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The New International, December 1944

Notes of the Month

The Struggle for Europe


From The New International, Vol. X No. 12, December 1944, pp. 387–390.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Europe is bleeding to death in the most futile war of modern history. Not even the shadow of an excuse for supporting Allied imperialism in the war as a “lesser evil” has been left under the light which the Allies now cast so clearly on their real character and aims. In the First World War, the hollowness, cynicism and deceit of the shibboleths of imperialism were perceived by the people only after the war ended and one of Wilson’s fourteen points after the other went into the discard. The disillusionment of the people with the Atlantic Charter of Messrs. Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin grows every day without waiting for the war to end. Hitler never succeeded in duping the masses with the murder-regime which he called his “New Order.” The revolutionary Marxists were too weak to enlighten more than a small section of the people as to the true nature of the war. The Allied leaders, however, who have, much to Hitler’s relief, effectively replaced Goebbels in the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda, are now doing more to reveal the truth about the war to the masses, and doing it sooner, than the revolutionary Marxists expected or themselves hoped to do.

Who has the right to doubt it any longer: the war in Europe is being fought to decide who will enslave the continent. The stakes, in the long run, are of course even more important. The master of Europe today is the master of the world tomorrow. Right now, at any rate, the struggle for world mastery is being fought in Europe as a struggle for Europe.

A Reactionary Division

The division of Europe into more than a score of countries was reactionary, a barrier to further progress, as early as 1914. When the Second World War broke out, it was a downright anachronism. The socialist proletariat had been disoriented, demoralized and prevented by its leadership from performing the task of uniting Europe on a progressive basis. This did not make the task any less urgent. It is often the case that an historical problem which demands solution and is not solved in a progressive manner, is solved in a reactionary manner. The “solution,” that is, really leaves the problem fundamentally unresolved, forces the problem to the top at a later stage and in a new form, and meanwhile aggravates all other problems and adds new ones to boot. The proletarian movement having failed to unite Europe progressively, the continent was united nevertheless – by Nazi reaction, the most concentrated expression of German imperialism. The hopeless weakness of artificially divided Europe was underscored by the almost instantaneous collapse of the national boundaries under the blows of the biggest continental power.

Germany broke down the frontier lines which prevented the further development of Europe. She organized all the countries into a single economic and political machine. But the machine worked only to produce the means of destruction. And the ruling regime was of such a despotic nature that, far from succeeding in establishing stability, it generated a tremendous popular movement of resistance in all the occupied countries which was as much a manifestation of this instability as a guarantee of its perpetuation. The reactionary character of the “solution” of Europe’s problem was revealed, among other things, in the fact that it gave birth to a revolutionary movement whose first aim was to expel the invader from the occupied lands, that is, to restore the national frontiersl As was foreseen and forecast, the union of Europe under the aegis of reaction was foredoomed to failure.

What warrants calling the movement of resistance “revolutionary”? Dogmatists who mistakenly call themselves Marxists found this characterization erroneous, even – it is hard to believe this in the light of events! – opportunistic. In their eyes, evidently, a movement deserves this name only if it was planned on their blueprints, organized” under their acknowledged leadership, and set in motion from the very beginning with their “finished” and “unalterable” program consciously, openly and unambiguously inscribed on its banner. Such movements have been set to paper, but have never left it. By and large, the movements of national resistance that grew up spontaneously in struggle against the Nazi forces of occupation were revolutionary because:

They aimed – unlike the imperialist armies opposing Germany – not at the restoration of the status quo, including the rule of the old capitalist class, but at following the expulsion of the invader with the establishment of “their own” government, even of a “socialist” government, one operating in their own interests.

The change in the European working class following the first period of the Nazi victories was radical and profoundly important. Up to 1939, it had followed the policies of social-democratic or Stalinist reformism, Popular Frontism. The “Popular Front” was a bureaucratic combination at the top; it was a purely parliamentary, reformist mechanism; it was aimed at preventing revolutionary mass action and thwarting the desire of the masses to come to decisive grips with fascism and, above all, with the bourgeois state. The will of the masses to struggle was drained off into innocuous ballot boxes and impotent parades. In contrast, the national revolutionary movements that sprang up throughout Europe were really revolutionary.

To be sure, a past so heavily laden with massively sown confusion and illusions is not thrown off overnight. It is just as sure that while social-democracy is historically outlived and outworn, its reformist and conservative ideology lives on nonetheless, permeates millions of workers and, either in its traditional form or in the peculiar form given it by Stalinism, blocks the development of a clear-cut socialist consciousness. This fact was also to be observed in the revolutionary resistance movement. It accounted in large measure not so much for its “alliance” with the imperialist bloc of Washington-London-Moscow, but, what was and is far more dangerous, its “reliance” upon this bloc.

Allies Destroying Illusions About Themselves

The most recent events in Europe are serving at least one good purpose in this respect. With the same inexorableness that imperialism pursues and reveals its real aims in the war, it is helping destroy the illusions which caused the masses to place any degree of reliance in its beneficent pretensions. After France, Belgium; after Belgium, Greece and Poland. It will not be long before even the most deluded understand that not only are the Allies fighting as a bloc against German imperialism for the domination of the continent as the base from which to dominate the entire world, but there is a muted, but increasingly open, struggle among themselves for this domination. Among the masses of Europe, the understanding is growing that, far from being their allies in the struggle against enslavement, the Allied powers are rival slave-herders, rivals of German imperialism and rivals of each other. With the growth of this understanding will inevitably come the understanding that Europe, as a cultural community, must defend itself from degradation and destruction and that the surest safeguard of national freedom lies in the voluntary and fraternal union of all the European nations and peoples.

From their inception, the national resistance movements were overwhelmingly working class in composition and revolutionary in temper and method. They therefore constituted no less – although not as immediate – a threat to Allied imperialism than to Axis imperialism. The Allied leaders were as much aware as anyone that these movements, directed against the Nazis and their Quislings, nevertheless did not aim at restoring the power of those who ruled the countries of Europe in 1939. The failure of the multitude of national frontiers to bar the onrush of German imperialism was at the same time the failure of a class. To one degree or another, this has been understood by the masses of the “underground movements” since they came into existence. Only the absence of a revolutionary party has prevented this understanding from acquiring its clearest and profoundest expression in a socialist class consciousness.

The Allied victory in France and Belgium therefore did not eliminate the problem of the mass movement but only lifted it to a new stage. Only the presence of the German invader seemed to give the movement its “purely national” form. Once the invader was driven out, the movement, significantly enough, did not quietly dissolve into individual fragments or permit itself to be indistinguishably incorporated into the regular imperialist military formations. It did not simply hail with enthusiastic relief those who had ruled before the World War broke out and who now returned from exile to take up their traditional powers. On the contrary, the expulsion of the Germans only posed in acute form the burning question: Who will rule France (or Belgium, or Greece, or any of the other occupied countries) now? How will it be ruled? In whose interests? Do we return to the former system, the former rulers, the former road, or do we go forward to new ones? If the old rulers could take some comfort from the knowledge that the masses do not fully realize what the new system and the new road should be, they can draw little comfort from the incontestable fact that the masses know well enough what they do not want.

The Disarming of the People

An armed people is a permanent threat to the rule of an exploiting minority. The first and principal problem of the returning “liberators” has therefore been the disarming of the national revolutionary movements or, what is tantamount to the same thing, their partial or complete incorporation into the controlled and “safe” regular armies. After decades of reformist training, millions of people in Europe learned, in the most concentrated and painful form, the power and effectiveness of arms which they freely control and are able to use as they themselves see fit. The whole “Quisling system” helped teach the masses that in self-defense they must use these arms not only against the enemy from the outside but also from enemies native to their own land. Their very “allies,” imperialist to the core that they are, dinned into their ears and minds the lesson that arms are an imperative necessity for life itself.

No wonder then that any proposal, no matter who makes it, for them to surrender their arms or disband their fighting companies is met with suspicion at the worst and outright hostility at the best.

What is the native, “liberated” bourgeoisie, those who returned from abroad as well as those who remained at home working for the Nazis and who are now so busy refurbishing themselves, to do in such a situation? Power of its own, it has none. The lower middle classes upon whom it counted traditionally for its mass support – to say nothing of the working classes – are still sympathetic with the revolutionary movement which bore the brunt of their common battle against the expelled conqueror. An army of its own, it has none, or next to none. For armed “native” support, it can count as a rule on little more than the old police force, most or all of whom, as in Greece, served the Nazi master with true police zeal. And masses of armed men who are attached to their arms (unlike the average soldier in the imperialist armies, whose most ardent desire is to be demobilized), especially men who are at once militant, self-confident and suspicious, cannot be disarmed by oratory or decree.

Yet disarmed they must be. Today is bad enough for the bourgeoisie. Tomorrow can easily get worse. To “restore economic life,” the class brethren must unite – de Gaullist as well as collaborator. This is easier said than done in face of an armed people which demands justice against the Quislings and even enforces this justice itself. Food must be distributed. The armed people are a threat to iniquities in this field which are inevitable under capitalist rule. Factories must be restored to their “proper owners” in order that the sanctity of private property is observed. But among other things, the “proper owners” were, sad to relate, collaborators for the most part, and the people demand that they be punished and their property nationalized; and are ready to emphasize their demand with pistol and machine gun. In a word, again, they must be disarmed.

Who is to disarm them? The ruling class? But, as noted, it has no serious armed force at its disposal. It is not at all an accident but in the nature of the situation that has developed in one decaying capitalist country after another in Europe that the bourgeoisie must call for armed force from the biggest imperialist powers. This call meets with a perfect response, which is likewise in the nature of the situation. The response is in harmony with the inherent tendency of the bigger capitalist powers to establish their rule, in one form or another, over the smaller “powers.” This tendency is not simply elemental; it is implemented by conscious plan. Control of Europe today is control of the world tomorrow. Exploitation of Europe today is exploitation of the world tomorrow.

The notion, carefully cultivated by the American imperialist press, that the armed assaults of the Allies upon the popular resistance movements are peculiar only to British imperialism, and perhaps to Russian imperialism, but under no circumstances to benevolent and altruistic Uncle Sam, is of course the most refined kind of hypocritical fraud. The disarming of the Belgian resistance movement was undertaken upon orders from General Eisenhower. More important is the fact that American imperialism has been a direct participant, and therefore accomplice, in the decisions made from time to time among the “Big Three” for the division of the spoils of Europe, as the very much beset Mr. Churchill has recently reminded everyone with considerable exasperation. The special aims of American imperialism deserve special treatment, however. They will become clearer from an analysis of the latest occurrences with regard to Greece and Poland.

The Conflict in Greece

The aims of the Greek people are anything but mysterious. They want what they fought for, which is, first of all, their complete national independence. National independence means to them not only the ousting of the Germans, but also of the British, who have squeezed enough gold and blood out of the people in their time, and of the Greek agents of the British. The aims of British imperialism are likewise no mystery. Control of Greece is vital to it not only for the economic exploitation of the country but because it is one of the many posts along the lifeline of the British Empire.

Churchill’s fury at the developments in Greece undoubtedly stems from an honest sense of outrage, directed not so much at the people of Greece – from them he could easily have expected what happened; for them he already had the policy which he has practised all his life – as it is directed at Roosevelt and the “warrior marshal,” Stalin. Both of them were present, at Teheran, along with Churchill. Both of them agreed to allow Britain her domination of Greece, in return for spoils for themselves elsewhere and in other forms. Churchill rightly feels that he has been traduced by Washington, in one way, and by Stalin, in another.

This is not to say that the uprising in Greece against Britain’s puppet, Papandreou, was engineered purely and simply by the Stalinists who act as Moscow’s faithful agents. There is no ground for such a view; on the contrary, the genuinely spontaneous and popular character of the movement is pretty well established. Exactly what were the role and aims of the Stalinists is not quite clear. Was the movement of the masses so strong that it dragged the Stalinists along? Or did the Stalinists, for their own reasons, merely stimulate a movement that was already afoot? In either case, Churchill is infuriated at the spectacle of Stalin’s agents carrying on open warfare against Britain to deprive it of territory which the same Stalin, not so long ago, so graciously acknowledged as a British slave-pen. And equally furious (and equally impotent!) against Washington, which so hypocritically pretends to be horrified at actions of the British which Washington was aware of in advance and which, in a sense, it made possible, but for which it carefully declines to take direct responsibility in the eyes of the people, both here and abroad. The Grand Alliance of Democratic Thieves hasn’t much solidarity or loyalty, except when its common interests are threatened by an interloper.

The aims of Russian imperialism are also clear. For downright cold-bloodedness and cynicism it has no equal. It can oppose or support or even initiate popular uprisings with equal equanimity, always in accordance with its reactionary interests. The “disturbances” in Greece are not without interest to Moscow, which maintained a silence on them that only added to the exasperation of Churchill, who felt he had a right to Russia’s aid in suppressing the people. Moscow is obviously determined to dominate the Balkans. In Romania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, the GPU is already a dominant power, if not the dominant power. Moscow wants a direct outlet to the Mediterranean, which it can have either by subjugating Turkey or by acquiring Salonika, under the guise of establishing an “autonomous united Macedonia” as part of the “free confederation of Balkan peoples” which Marshal Tito (read: Marshal Stalin) is advocating already.

But the Balkans are only part of the Russian plan and not even the most important part. Not less than half of Europe under the heel of the GPU – that would be a more accurate picture of the aims of the Russian bureaucracy which has gained so greatly in strength, in appetite and in self-confidence since the war began. That requires, first of all, complete domination of hapless Poland. We may be a long time in knowing, from “legal documents,” the extent to which the Stalinists supported the uprising in Greece against Britain in order to prod Churchill into making his public disavowal of the Polish government in exile in London and acknowledgment of Stalin’s “rights” to Poland. But only a legal cretin need wait that long. Enough material is already available, especially the material provided by Churchill himself. Stalin’s own Gestapo, masquerading thinly as the “Lublin Committee,” may already have proclaimed itself the “provisional government” of Poland by the time this issue is printed. Of Poland alone? No, also of most of Eastern Germany, to a line within a mere few miles of Berlin. Fortunately, before this heinous crime can be perpetrated, even the mighty Russian bureaucracy will have to deal with the revolutionary popular movement in Poland itself, a movement which never made peace with the Nazis and which the latter could not wipe out; a movement which Stalinism has thus far at least failed to corrupt or destroy. De Gaulle, in the hope of bettering the hopeless position of the French bourgeoisie in the ruthless imperialist division of the spoils, may lightly sell Poland to Stalin in exchange for assurances of support against England and the United States. The Polish workers and peasants, if they must sell themselves to Stalin, about whose system and aims they have learned so much, will sell themselves very dearly!

Aims of American Imperialism

The United States pursues a policy all its own. The conflict between its interests and those of Britain increase in number and are familiar. They are listed and analyzed in the article by Ernest Lund which appears in this issue. But it would be erroneous to conclude from this conflict that the United States and Russia are operating more or less in common against England. American imperialism plays, can play and must play a role of its own in Europe, a role peculiar to itself. What can Russia offer the countries it seeks to dominate? Prosperity? It cannot even feed its own slaves. To dominate, it must rule at least as brutally as it does at home. What can England offer the European countries it seeks to dominate? Food – which it gets from the United States? “Reconstruction” loans – out of a treasury which is kept going by the United States? The protection of their Asiatic and Pacific colonies – by MacArthur’s armies and Nimitz’s fleets? The miserable state of British imperialism is only emphasized by its panic-stricken, desperate, brutally bloody assault upon the Greek people, which differs in no respect from the assaults of the Nazis.

America, however, has food and is ready to offer some crumbs. America has loans, and is ready to offer them under proper “guarantees,” including perfectly legal interests, plus some super-interests, plus the mortgaging of factories and plants and banks, plus the kind of governments which can be depended upon to “maintain order.” The United States has a much more ambitious aim than either Britain or Russia, each of which wants but half a Europe apiece – Washington wants all of Europe, subservient economically and politically to American finance capital.

But to realize this not very modest plan, America needs a Europe which is independent – independent of the domination of either Russia or England, but not at all independent of Washington and Wall Street! American imperialism has no desire to deal with the stricken nations of Europe through the intermediary of Moscow or London. It has had enough disconcerting experience with that sort of thing whenever it thought of dealing, say, with the Ukraine or, say, with India. America’s apparent conciliatoriness toward Russia is due only to the fact that it cannot by itself tell the Russians off. This is especially difficult if Russia can utilize the conflict between America and England to make deals with the latter against the former. If Washington policy in recent times has seemed to be harsher toward crippled British imperialism (for example, the Stettinius statement on Italy in connection with Churchill’s veto of Count Sforza’s ministerial candidacy), this is due to the American plan first to humble and harness the British in order then to be able to “put Russia in her place,” that is, to keep her as well as England out of Europe so that the continent may be reduced to a preserve of American imperialism. The unfolding of events in the next period will, we are convinced, only emphasize the accuracy of this analysis of the aims and policies of the Allied “partners.”

But Europe is not so easily disposed of! Europe is not the backwater of the world. Millions of modern, cultured people inhabit it, and the continent has been the scene of revolutions which have always imperilled the plans of imperialism and often thwarted them. The peoples of Europe will not easily allow themselves to be dismembered and enslaved. This lesson even Hitler has been taught. In Belgium, France, Italy, Greece and Poland, the peoples are beginning to teach the same lesson to the Allied bandits, singly and severally. Europe will be a cauldron long before it is a grave. The task of the revolutionary Marxian movement is to see to it that it becomes the grave of imperialism itself.

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