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Henry Judd

Europe: Released Reporters Tell of Discontent

(May 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 21, 25 May 1942, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A group of American newspaper reporters have reached the Portuguese city of Lisbon, where they will be exchanged for Axis internees in the United States. All of these men were prisoners in Germany and Italy from the date of America’s entrance into the Second World. War.

In the comparative freedom of London these men have sent a series of dispatches describing conditions of wartime life in the Axis nations. Even if we allow for a certain patriotic exaggeration, it is clear that their descriptions represent a good deal of the truth.

In great detail they describe the enormous shortages of goods, the intense and ever-growing rationing of all normally used commodities, the growth of Black Market racketeering to wholesale proportions; the discontent of the workers with the unfair distribution of war burdens upon them, etc.

The military machines of Germany and Italy are both obviously on the down-grade. Not only is this due to the enormous losses of on the Russian front (particularly for Germany), but to shortages of war materials – oil, coal, magnesium, copper, tin, rubber, material for uniforms, etc. As Reynolds Packard, one of the correspondents, points out, Hitler maintains his economic stranglehold on Italy by supplying 1,000,000 tons of coal to her each month.

They are careful to emphasize, however, that the German war machine is still a formidable force with 12,000,000 men in the fighting services: 7,600,000 in the Army, 1,500,000 in the Air Force and Navy, and 3,000,000 in the Labor Corps. Joseph W. Grigg states that Germany still has 35,000 planes, but the monthly output has dropped to between 1,100 and 2,500.

Although reserve supplies of food and basic raw materials still manage to hold out, the descriptions of life in the fascist countries (and particularly in the occupied territories) indicate that livings standards are rapidly approaching an all-time low for Europe. There is very little tobacco, nightly blackouts are longer to save electricity, restaurants close at 10 p.m., two eggs a month are allotted in Germany (an egg is 28 cents in Italy!), all fairs and expositions in Germany are cancelled, metal coins are withdrawn from circulations, seats in the Berlin and Breslau trolley cars were removed to permit more overcrowding, etc., etc.

Problem of Foreign Workers

It is worth noting that the problem of foreign workers dragooned into Germany from Belgium, Holland, France, etc., by all the sly tricks of the German Gestapo has become a major concern of the Nazis. Every method is used to keep the foreign workers apart from the German workers. Nazi decrees forbid association, talking, inviting one another to their homes, etc. The idea is put out that the foreign workers are a defeated people, inferior to the German workers. But, as Labor Action, in the column of Europe in Revolt has reported on numerous occasions, this effort to keep them apart does not work.

Italy appears to be worst off, with the greatest shortages and the lowest military and civilian morale. People are completely indifferent to the war and get no satisfaction out of even the Japanese victories. Mussolini’s prestige is lower than ever in his history. Living standards in Italy are apparently almost as bad as those in the occupied territory of Poland, France, Belgium and the Balkans. As Herbert L. Matthews puts it: “It would be a great mistake to believe that the Italians are any less brave than other races. The point is that they simply will not fight unless their heart is in it.” Clearly, there is no war enthusiasm inside the Axis nations.

Europe, in its third year of bloody struggle, is approaching the break-down point. The standards of living have reached just about the lowest point possible without a general collapse along the economic front; the production of war equipment and war products has reached its highest possible peak; there are many signs that the methods of circulation and distribution (especially the German railroads) have begun to disintegrate. It is obvious that another war winter in Europe can only mean mass starvation, epidemics and a chaos such as was never known even in the last war. This seems to be the general meaning of the numerous details described by the released correspondents.

This is the state of affairs to which Europe and its people have come as a result of capitalism and its imperialist war. Only the revolt of the people, headed by the workers of Europe, can lift the nations of Europe out of their collapse and misery and put an end to the war. The present deterioration cannot continue.

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