Jean van Heijenoort writing as Marc Loris

Darlan and the Liberals

Darlan and the Liberals, Fourth International, January 1943, pp. 4–6, under the name “Marc Loris”.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article was written prior to the assassination of Darlan and the subsequent developments. The correctness of its analysis of the Darlan deal and the politics of the liberals remains unaffected by the later events, which will be dealt with in the next issue of Fourth International.

Washington’s deal with Admiral Darlan in North Africa dealt a sharp blow to the democratic myth which covered the real aims of this war. Now Darlan-the-Jailer is working, along with Eisenhower and Roosevelt, to “free” France. Everyone can now see how dirty are the hands that bring “freedom” to the peoples of Europe. All the democratic ideals suddenly have become prostituted to a degree which seemed impossible to many just a few weeks ago.

And so the Darlan affair has provoked great anxiety within the caste of high priests who are the professional guardians of the democratic myth: the American liberals. Until recently they had an easy time of it. The United Nations were on the defensive. Hitler’s crimes and conquests allowed them to concoct the legend of an “anti-fascist” war. Who would dare speak of imperialist struggle in face of this crusade of humanity versus fascist barbarism? No, this was clearly a “people’s war.” And even an “international civil war,” a “revolution.” Less than a year ago—last February—George Soule, one of the editors of the New Republic assured us: “The Second World War is already a revolution.”

A curious revolution whose first act on the offensive was to place Darlan-the-Jailer in power! The ignoble agreement at Algiers tore a big hole in the sacred veil of democracy with which the high priests of liberalism attempted to clothe the not too agreeable realities of imperialism.

They were taken unawares. The November 16 New Republic commented on the debarkment, which had just been effected, under the title “We Begin!": “The Petain-Laval-Darlan clique at Vichy will do its best to play the game of its Nazi masters.... What is essential to-day is that ... we prove to the French people as a whole that the world we are fighting for includes their liberation.”

Unfortunately for this unsolicited advice, Eisenhower and Roosevelt had a different idea of what was “essential.” The next week, still calling for a good democratic attitude in North Africa, the New Republic warned: “We are now drawing the image of the future on the blackboard of history.” Right. Washington is now drawing the image of the future that it wants, but that image differs perceptibly from the purple dream of democracy painted by the New Republic. Washington’s picture of the future already includes such silhouettes as Darlan, Otto von Hapsburg, Franco, Mannerheim and some “good” Italian general or prince.

Confronted with such a difference between the myth which they have diligently built up and the reality as it was revealed in the person of Darlan, the liberals have gone in search of an explanation. Alas, the arsenal of liberalism is rather empty when it comes to explaining the mechanism of imperialism. The only bit of explanation they can find is that it was all a “mistake.”

As early as November 14 the Nation declares: “The exclusion of the Fighting French from the North African expedition was a mistake.” A week later, editor Freda Kirchwey calls the whole affair a “costly political blunder” and discovers no less than three successive “mistakes.” On December 14, an editorial in the New Republic gives us the final explanation of the deal with Darlan by revealing that President Roosevelt “sometimes makes mistakes.” Without doubt. One day he puts on the wrong pair of socks; the next day he puts the wrong man in power in Algiers.

But this explanation is a bit too hollow even for the Nation. So, to explain the mistake, this oracle of liberalism reveals that “the appeasers have never been in a majority even in the State Department, but from 1935 until this hour they have been able to force the long series of concessions and bargains which bit by bit weakened the force of democratic resistance.” Who are these mysterious appeasers? Why have they been “able to force” their will? What are the great democrats in our government doing? Why . . . —but why ask questions to which the Nation has no answer?

Trying to deepen their superficial explanation, the liberals would have us separate the military plan from the political. “What doubtless appeared a reasonable military expedient is proving a costly political blunder,” declares editor Freda Kirchwey in the Nation of November 21. The same distinction is made again and again by the liberals in their criticism of the Darlan deal. However, repetition does not make it a bit more clever. If war is the continuation of politics by other means, so the politics which are conducted during a war correspond to the character of the military struggle, to the class which wages this fight, to its war aims, etc. Washington’s deal with Darlan is not a “mistake,” that is, an accident, but corresponds to the imperialist character of the present war. Since the war is not waged for democracy, it is easy for Washington to take Darlan as its first Quisling, and there is no mistake in that.

In a polemic with the New Republic over the Darlan deal, the newspaper PM, in somewhat crude but quite clear language, showed the emptiness of the theory of the “political mistake.” On December 3, PM wrote:

“Hitler and Hirohito are this nation’s major enemies. We must destroy them first. And, in fighting them, we cannot always be too finicky about the politics of the other United Nations. (Nor can they be too finicky about ours.) We cannot turn our backs on the Poles because their government was tyrannical, brutal, virtually as anti-Semitic as the Germans, and participated in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. We cannot refuse to march with the soldiers of the Netherlands because of the way that nation exploited the East Indies and the East Indians. We sup at the same table as Stalin, much though we disapprove of Communism and his aggressions in the Baltic; we rub elbows with Churchill, though we detest his attitude toward India.”

Of the war frankly described by PM, the Darlan deal is a true part, and no “mistake” at all.

A Dark Future—For the Liberals

With such an artificial and empty distinction between the right military move and the political “mistake,” the liberals can reassure no one, not even themselves, about the strength of the democratic myth. Every line they have written in the last weeks betrays their disquiet.

Michael Straight, in the November 30 New Republic, asks: “In whose mind is not the remembrance of 1919 like a dry wind stirring up uneasy fear?” On December 14, he complains once more: “Our line is under heavy attack.” On November 28, Freda Kirchwey discovers that the present epoch does not lack “ill omens for the future of democracy.” And all together lament: What kind of peace will we get?

In the November 30 New Republic, Michael Straight, under the title “The Warning,” recalls the experience of the last war. A very instructive experience indeed and worth being recalled now! He tells us of Woodrow Wilson’s promises to eliminate the “very causes” of war, of how the New Republic (yes, the same) greeted the nationalization of the railroads in 1917 as the beginning of a new social order. He quotes American and English liberals, especially Sidney Webb, who assured the masses that the old world would never come back, that peace would bring abundance and security for all! We might think we were reading, almost word for word, the recent promises of their present-day successors. The only difference is that this democratic vision of the future was more audacious, fresher, brighter in 1917-18 than now. This is easy to understand. The epoch between the two world wars brought forth rather hard realities, and the liberals of today have the thankless task of reheating a dish long grown cold.

After performing the useful task of recalling this piece of history, Michael Straight has nothing more to say. Like a frightened animal that sees danger but cannot act, he keeps silent. Not a single liberal proposes a better remedy.

Freda Kirchwey tells us in the Nation of November 28 that, to avoid the Darlan “mistake,” there should have been an Inter-Allied Political Council. If such a council “were now in existence, the Darlan blunder would not have been made.” Who should have appointed this Council? Apparently the statesmen who decided the deal with Darlan, jointly with the smaller statesmen who passively submit to their will. Everyone can see the value of the remedy.

The same Freda Kirchwey tries to put Roosevelt back on the right road of democracy. “Mr. Roosevelt faces the necessity of regaining the ground he has lost. He must take the risks of a counter-offensive against the reactionaries who have forced him into retreat.” But what if Mr. Roosevelt does not mind being “forced” by the “reactionaries” too much?

No, there must be a radical solution. The New Republic brings it to us. On November 30 an editorial flung out the battle cry: “Liberals, be strong!” Two weeks later a new call: “Liberals, unite and act!” Alas, who does not know that a “strong” liberal is, in our epoch, a contradictio in adiecto, something like a square circle? The New Republic calls on the liberals to “act,” but is at a loss to say just what this action could be.

The Real Content of the Quarrel

The embarrassment of the liberals is easy to understand if we simply remember their position on the war. They are for the war, but want a “clean” war followed by a “good” peace. But if the war is not so “clean” and the future peace, already today, does not look so “good,” they have to swallow willy-nilly all that goes with it because they cannot abandon their support of the war.

The impotence of the liberals flows from their acceptance of the war, and they come to an impasse each time they undertake to criticize some particularly undemocratic action. This is especially clear in the Darlan affair.

In the Nation of November 21, Freda Kirchwey writes: “There was reason to use Darlan. No other French official knows as much as he about military and naval installation in Africa from Dakar to Bizerte, and his services were worth a good sum.” In exactly the same sense, an editorial in the New Republic on November 30 affirms: “The temporary acceptance of Admiral Darlan was probably a wise move.” This last sentence sounds almost like Roosevelt’s statement, according to which the Darlan deal is a “temporary agreement.” Then what is the exact difference of the liberals with the government? What frightens them so?

Their writings during the past weeks give us a precise answer to this question. Michael Straight writes in PM on December 3:

“Our liberal government is again in danger of sacrificing so much of its essential spirit that it is losing the rank and tile of its best supporters: the workers, the progressive farmers, the Negroes and other groups.”

And he continues:

“If the heart goes out of the liberal movement because of too much discouragement, then the rank and file though they may prefer the President, will not give him the enthusiastic support that alone can save the New Deal.”

It is rather doubtful what remains of the New Deal, but Michael Straight’s reasoning is clear: If Roosevelt goes on with many Darlan deals, the “rank and file” will look for other ways. But since this deal was “probably a wise move,” what can “we” do except ask the President to respect the democratic forms a little more in the future, in order not to “discourage” the “rank and file” too much?

On November 30 the New Republic breaks through to the real reason for its uneasiness when it writes: “It is argued that now we can win the conflict without recourse to all the ‘slush about a people’s war.’” As the very raison d’etre of the liberals is to make slush, their anxiety is easily understandable. In the distribution of war roles, the liberals were awarded the department of camouflage and they valiantly applied themselves to painting motley canvases called “war for democracy,” “people’s war,” etc. But if an army camouflages itself while making preparations, it must inevitably to some extent break the camouflage when it attacks. Thus in the first offensive action of great scope on the part of the United States, it was necessary to discard some of the democratic camouflage in order to install Darlan. The camouflage specialists are fluttering, disturbed, and are asking themselves: Could it be possible that now they have no more need of us? We have worked so hard.

One of these camouflagists even gives a warning to his masters: Look here, camouflage is very useful and it is dangerous to completely discard it so soon. His name is Alvarez del Vayo, former Republican Spanish leader, and he writes in the Nation of December 5:

“The war is not yet finished. The Allied troops are not yet nearing the German border. The moment has not been reached when the diplomatic technicians and professional politicians can risk a cynical shrug as their only answer to the disappointment of the people. Difficult crises lie ahead of us in which the people will be needed quite as much as all the war materials that all the United Nations can produce. And for the people it will not be a Darlan, even as an occasional guest of the democracies, that will keep alive their enthusiasm and restore their confidence.”

Here is the position of the liberals in all its ugly servility: Be careful of the war material called the people, Messrs. Statesmen, and don’t make our task of keeping it ready for your use too difficult. The moment has not yet come when you can disappoint it too much!

Washington is now demonstrating to us—not, surely, by Vice President Henry Wallace’s speeches, but by plain, simple and clear facts—that this war is an imperialist war. Not only this war, but the peace that follows it will be an imperialist peace—if Washington has its way.

The liberals have tried to present this war as a “war for freedom and democracy,” even as an “international civil war” against Nazism. In fact, according to them, it was the continuation and development of the struggle against fascism which had started with the Spanish Civil War. We Marxists answered this sophism very simply. The Spanish war was essentially the struggle of different classes inside one nation, while the contenders in the present war belong to one class, the imperialist bourgeoisie. Their fight is not conducted for freedom but for domination of the world. With the development of the war, this simple truth appears more and more clearly. The slush of the liberals cannot hide it any more. This is the reason for their despair. It is the reason for our hope.