Felix Morrow

The National Question in Europe

Our Differences with the Three Theses

(December 1942)

From Fourth International, Vol. 3 No. 10 (Whole No.28), December 1942, pp. 372–374.
Transcription: by Ted Crawford & Einde O’Callaghan.
XHTML Mark-up: David Walters & Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive
Proofreader: Einde O’Callaghan (August 2015).
Copyleft: Felix Morrow Internet Archive (www.marx.org) 2004. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Continuing the discussion on the national question in Europe, we publish in this issue the theses submitted by a group of European comrades and an answer by Felix Morrow. The official position of the Socialist Workers Party on this question appeared in our October issue.

There is no difference between us and the comrades of the Three Theses as to the reality of the existence of national oppression in the occupied countries. There is no difference between us as to the fact that national oppression now exists in Europe on an unprecedented scale, requiring of us an attentive and sensitive understanding of what is new in the European situation as well as what is similar to the First World War.

Our differences center around the relation between the slogan of national liberation and the slogan of the Socialist United States of Europe. We insist that these two slogans must go together, for otherwise the slogan of national liberation degenerates into mere bourgeois nationalism in the service of one of the imperialist camps. On the other hand the Three Theses, it is all too clear, raise the slogan of national liberation independently of the slogan of the Socialist United States

of Europe. In discussions the authors of the Three Theses have indicated that they consider national liberation as an immediate agitation slogan and the Socialist United States of Europe as a propaganda slogan, i.e., not at present suitable for immediate agitation. (Despite repeated requests they have not as yet written anything on this question except the Three Theses.) Their separation of the two slogans must be characterized as a nationalist deviation.

This difference between us on slogans expresses a difference in perspectives. We say that, whichever imperialist camp were to win the war, national oppression in Europe would continue; Anglo-American occupation of Europe would likewise constitute national oppression. An Anglo-American victory would not only bring national oppression to Germany and its allies but we believe would continue national oppression of France and other occupied countries in order to crush the socialist revolution. The bourgeois groups in the occupied countries would undoubtedly be agents of the “democracies” in this task. The authors of the theses, on the other hand, speak of taking part “in the restoration of democracy” and of a “democratic revolution” (Thesis III) which, if words mean anything, can only mean a “revolution” other than a proletarian and the participation of the bourgeoisie and their labor agents in the “restoration of democracy.” The Three Theses, then, have a perspective of a new democratic epoch in Europe. “Of course” they think it will be merely a stage on the road to international socialism. But they base themselves on working for that stage of (in essence) a revival of the Third Republic in France, the Weimar Republic in Germany, etc. For them it is a necessary stage preceding the direct struggle for socialism.

Who Resists the Nazis?

Pursuing this false theory of stages the authors of the theses are driven by their logic to a completely false description of the actual composition of the fighters for national liberation in the occupied countries. Who resists the Nazis? Comrade Loris and the French comrades have provided irrefutable proofs that the movement of resistance is predominantly proletarian. The big bourgeoisie collaborates with the Nazis; the rest of the bourgeoisie in part also collaborates or plays no. role; even the Gaullist, Andre Philip, apologetically says that the anti-Nazi bourgeois elements “do what they can” but that the proletariat is the core of the resistance. The Three Theses, however, more; consistent than Philip in their search for the elements of a “democratic revolution,” states: In the resistance movement “participate all classes and strata from workers, farm laborers, farmers, urban petty bourgeoisie ... to officials, priests, intellectuals and generals ... Everywhere there are involved in protest movements workers, peasants, besides students, journalists, professors, officers, priests, merchants, etc.” (Thesis II). Thus they place on an equal plane the resisting masses, of workers and the handfuls of resisting bourgeois elements! Their false theory leads them to a false description of the actually existing situation.

While they thus evoke a mythical scene of a great movement of the bourgeois elements – they do not even mention the bourgeois collaborators of the Nazis! – the Three Theses insist that the workers’ movement is practically non-existent. There “is no longer an organized and active workers’ movement” and “there can also be no talk of the existence of real revolutionary organizations” (Thesis III). Hence, “Under such circumstances protest against growing suffering must find another outlet” (Thesis II). That is, while the workers’ movement does not and cannot exist at this stage, “another outlet,” namely an all-national movement, can and does exist. Thus the Three Theses counterpose the national movement to the workers’ movement. It can now be seen clearly why they will not link together the slogans of national liberation and the Socialist United States of Europe. They consider national liberation as “another outlet” than the workers’ movement.

This theory is false in fact, since the liberation struggle has actually unfolded under the leadership of workers’ organizations and workers’ groups. Suppose, however, there did exist in France a powerful nationalist organization led by the bourgeoisie, which had drawn into it large sections of the workers. What would be our task then? Obviously, to draw the class line between the bourgeois nationalists and the workers aspiring for national freedom, to teach the workers that there is not “another outlet” for the workers, but that, whatever the tasks facing the workers – including national liberation – they must fight only under the leadership of their own workers’ organizations.

The workers under the Nazi boot want national freedom. Good. The task is to explain to them that national freedom in this epoch is the task of the working class under the leadership of the Fourth International. The task is to expose and condemn bourgeois nationalist organizations as agents of the imperialists who can lead only to further national oppression and repression of the workers. The workers must be shown, as proved by the spectacle of bourgeois collaboration with the Nazis,, that only the working class can free the country by proletarian revolution.

These are the ABC’s of Marxism. It is embarrassing to have to repeat them, but the Three Theses make it necessary.

There are new problems, opportunities and tasks, but not in the direction where the Three Theses seek them. It is astonishing to me that its authors can write that the struggle “levels all and everything and takes a direction which can be described as nothing but a ‘desire for national freedom’.” As if, while the Second World War is still going on, the Nazis had succeeded in obliterating the difference between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in the occupied countries! What is really new in the occupied countries is that the national sentiment of the workers and peasants is sharpening their class bitterness against the collaborating bourgeoisie. National oppression has given a new edge to the class struggle. National sentiment, hitherto serving only the bourgeoisie, today can be used against the bourgeoisie of the occupied countries. That is what is new.

While national sentiment can now help the revolutionary movement, it is also still susceptible of perversion to the uses of imperialism. That is why we reject most of the methods of combat advocated by the bourgeois nationalists and their labor agents. What is the main content of the Gaullist-Stalinist tactics, for example? Espionage for the British, individual terrorism, individual sabotage. We condemn all these as serving one of the imperialist camps and as incompatible with the proletarian methods. Individual terrorism against German officers and soldiers creates a situation in which it is impossible to fraternize with the German soldiers – the absolutely indispensable prerequisite for unity of the German and French workers and soldiers against all the imperialists. Terrorism and individual sabotage, aiding the Soviet Union very little if at all, place terrible obstacles in the way of the fraternization and revolution which alone can really aid the Soviet Union. The Gaullists and their Stalinist allies are by these methods uselessly sacrificing heroic fighters who could be invaluable to the revolutionary struggle. It should be plain, then, how important it is to combat the false ideology and methods of the bourgeois nationalists and their labor agents. Ideological victory over them is the prerequisite for the efficacious struggle by the working class for national liberation. But there is not a word about this in the theses. In their search, for a national movement as distinct from the workers’ movement, they falsely subordinate the workers’ methods of struggle to the “unity” of national struggle.

We welcome a reply from the authors of the Three Theses. We shall be only too happy to find that any of our criticisms are but the result of misunderstanding of their vague, confused and contradictory theses. But I must confess that I also recall the false importance which the same comrades gave to the resistance of the German churches to Nazi coordination; these comrades then thought that the workers could make significant advances through support of the churches’ resistance. I cannot help feeling that the authors of the Three Theses have throughout exhibited a tendency to dissolve the workers’ movement into “broader” bourgeois movements. In all comradeliness, we must ask them to think – and write – their position out to its ultimate implications.


Last updated on: 21 August 2015