movement, “hegemony of the proletariat” would only mean the hegemony of the more advanced elements of the proletariat, who would still have to appeal for the support of the main body of the working class as well as the peasantry. The latter will respond quickly only if the “activist” movement puts at the head of its demands the war cry of national freedom.

On the Slogan of the United States of Europe

The Marxists are distinguished from all other groups because, among other slogans, they put forward the slogan of “the Socialist United States of Europe.” They link this slogan to the call for national independence of the oppressed countries, because they understand that fundamentally it is impossible to establish genuine national and social freedom in Europe except in the form of a socialist united states.

The experience of recent years must be utilized to the full to bring home the fact that there is no way out for Europe except economic and political unification. The unification of Europe under Hitler is in no way progressive because it is the union of slavemaster and slave, imperialism and colony; because its object is to carry on war in permanence, or rather until German imperialism dominates the world; because it is conceived on the theory of contracting the productive forces of the continent to the exclusive benefit of Germany’s productive forces. The European war aims of the Allies are reactionary through and through because they are predicated on the restoration, in one form or another, of the hopelessly un-lifeworthy small-states and vassal sub-empires of pre-war Europe, economically impotent and rent by crises, politically in a state of permanent tension and permanent dependency upon one or more of the big imperialist powers and their “balance-of-power” games. Only a socialist United States of Europe can resolve the problem of a continent being bled white and threatened with ruin and decay. It alone can make an efficient economic unit of the continent, guarantee the maximum of political liberty, and assure an unviolated freedom of cultural development to the multitude of national groups in Europe. No reactionary power or combination of powers anywhere in the world could seriously attack such a union. On the other hand, the examples of progress such a union could assure would have an irresistible effect upon the capitalist world and contribute to its speedy downfall. Short of a socialist union, it is no exaggeration to say that Europe is headed for sure doom.

The revolutionary socialists must now more than ever before lay stress upon this point of view, which is the strategical key to the fundamental problem of Europe today.

However, under the concrete circumstances in Europe today, the slogan of “a Socialist United States of Europe” is primarily a propaganda slogan, which is by no means to be identified with the agitational and action slogan of “national independence” which clearly and simply expresses the wishes of the broad masses. The propaganda slogan is a socialist slogan; the agitation slogan is a democratic slogan. While, in the conception of the Marxists, there is no Chinese wall between these slogans, the two should nevertheless not be identified, used interchangeably or mixed together indiscriminately. The reason has nothing to do with literary distinctions, but with two important political considerations.

First, it is not reasonable to believe, and past experience does not warrant the belief, that the masses of people, having been ground into the dust for years by a dictatorial regime, in which they did not enjoy the slightest semblance of democratic rights, will, upon overturning such a regime, proceed directly to the establishment of an “authoritarian” socialist, proletarian government, which would immediately “break the united democratic national front.” There is even less reason to believe that they will do this in consideration of the fact that most workers and peasants identity a “socialist government” with the horrible caricature of it which is the Stalinist dictatorship. Having been deprived for so long of any democratic liberties, the masses, once they have overturned the Hitlerite despotism, will in all likelihood demand “democracy in general,” that is, bourgeois democracy. To identify “national liberation” with the slogan of the “Socialist United States of Europe,” which means the proletarian dictatorship on a European scale, can only tend to cause the masses to counterpose the struggle for national independence to the struggle for socialism, whereas in reality the fullest accomplishment of the former is possible only by the victory of the latter. This truth must be learned by the masses in the course of their own experiences, however, and not dogmatically imposed upon them in advance by erroneous political pedagogy of the Marxists.

Secondly, the slogan of the “Socialist United States of Europe” was first put forward by the Marxists under conditions when the European proletariat was ready for the socialist struggle for power, but, above all, when Europe was divided into a number of independent states. To believe that this slogan should occupy the same place in the Marxian program and, above all, in the Marxian platform, in the revolutionary transitional demands, now, when Europe is divided into one independent state and a whole series of subject nations, is the sheerest kind of abstractionism and dogmatism, and represents a failure to understand the radical change that has taken place in the European situation. Before the masses can see the “Socialist United States of Europe” as a realistic slogan, they undoubtedly want to have at their disposal independent national states capable of deciding freely whether or not they want to be federated into a continental union. A false line in this respect can easily be interpreted by the masses, or interpreted to them by reformist and reactionary demagogues as an attempt to shift them from one forced continental union in which each people or nation is deprived of its identity, to another union by compulsion, even if the first represented Hitlerite tyranny and the second represents the socialist dictatorship of the proletariat. Here again is seen the error and the great harm that can be done by identifying the democratic slogan for national liberation with the socialist slogan of the United States of Europe. Here again, it is necessary to emphasize that only by speaking and acting as the most resolute champions of unequivocal national liberation for the now oppressed peoples of Europe can the revolutionary Marxists help these peoples learn most speedily from their own experience that true national freedom and equality for all of them can be assured only under the banner of a socialistically united continent and, eventually, a socialist world.

The Role of Democratic Demands

The slogan of national liberty is only one of the democratic demands that the revolutionary Marxists must make their own in Europe, although it is the most important of all the democratic demands that can be made. However, if all the indications point to the probability of a “democratic” interval between the overthrow of Pan-European despotism and the direct struggle for socialist power, it is necessary to put in the forefront other fundamental democratic demands. These demands are aimed at reawakening the combativity and solidarity of the workers and peasants, primarily the former, which must first be raised out of its scattered condition and reconstituted as an active, independent class. The demands that are calculated to help accomplish this end are first of all the right to organize, and with it the right of free press. Without these rights, it is impossible to centralize and unify ideologically the now crushed and atomized working class.

The advancement to the foreground of democratic demands raises the question of what attitude the revolutionary Marxists take toward the reformist movement to re-establish the Weimar Republic, the Third Republic in France and their equivalents in the other European countries. The Marxists are most decidedly not the champions of such movements. They are the champions of democratic working class rule. Nevertheless, it must be recognized that the greater likelihood is that the masses will at first incline to the restoration of bourgeois democracy, with a strong “social” tinge. Given the overwhelming preponderance of proletarian and peasant elements in the national movements, the bourgeois demagogues will (many of them already do) promise that the new independent republics must be the “socially most advanced” in the world. Undoubtedly attempts will be made by the bourgeoisie and their labor aids to keep the working class from continuing with its struggle until it has won class power for itself, by presenting it with a repetition, even a more radical repetition, of Russian Kerenskyism, of the Spanish “workers republic of all the classes,” of the German post-war “socialist” regime which ushered in the Weimar Republic. But there is no reason to believe that the “democratic interval” will or can be more than an interval. That is what must be stressed and stressed all over again, until every thinking worker understands it. If, in the pre-war crisis of European and world capitalism, bourgeois democracy proved unable to solve any serious problem in Germany and was so sickly that it could not last out fifteen years, there are no grounds for believing that in the post-war crisis bourgeois democracy will prove to be stronger and more viable. If the bourgeois-democratic republic could not hold out for five years in Spain before the war, there are no grounds for believing that it will hold out for half that time after the war. Similarly in other countries.

The task of the revolutionary Marxists, therefore, is to explain to the masses, on the basis of their own experiences (which sometimes must be repeated and repeated before their lessons are finally assimilated!), that the democratic rights and democratic institutions which the masses desire cannot be assured by the bourgeoisie in power, but only if the workers continue then- struggle to the end of taking power in their own hands, of ruling through the most democratic and representative bodies, the councils of workers and peasants.

How the relations between the struggle for national freedom and the struggle for socialist power will manifest themselves concretely, depends on a variety of factors and cannot be foretold exactly. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to foresee, on the basis of an analysis of present trends and of accumulated experiences, what will be the most probable course of events in its most general outlines. Even in outline form, however, it may be seen how vitally connected is the struggle for national liberation and the living perspective of the socialist revolution in Europe.

Likely Developments in Europe

The first period after the overthrow of German rule will undoubtedly be the period of “democratic illusions,” to one extent or another, in one form or another. This is the clear lesson of the first 1917 revolution in Russia, the revolution in Germany of 1918, the Spanish revolution of 1931. The power will, so to speak, lie in the streets. The mass will instinctively incline to take hold of it in its own name. Its difficulties will lie in the fact that it is just emerging from a period of non-organization, or only the most fragmentary organization. Organization is precisely what it needs for the seizure and holding of power. The reformist and Stalinist organizations will of course not lead the proletariat to class power. In other words, some interval will undoubtedly elapse before a revolutionary party is properly organized and reaches the leadership of the organized proletariat.

Meanwhile, the bourgeoisie comes out of its hole or returns from exile. Its advantages lie in its greater self-confidence, in its being accustomed to rule, its more intimate contacts, its age-old skill and craftiness. It has wealth at its disposal for the acquisition and control of the means of influencing opinion (press, radio, etc.). It will undoubtedly have at its disposal what is sure to be one of the most powerful social weapons: the food under the control of the imperialists who are planning, long before the event, to use it as an aid to “order,” that is, as a tool of counter-revolution. In the circumstances, the bourgeoisie will probably put forward – for a very brief period of time! – its most “democratic” representatives. It is not at all impossible that in the first days of the “new freedom” the masses, or sections of them, will even be impatient of the “sectarianism” of the extreme left wing which “disrupts” the general jubilation with sharp warnings and with political attacks of the new “democratic government” or “people’s government.”

On the other hand, however, a phenomenon of the highest importance manifests itself. It is the duality of power right in the very midst of the new and by no means stabilized bourgeois regime. To overthrow the regime of national oppression, armed struggle was needed. Even assuming that the burden of this struggle is borne by advancing Allied imperialist troops, a good deal of it will have been accomplished by armed, organized workers who have not been incorporated into regular imperialist formations. There, at the very outset, is the core of the future proletarian army. Despite all democratic illusions, experience has shown that this popular armed force will regard with suspicion and meet with resistance any attempts by the new bourgeois government to disarm it in favor of “regular” troops. Secondly, in the very process of driving out the Germans, the most natural, elementary and immediate step that the workers will take through their factory committees (which will be promptly created if they do not already exist) is to run out all German factory superintendents and managers or those who did the dirty work of the Germans. In most cases, steps will be taken to replace them outright with factory committee control. Immediately, the decisive question faces every worker: Now that the Nazis or pro-Nazis have been driven out of the factories, who is to own arid control them? To be sure, the old owners, especially those who fled when the Germans came, will put in appearance and coolly claim ownership of their property, on legal grounds and on the political grounds that they remained good patriots throughout the trying days. It is incredible that in all or even in most cases, the workers will simply bow to these claims and, without another word, resume work where and how they left off in 1939. In many cases they will demand that the “state” take over the factories and mines and mills, that they be “nationalized.” And, until this is done, they will probably continue to hold the properties “in trust,” under their own control. In other words, the dual power in the factories will exist from the very first day of the “national” revolution.

Combining the National and Socialist Struggles

An example of one of the many and very complex forms that the duality of power may take in the struggle against national oppression is already provided by the situation in Yugoslavia. Already there are two more or less distinct groups conducting the struggle against the Germans. One, led by Mikhailovich as representative of the Yugoslav government in exile in London, is thoroughly imbued with Great-Serbian nationalist-imperialism and simply aims at the restoration of the reactionary Serbian semi-fascist, semi-monarchical rule over the subject peoples who made up the majority of the former Yugoslav empire. It is not accidental that this movement is given official aid and recognition by Anglo-American imperialism. The other movement, the “partisans,” seems – detailed and fully authoritative information is wanting – to be thoroughly plebeian and more or less democratic in composition and aspirations. If, as appears to be the case, it is Stalinist-inspired and largely Stalinist-led, this leadership has not yet had the chance to become as extremely dominant and totalitarian as is undoubtedly the aim of Stalinism, and the indications are that the movement continues to be popular, democratic and organizationally and programmatically fluid. The bourgeois press reports about the “partisans” including in their ranks “Stalinists, Trotskyists and anarchists” are less significant for their accuracy than for what they probably truthfully imply, namely, that it is the political currents and ideologies of the working class that are dominant in this movement, and that these currents are as yet able to contest with each other for influence. What is at bottom the separation of the classes – the duality of power in its most primitive stages – is evident not only in the Yugoslav movement, but to one degree or another in virtually all the other countries.

Once the “national revolution” has triumphed, the struggle begins in earnest between the two class forces in the duality of power. In their resistance to the demands of the workers and peasants, the bourgeois elements in power will not hesitate to call for the armed intervention of big imperialist powers or even to surrender real or nominal power to victorious foreign imperialism in the hope of crushing the masses. The latter will then see more clearly that the national struggle of their own bourgeoisie was only a husk covering the aim of restoring their old class property and power. From realizing this fact to a realization that the national struggle of the masses was only a form within which they too must fight for their class position and power, is not too far a step in the political development of the people. In any case, it is not necessary to predict the course of the struggle or its precise outcome at any given time and in any given place. What is most important is that a favorable outcome for the workers depends primarily upon the degree of political development, the extent of influence, and the correct policy of the revolutionary socialist party that must still be built. The degree of its political development, in turn, will be based not only upon its fulsome participation in the living class struggle but upon the thoroughness with which it has assimilated the fundamental lessons of irreconcilable class struggle tactics and strategy to be drawn from the victorious Bolshevik revolution, on the one side, and from the vanquished revolutions in Germany in 1918–19, in Spain in 1931–36, etc., etc.

The intimate connection between the “national revolutions” and the socialist revolutions is realized almost everywhere by the bourgeoisie, but above all by Anglo-American imperialism and by the Stalinist bureaucracy. The imperialists are already preparing for a variety of concrete situations and are working out the policies and instruments suitable for each of them. Special schools have already been set up for the political training of military administrators to rule countries and territories “liberated” from Nazi rule; other schools are engaged in training special occupational police. It is not hard to foresee that in the event the Allied armies are victorious in the war, attempts will be made to use them as the enforcers of “law and order,” as was so widely the case in the First World War. At the top, feverish but organized and deliberate steps are being taken to gain maximum assurances of the essentially conservative, if not outrightly reactionary, character of the regimes to be established in the “liberated” territories, Germany included. That – and not some episodic considerations of military expediency – is the fundamental reason for the policy of Darlanism. Anglo-American imperialism is perfectly well aware that the “national revolutions” open wide the door to socialist revolutions. It is therefore determined from the very beginning to insure itself against the victory of the people by imposing upon them such tried and true conservatives and reactionaries as are today represented in the various governments in exile and national committees in exile, all of which together cover only the very short political range between de Gaulle, Wilhelmina, Haakon, Otto Habsburg and Peyrouton, Sikorski, George of Greece, Mikhailovich and their similars. These candidate-rulers and candidate-dictators are being assured in advance of military support against their own people by imperialism. At the same time, extensive preparations are being made to blackmail the resurgent and insurgent peoples with threats of starvation if they do not observe “law and order.” Food stores, food distribution, these are being organized with an eye to tomorrow in Europe, and there is no doubt that it can be converted into a formidable weapon against the socialist working class and the socialist state.

The International Character of the Struggle

From this standpoint, a tremendous responsibility lies upon the shoulders primarily of the British and American working class. A series of revolutions in Europe is a certainty. To a large extent, however, it depends upon the workers of the two big imperialist lands whether these revolutions succeed – and the world rises to a new height – or they are strangled in the egg by imperialist intervention and blackmail – and the world is hurled to a new depth. Active, aggressive international solidarity, in deeds as well as in words, is mandatory upon the Anglo-American working class in this connection. For the European workers, who stand on the threshold of great decisions, this solidarity is an indispensable ingredient in the formula of victory.

Just as the European masses must be exceedingly watchful of the machinations of the imperialist powers now playing the role of “benefactors” of the oppressed on the continent, so too must they be vigilant against the plans and actions of a much more subtle, and therefore more dangerous, enemy, Stalinism. The Kremlin machine understands better than anyone else the significance and potentialities of the various national movements and groups and struggles in Europe today. Everywhere on the continent its representatives and agents penetrate the underground and fighting movements. In some countries, especially in the East and Southeast of Europe, there is no lack of substantial material aid, in the form of money, arms and other equipment of warfare. In the border countries above all (but not exclusively), Stalinist propaganda persistently insinuates the idea that the masses must look to the Kremlin as their liberator, protector and patron. The Russian bureaucracy does not for one minute intend to surrender these prizes of war to its Anglo-American partners without a struggle! These countries are rich booty not only for London but also for Moscow. Indeed, some of the authoritative Stalinist spokesmen in the United States are already speaking pretty openly about the desirability and even inevitability of Moscow being the center for all of Eastern Europe, that is, of the Stalinist bureaucracy being given Eastern and perhaps Southeastern Europe as its “sphere of influence,” that is, as its imperialist stamping ground, as its share of the imperialist spoils. There is no doubt that these voices will grow bolder to the extent that Russia’s military position improves, and will tend to wane to the extent that the position of Anglo-American imperialism improves. The appetites and aims of the Stalinist bureaucracy will not alter substantially, however. It seeks to enhance its economic and political class position, its domestic and foreign status, by extending its reactionary rule as far as possible – not only in Europe but in Asia as well. The revolutionary socialists, who understand the true significance of Stalinism, must combat it and its influence in the national movements and most particularly in the ranks of the working class with relentlessness and patience, in political education and in action, stressing and explaining how the extension of Stalinist rule means the swallowing up of new millions of workers by the new slavery it represents.

Again and again the Marxist vanguard must emphasize that the struggle for democratic demands and for socialist power are not in contradiction to each other. They must understand how to prevent bourgeois and reformist politicians from representing these two struggles to the masses as mutually exclusive. The revolutionary movement cannot be regrouped and consolidated, cannot reach once more the position of leader of the workers and peasants without absorbing the fundamentally important conception that the masses can be set into motion again primarily on the basis of democratic demands. The link between that struggle and the victory of socialism is represented by the fact that the democratic and social aspirations of the masses cannot be achieved fully, cannot be guaranteed against reactionary assault and loss, unless the masses continue their struggle to the point of taking power into their own hands. Once that is accomplished and with a revolutionary Marxian party in the leadership, the advance to socialism is the inevitable sequel.

In the national movements, the question of their general and specific relationships toward Allied imperialism in the war is of vital importance. It is of the same importance to the revolutionary vanguard. The first thing to understand is that it is not at all settled that these movements will be mere tools of imperialism and not develop a full independence of their own. The decision, one way or the other, will be arrived at only after considerable internal struggle, accompanied by a deep-going process of differentiation. The second thing to understand is that the revolutionary and proletariat elements must fight tooth and nail in these movements for the attainment of their complete political and organizational independence from the imperialist powers and from alliances with these powers.

The third thing to understand is that just as the main enemy of the people in occupied China is Japanese imperialism so the main (not the only, but the main) enemy of the people in occupied Europe is Hitlerite imperialism. The workers in the national movements therefore should not hesitate to come to practical agreements with Allied imperialism, or its agents or representatives, by which they are provided with material aid and supplies for the struggle. That means, furthermore, that the line of policy advocated by the revolutionists in these movements includes the advice to take all the arms that may be put at their disposal in the event of an invasion of the continent by the Allied armies. It is to be assumed that the latter will immediately endeavor to subordinate the rank and file partisans to the commands and the complete political and military control by imperialism. It is even likely that in the first period, at least, the imperialists will have little difficulty in realizing their program with regard to the national movements. In that case, the struggle for the latter will be part and parcel of the general inter-imperialist conflict, toward which the revolutionary internationalists have already established their fundamental attitude. However, they have no right to assume that this, the worse variant, is a foregone conclusion. They must double and redouble their work toward the end of fortifying the independence of the national movements, which can be achieved only under the militant class leadership of the proletariat. Under conditions of proletarian leadership of the national movements, it is possible to make the most profitable use out of the military vicissitudes and conflicts of the imperialists, at present as well as in the case of the famous “second front.”

In other words, in Europe, as in the colonies, the struggle for national independence can be assured against degeneration into a subordinate, an auxiliary, an integral part of the imperialist war – thus depriving it of its progressive significance – only under the leadership of the proletariat. But such a leadership, and its infusion with a revolutionary ideology, cannot be assured unless the Marxists know how to grasp and operate the most powerful lever now available in Europe for setting the masses of the people in motion in a forward direction – the lever of the struggle for national liberation. Only by effectively employing this lever can the oppressive yoke be lifted from the shoulders of the enslaved peoples of Europe so that they can once more set foot on the highway leading toward the triumph of socialism.

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Last updated on 13 February 2015