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Gertrude Shaw

Pearl Buck And the “War For Freedom”

(21 December 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 51, 21 December 1942, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“One can only hope at most, now, that there will be a breathing space between this war and the next. One cannot guarantee that there will be such space.”

Thus did Pearl Buck, noted novelist and idealist, addressing a group of world-famous Nobel Prize winners, bluntly speak her sincere opinion, according to her own lights, about this war – which is a good deal more than most so-called idealists are doing these days.

Mrs. Buck is bitterly disillusioned. But it is the fate of all idealists who lack the scientific instruments of Marxian investigation to be disillusioned. Revolutionary socialists, Marxists, were not disillusioned about the war. They knew from the beginning what Mrs. Buck sees only now.

“It is even more inconceivable today that our enemies, Germany and Japan, should win. But the strange thing is that the shadow of war does not grow less as these enemies grow weaker ... It is because we see a certain fate coming closer to us, and these victories do not hold back its march.”

The relentless, inevitable, world-shaking event Mrs. Buck refers to is the fight for freedom of “the peoples of Asia and of Africa” and “many among our own people here and in South America.”

Who Will Lead the War for Freedom?

It is strange, that, although Mrs. Buck champions freedom for the colonial masses, she yet speaks with a degree of horror and foreboding of their coming fight for it. Why the horror and foreboding? Mrs. Buck says that this will be the “war between the principles of democracy and the principles of fascism” which “has no geographical boundaries.” Is that not something to rejoice at – especially since she herself calls this “THE REAL WAR FOR FREEDOM”?

Undoubtedly Mrs. Buck is confused and frightened. She is confused as to the nature of the real contending forces; she sees it too much as a struggle between the races of the East and the races of the West. And, in the following passage, it is not clear whether she is afraid of fascism, of the fight of the colonial peoples for freedom, or of both.

“All the victories now being won do not make us safe. Those of us who are Jews are not safe, here or anywhere in the world. Those of us who are women are not safe here or anywhere in the world. The determination to continue rule over colonial empires endangers us, the avowed will to maintain white supremacy at all costs in our own country endangers us. All those who belong to those testing places of democracy, the minorities, the Jews, the Negroes, the women are endangered. All who are the agents of civilization, the intellectuals, the poets and artists and writers, the liberal in mind, the thinkers, the men and women of ideas, the idealists are endangered.”

Indeed it is an amazing thing that she makes no mention at all of the working class – as if it did not exist. Yet it should stand at the head of the above list for two very good reasons. One is that the working class is the first and foremost target of fascism. Another is that the working class – not the intellectuals, poets, artists, idealists – is today the only possible agent of civilization. It is the class with the revolutionary mission of ending this and all wars. It is the class with the revolutionary mission of creating the world-wide brotherhood of man, unexploited and unoppressed by ruthless, profit-seeking, colony-grabbing imperialists.

Because Mrs. Buck does not see human progress in terms of a progressive class clearing out of the way the obstructive, exploiting, war-making, reactionary classes, she has no program to offer. Her exposé of this war is brave and commendable. But when she asks “What shall we do?” her answer is deplorable. She thinks, apparently, that, by “speaking out,” the idealists can influence the practical statesmen of imperialism “to make this war into a war for freedom.” It is the fate of such people as Mrs. Buck who have no guiding and comprehensive understanding of human events, to contradict themselves endlessly. For of these statesmen she herself said;

“Will political France fight so well on our side, when the moment comes, if she knows that there would be no empire at the end of the war? Would imperial Holland be so enthusiastic for the Allied cause if her empire were no longer to exist if the United Nations won? There are many persons who argue that England herself would be less enthusiastic if her empire were not to be restored to her intact at the end of this war.”

Mrs. Buck and her group might just as well “SPEAK OUT” to the lion in the act of devouring the lamb.

“Certainly,” Mrs. Buck correctly stated, “the peoples of Asia are now coming to believe that for them our victory will have nothing to do with freedom and equality.”

In the same way the workers and peasants of Russia in the last war came to believe that a victory for the Allies would have nothing to do with freedom and equality for them. They, therefore, under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, turned the war into a war for freedom. Thus they brought a speedy end to the terrible slaughter of 1914–18. Unfortunately, because the workers of the West did not come to their aid, world freedom was not then established.

This war of 1938–194? will be over when the workers of all lands join with the oppressed of the colonial countries to form a THIRD CAMP – the United Working and Oppressed Peoples of the World. Better yet, all wars will be over. Freedom – not. abstractly, as envisaged by idealists – but concrete working class freedom will have been won.

This is the answer to Mrs. Buck’s “What shall we do?”

Imperialism Is Common Foe of Exploited

Mrs. Buck does not understand the coming war for freedom, just as she did not at first understand the imperialist nature of this war. For she says of the coming fight of the colonial people against imperialism that “none yet sees clearly either friend or foe.” This is exactly what is very plain to the socialist.

The socialist sees the exploited working people of all capitalist countries as the friends of the oppressed colonial peoples. Their common foe will be every imperialism. The colonial peoples will drive the imperialist robbers out of their lands, and the working peoples will beat them to the ground in the homelands of capitalism.

Mrs. Buck – with all her plain speaking on the nature of World War II – still places her hopes to the rotting corpse of capitalist “democracy.” In that rests her basic misunderstanding and error. But the socialist knows that the principles of democracy now reside only in the exploited, oppressed working people of the world. The democracy that will man the trenches against fascism is workers’ democracy. There is no other democracy left.

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