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James Burnham

Their Government

(20 September 1939)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 72, 20 September 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Anglo-French propaganda machine is daily putting out – usually under the dateline of neutral capitals – stories of mass discontent within Germany. We are told that there have been numerous strikes, protest movements and desertions.

At the same time, British planes have been dropping within Germany millions of leaflets which blame Hitler for the war and call upon the German people to get rid of Hitler and Hitlerism.

Chamberlain’s efforts in this direction have been notably supplemented by the British labor leaders, who have been addressing messages and radio broadcasts, along similar lines, to the German people.

It is, of course, impossible to judge whether there is any truth in these stories of German internal dissension. We know that there are in Germany many millions of workers and peasants who have never been reconciled to Nazism. They have bowed down to it only because of terror and the threat of terror, and because their means of opposition – their parties and independent unions – have been smashed. At the same time, there are even more millions of peasants and many workers who have, for a while at least, accepted Nazism, as a last resort, with a kind of mystic and despairing hope.

It is certain that the first group, in whose hearts still live the traditions of Marxism, and a large section of the second will one day break into open opposition and finally revolt against the Nazi regime. But the experiences of history make it unlikely that this is commencing to any extent so soon. It will need to be stimulated by the ever-increasing war hardships, growing casualty lists, military setbacks, and, above all, by signs of international support for a movement against the war.

The Effects of Treachery

What is most necessary of all to understand is that the effect of Chamberlain’s and particularly of the British labor leaders’ “anti-Hitler” agitation, far from hastening the process of revolt within Germany, is to strengthen Hitler. There is no paradox here; it could not be otherwise.

In the first place, this agitation, accompanying the military attacks on the German mass-armies and the economic blockade, enables Hitler to say to the German workers: “You see, everyone is against Germany and against you. This agitation is merely a trick whereby your enemies supplement their guns and their economic strangulation. You have only me to rely upon, me and our united German strength.” He says this, and under the circumstances it must appear to the German workers to be the case.

But when, to the voice of Chamberlain is added that of the British and French labor leaders, the German worker – even without prompting from Goebbels – is compelled to reason to himself as follows:

“Not only are the imperialist governments of Britain and France united to crush Germany. I am deserted also by my brothers and fellow-workers in France and England. Instead of joining with me to overthrow the whole imperialist war-system, my fellow-workers are willingly and eagerly fighting for their own imperialist governments in order to defend the colonies and possessions of Britain and France. What hypocrisy when they tell me, by leaflet and radio, to overthrow Hitler but at the same time support their own robber-masters. Hitler is bad enough, but shall I give him up merely to become the slave of British and French plunderers?”

Stalin Does His Bit

Such a reaction is deepened a hundred-fold by the infamy of Stalin. The effect of the Stalin-Hitler alliance on the consciousness of the German workers is the most terrible of all its consequences.

In spite of everything, the Soviet Union had appeared to the German workers as their hope and their great ally which would when the day came be at their side to aid in throwing Nazism from their backs.

With the signing of the pact and the subsequent proofs that it is a broad alliance, they see Stalin also lined up not with them against their tyrant but as the chief aid of that tyrant.

How to Help the German Workers

We see here the full measure of the crime of social-patriotism. The soical-patriots in England, France and the United States are, in actuality, the main bulwarks of Hitler.

There is only one way in which we can help the German workers to overthrow Hitler and Hitler-ism: by refusing to support our own governments and their war, by carrying on our struggle agatast the enemy in our own country.

If we do this, then the German workers will know that they have allies who are neither hypocritical nor treacherous, who are fighting on the same side of the same war. They will take courage from the example of their fellow-workers in other lands, and Hitler’s demagogy will prove empty and sterile.

Every word that a labor leader in this country says in support of Roosevelt’s war machine and his war plans is worth an armored regiment to Hitler. Every word and deed against Roosevelt’s war is a nail in Hitler’s coffin.

Do we wish to make this in reality the war to end fascism? Then, for us, the answer is clear: Against Roosevelt and his war; for the international struggle of the workers of all nations to destroy imperialism and build a world socialist order.

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