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Henry Judd

America’s Role In Europe

The National Question in the Post-War Era

(January 1946)

From New International, Vol. 12 No. 1, January 1946, pp. 5–8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

[The article printed below is the first in a series of four articles dealing with the Europe of today. Succeeding articles will be concerned with England and its Labor Government; France in 1946 and “The Germanies.” In this related series, the author is not primarily concerned with descriptions of Europe’s major countries, but rather with questions of American imperialist penetration into Europe, the status and perspective of the labor movement in the Europe of 1946, and new aspects of the “national question” since the end of the war. Henry Judd has recently returned from a year and a half in Europe. – EDITORS]


It is almost impossible to imagine the low and sunken state of Europe as it enters the dreaded winter of 1945-46. Early snows are covering the ruined cities, concealing the rubble and dirt, but every European and every soldier who has passed through the broken Continent knows what is beneath. Soon a full year will have gone by since Europe emerged from history’s most terrible war into what Time has called “history’s most terrifying peace.” The revolutionary truism that the war has ended in name only is so apparent as to need no stressing. In terms of restrictions upon liberties and democratic rights; persecutions of minorities and national groups; the violent wrenching of masses of people from one area and their dispersion to another; the widespread employment of slave laborers – in a word, in terms of everything that made the war ultra-reactionary and hated by the simplest individual, the war continues as though the “ceasefire” order had not been heard. The cannonading and the bombing have halted, the general staffs are receding to their traditional hidden recesses, but the Continent – divided against itself as never before – rocks and heaves. The totalitarian, Bonapartist and reactionary political regimes have simply replaced the general staffs.

Chaos and disintegration are the two words that apply to Europe, and these tendencies are apparent in every aspect of Europe’s post-war life. Not merely did capitalism and imperialism devastate Europe during five and a half years of war, shattering its entire economic structure, but – and here is the main point that concerns us – it is plunging Europe as a whole toward even lower levels and has proven itself incapable of any serious recovery efforts or steps toward reconstruction. The living standards of Europe’s masses have reached an incredible low, particularly when we realize that we are dealing with the historic continental-center of social, cultural and moral progress. Country after country reveals the same pattern. The average working class, middle class or peasant family living at the subsistence edge of real hunger, with its entire energy consumed in the struggle for food, warmth, housing and clothing; a major decline in general health standards, accompanied by sharp rises in death and infant mortality rates (with the fear of mass epidemics hovering everywhere); a breaking-up of all transportation systems, means of transport and methods of communication; an overall collapse of normal forms of trading and commerce, and a throw back to primitive individual, regional and even intra-national barter methods, with the ultra-reactionary system of Black Marketing replacing the normal exchange market of traditional capitalism.

Declining Standards

With economic debasement and widespread misery there marches a corresponding decline in moral and ideologic standards. Each family, each individual within the family, every member of European society is thrown into the wild struggle for a share, substantial enough to survive on, of Europe’s meagre commodities and the thin trickle coming from America. Petty thievery, robbery and wholesale banditry are commonplace. Women from the most bourgeois of backgrounds, paragons of middle class prudery, step out on the road of prostitution. Only the uniform and the language of their purchasers vary. Children, maturing in an atmosphere of uncertainty, insecurity and general social paralysis, Uevelop the skills ol grubbing, pimping, stealing and flattering. Nimble fingers and sly minds are their educational heritage. The number of venereal victims and the national syphilis rates reach such heights that it is “safe to assume” that a young Polish, or Italian, or German girl is infected. As for European art and culture, its practice and expression as a living tradition is confined to London and Paris, cities that survived the worst offered by the war. In general, even the survival of bourgeois culture is threatened by the atrophy of bourgeois Europe. The importance of such a type as Louis Aragon, the rather despicable French Stalinist, in Parisian intellectual life is sufficient illustration.

Ideologically, as we shall explain in this series, the same processes of “falling-apart” and degeneration must be recognized. The Nazi method aroused and lifted to new heights all the ancient, sleeping chauvinisms and national hatreds. The Allied-Russian methods completed the break-up of European life to fantastic and fractional degrees (4-Power occupation of minute Austria; 4-Power occupation of Berlin and Vienna). Just as, in general, each individual unit of the European-national family was forced into the mad scramble for a share of his town’s, or region’s, or city’s production, so whole sections of nations (southern France, Sicily, Bavaria, etc.), and whole nations are thrown into violent antagonism with one another in the scramble for Europe’s surviving wealth and production. The various national bourgeoisies, military governments of occupation and totalitarian creations of Moscow have given freedom and full play to all centrifugal forces within the battered Continent. Now Europe is dog tired, with its factories, mines and transport wrecked by war and occupation; no raw materials to begin production again; not enough coal to build up steam; its best laborers scattered and torn away from their machines. And on both flanks, the weight of two great powers whose future and whose intentions with respect to Europe, are either unknown or, when known, are only too clear.

Europe: 1946

France and Belgium: lacking materials, railroad systems shattered, black markets absorbing their remaining strength and meagre production, bomb destroyed ports. France, with its devastated Normandy; Belgium with its devastated Ardennes. Spain: still under Franco, still living in the aftermath of its Civil War. Portugal: under its traditional military despot. Italy: ripped open from end to end, systematically shot up, with hungry Sicily at its toe. The Balkans: its mysteriously expanding totalitarian dictatorships, swallowing up Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Roumania. Greece: under a White Terror, reduced to hunger and cave-dwelling. Norway: salt herring as the main food and the aftermath of five years of occupation to overcome. Holland: half-drowned and dieting on American “C” rations. Central Europe: war-destroyed Poland and Hungary, and 800,000 Russian soldiers camping on a minute portion of minute Austria. Czechoslovakia: without supplies and gripped by its minority questions. And finally, rapidly outstripping all other nations in the depths to which it has sunk. Germany: cut up, dispersed, as a reality non-existent. Such is, in summary, the state of Europe, 1946.

Do we mean, then, that the situation in Europe is one of complete hopelessness, with only the blackest of perspectives? No, this is not at all our contention. On the contrary, despite these most unfavorable circumstances, the European masses have already made several important efforts to lift themselves up (the overthrow of Italian fascism, the French movement of resistance, ending in the Paris insurrection, the Belgian strike struggles), and have shown repeatedly the general direction in which their social and ideologic thought is moving (British elections, French elections, etc.). Still more important is the definite, steady and growing revival of the Fourth International movement, and its European sections. There could be no greater error than to cross off Europe as a source of revolutionary action and thought. Bleeding and groggy as it may be, the old continent is still alive, still has great natural resources and its cultural tradition to lean upon and, above all, it can look forward to the re-building of its proletarian classes, along with the labor movement. Our concern, in describing the real conditions of Europe, is with what is, not with what we would like to see. Failure to grasp these harsh realities could only result in false perspectives, with inevitable disillusion; false slogans, with inevitable failure to stir up the tendencies toward revolutionary revival; and false action. Many Marxist comrades, both in Europe and America, have already gone astray by attempting to impose upon this greatly changed Europe either their outworn formulas, or wishful fantasies of their own creation. There is a revolutionary perspective in Europe, but the real problem still is one of finding the correct road toward it and the correct method of mobilizing people to march on that road.

Role of US in Europe

Now, where does America and its imperialist bourgeoisie fit into this chaos of modern Europe? The illusion that America is on the verge of leaving Europe to its fate and washing its hands of the continent, fostered by the rapid withdrawal of our military forces from Europe, seems fairly widespread. Of course this idea is nonsense. Certain die-hard remnants of “isolationism” may still urge total withdrawal, but the reality is otherwise. To begin with, even the completion of redeployment by our armed forces will leave 600,000 soldiers (300,000 of them in the American zone of occupied Germany alone). This considerable force, highly armed, well trained and built around fast moving armored units, is more than sufficient to fulfill any task that American imperialism may call upon it for.

But America’s main weapons in Europe are economic in character. As the great victor power in the war, with its industrial capacity and its raw material wealth not only unharmed but greatly expanded, America is far ahead of other victor powers with respect to its bargaining strength. Our weapons are those of commerce and trade, supply of raw materials and purchase of European products, extension of loans and credits, etc. We can, in effect, determine not only the tempo of recovery and reconstruction within each nation of Europe, but we can actually determine whether that nation shall recover at alll There is not a single capitalist country of Europe today capable of lifting itself to its feet without considerable imports of coal, fuel, machinery, raw materials for its factories and extensive credits for the financing of its recapitalization needs. To whom can these nations turn for their needs? England? Stalin’s Russia, which completes the plundering and looting of capital goods begun by the Nazis? America, in this sense, wields an unprecedented whip-hand.

Although, as we shall describe later, there are contradictions in this position that prevent its attaining perfection, the general awareness of our superiority is the determining factor in American policy, behavior and attitude toward Europe. Even the common attitudes and the daily actions of the American GI toward the people of Europe can be traced back to this knowledge of imperialist superiority and domination. The American soldier (as we are. beginning to realize more and more) is generally intensely disliked in Europe. What could be more startling than the fact, clearly admitted by bourgeois journalists, that the American soldier is liked by (and, in turn, likes) the German people – the “enemy,” conquered nation – and is heartily disliked by (and, in turn, dislikes) the English, French, Belgian, etc., peoples – the “allied,” liberated nations! The politically backward and ignorant GI, particularly in France, displays that typical imperialistic arrogance associated with conqueror nations. He practices, even in small ways, that typical economic callousness associated with petty exploiters. He is a bulwark of the Black Market, one of Europe’s most sinister institutions. (Carton of cigarettes, $10.00 – cost to him, $.50; “K” ration, $1.00 – cost to him, zero; and cast-off army clothing sells for fantastic prices.)

Even Leon Trotsky’s well known warning that America aimed at destroying the European market and then placing the continent on rations, even this may be described as an understatement of the facts. Even Trotsky’s perception could not foresee the literal correctness of his: prediction – great masses of Europeans living on the tasteless “G” and “K” rations of American mechanized production; a. large percentage of Europeans dressed in the worn, cast-off clothing of American GI’s and American charity donors (black marketed to them at fancy prices). In placing Europe upon material, financial and political rations American imperialism believes it has so cornered the continent that the ultimate objectives of its policy are within range, of fulfillment. In addition to this rationing scheme, America – as we shall illustrate in this series – pursues virtually any method that will further weaken, divide and disintegrate Europe. America will, not hesitate to let loose any force that will add to the sum total of centrifugal forces which are now whirling Europe about and causing its further break-up, provided, of course, such measures fit in with our general imperialist objectives.

The Objectives

What are these objectives? To the thinking European individual they were most concretely expressed in the “plan” of Bernard Baruch, published some time last year. They may be summarized as follows:

  1. To keep Europe iii a weakened and internally divided state, thus making the continent much easier to “handle.”
  2. To prevent the reorganization, reconstruction and growth of such industries and exports as have, in the past, seriously interefered with American economic life; to limit and control (whenever possible) the recovery of other industries and agricultural life.
  3. To halt, or block, the growth of any popular democratic, revolutionary, unifying or competing tendencies within Europe.
  4. To consolidate and maintain control over the European division of the world market, as an essential step on the road to conquest of the latter.
  5. To organize (through diplomatic maneuvers, blocs, power politics, etc.) Europe, in its preliminary phases, for its future participation, under American leadership, in the Third World War.

It is understood that every world power having sufficient strength left after the exhausting years of war is likewise intriguing and maneuvering in Europe. Imperialist America and Stalinist Russia are merely the leaders in this victimization of Europe’s masses, with England and France – their concrete action shaped by their particular designs and interests – following close behind. Nor dp the ruling cliques of the satellites of these great powers hesitate to fall in with the game. Conspiracies, plots and intrigues; blocs and counter-blocs; bribery and treachery; power politics and counter-politics are so rampant in the Europe of 1946 that the entire continent resembles the court life, with its atmosphere of stink and decadence, generally associated with any of the pre-war Balkan monarchies. .The territorial “Balkanization” of Europe by the victors is accompanied by a “Balkanization” of its political and social life, with the proletariat and small petty bourgeois, including the farmers and peasantry, as its victims.

Threat of a New War

Yet, as any European will promptly reply to his questioner, the basic trend in this maze is already clear, too clear. A Swiss newspaper iretently summarized this general view by stating that every maneuver and each effort on the part of the powers tends toward the erection of a “line of steel” down the heart of Europe. Above and “beyond” the many national boundaries that divide the masses of each nation from one another there stands the armed line that separates yesterday’s Allies from one another. Splitting Europe and its former leading-nation, Germany, almost in twain, this line has a greater significance today that the most traditional, fought-over national or geographic boundary. For the peoples of Europe it symbolizes the most frightening of their new fears – the dreaded possibility of a new, Third World War. How ironic they find it that this artificial, bristling “line of steel” – the most closely watched boundary oh the continent – should be precisely the same line where, scarcely a year ago, the enlightened Allies joyously met, supposedly to end the agonized war and begin the task of a reconstructed Europe at peace! On the western side, of this fateful line stand the Anglo-American imperialists with their satellites; on the eastern side stand the neo-Russian imperialists with their satellites. All Europe knows this and while it knows that war will not come “tomorrow,” it has nothing bin a weary hope that “tomorrow” will never come. It is against this dark background that we must list and measure the general aspect of present European problems. During the period of the war itself, the Workers Party and virtually every section bf the Fourth International concerned itself at “great length with the so-called “national question” in Europe. That question is still very much alive today, and it would be a mistake of a high order to think that the formal end of the war has abolished the question, or its prominence. Those comrades arid tRbse European sections of the International who refused to recognize any “national question,” who clung to orthodox formulae, proved to be catastrophically wrong. They deceived themselves cruelly about a coming “German revolution;” or a lasting dual power in northern Italy; their central political slogan for a unity of Europe proved to be an abstraction of abstractions; the scope and power of the French and other resistance movements caught them open-mouthed and unprepared; and, most telling proof of a false analysis and perspective, in a period of growth and upsurge they remained virtually stagnant. It seems to us that only the German refugee Marxists, of the IKD, had a consistent, thorough and understanding grasp of Europe and its needs. The “national problem of Europe” received its clearest exposition (and still does) from comrades originating in the most nationally-oppressed country of Europe today – Germany.

Let those who consider the “national question” non-existent, or resolved by the war’s end, consider the following propositions:

  1. A whole new series of nations and vast territories have been hurled back into a state of national oppression, foreign occupation and lack of independence. Germany stands at the head of a list that includes every nation beaten down in the Russian zones of occupation and influence (the Baltic states, Poland, etc.). In these areas the problem of national independence has been re-posed in an acute and immediate sense.
  2. A whole new series of small nations and weakened nations feel the presence, weight and pressure of the foreign, victor imperialisms in a manner that directly relates to their social and historic future, right down to the elementary problems of recovery and reconstruction. These nations, at whose head stands Frence, lie in the shadow area of national oppression. The Central European states (Austria, Czechoslovakia, etc.) and the Balkan states feel the Russian weight, while those of Western Europe (Belgium, Holland, etc.) feel that of combined Anglo-American imperialism. To deny the “national question” in these areas is to deny the possibility of correctly posing their future. [1]
  3. Standing in the background, but conspicuously in evidence, is the general, all-European aspect of the “national question.” That is, in what manner and by what means shall the peoples of Europe, taken as an entity, free themselves from the burdensome weight of the great powers? How shall they prevent the Anglo-American bloc and the Russian bloc from further disintegrating the continent, robbing and oppressing its peoples, blocking their hopes for recovery and peace? Has not the problem long ago posed by Trotsky become, now, Europe versus America and Russia? [1*]

It goes without saying that without a definite economic revival, a setting in motion of the factory wheels, a rise in agricultural produce, a reorganization of a labor force and an organized working class, a renewal of trade and commerce, etc., it would be impossible to hope for a reconstitution of the general European labor movement, and a lifting of Europe out of its present dependency and misery. But since all these questions are in turn dependent upon Europe’s relations with the rest of the world, particularly with the victor powers, it is obvious that their solution is an organic part of the European “national question.” Naturally, individual countries may benefit from time to time due to conflicts and deliberate competition provided by the Big Three in the unfolding of their intrigues against one another. But, since the Big Three are in accord on the basic issue of a weak Europe that shall not be permitted to stand squarely upon its feet again, these episodic economic stimulations can be of only secondary importance. The economic resurrection of Europe, and therefore the solution of its “national question” can only come from the masses of Europe themselves, and the manner in which they pose and attempt to solve this same national problem.

(Part II – England – The Labor Government – will appear in the next issue of The New International.)

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1. We note the reported threat, by American imperialism, to place a coal embargo upon Switzerland. Even the most stubborn, traditional and aloof “independent” nation of Europe finds itself threatened, and thereby drawn into the general struggle. In a manner that even the Nazis did not attempt to apply to it!

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Note by ETOL

1*. In the original published version there is no point 3 and this point is numbered 4.

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