Jean van Heijenoort writing as Marc Loris

Perspectives for Europe

“Perspectives for Europe” Fourth International, July 1941, pp.179-82, under the name “Marc Loris” reprinted from the June issue of La Verité. (3,285 words)

During the first imperialist world war German troops in the west occupied Belgium and one-sixth of France’s territory, besides a number of countries in Central Europe and the Balkans. But the existence of a front and its constant shifts imparted a precarious character to the German conquests. A large portion of the civil population had been evacuated and there was hardly any agricultural or industrial productivity in the invaded countries.

In the second imperialist war the military collapse of France created a markedly different situation. Hitler’s rule now extends, more or less directly over more than two hundred million non-Germans. In spite of profound differences in the various occupied countries the common oppression compels the relationships within the classes and between the classes to follow parallel lines in each of the occupied countries.

Collapse of the Native Fascists

Upon his arrival in each one of the invaded countries Hitler found fascist parties in the image of his own. This was one of the clearest characteristics of the decomposition of bourgeois “democracy.” During its advance, German militarism was able to make a judicious use of these groups for its own military and political ends. After a year of Hitlerite control in Europe, however, the evolution of these different national fascisms is an important factor in the determination of our future perspectives.

It was in Norway that the German general staff received the most active and the most immediate assistance from the “Fifth Column.” This was the only country in which the fascist party found itself placed directly in power after the invasion. And this is also the country in which German rule has undoubtedly encountered the most difficulties. The Gestapo chief, Himmler, recently discovered that Quisling’s party, because of its growing unpopularity, was far from being an adequately flexible instrument of German rule, and he reduced its powers.

The same process may be observed in all the invaded countries: the stagnation or the disintegration of the national fascist groups. The pro-German fascist party of the Sudeten is falling to pieces. In Bohemia the men who had hailed Hitler’s arrival now keep far away from anything German. The national-socialist party in Denmark has split up into a multitude of cliques contending for the favors of the German authorities. Mussert’s fascist party in Holland is stagnating, and no great confidence is placed in it by the invaders. The Flemish intellectuals in whom Hitler had set his hopes have disappointed him. In France Doriot has gathered a few former Stalinist leaders around him, but his party is making hardly any progress.

Rumania presents one of the most striking examples. For years there had been a powerful pro-Nazi party there, savagely anti-British. The entry of German troops into this semi-allied, semi-conquered country was followed at once by the violent disintegration of the fascist party. The most radical wing published a manifesto proclaiming that only an English victory could free Rumania. The party was drowned in blood. The present government of General Antonescu is not propped up on an indigenous fascism, but is merely a bonapartism maintained by the German army.

These are the signs of currents within the petty-bourgeoisie, in the cities and in the countryside. In all the invaded countries Hitler has, of course, found men to perform his chores. Upon arriving the German generals commandeered a certain number of horses, cattle, swine, politicians and journalists. But as mass movements the various national fascisms are destined to decay. Every day Hitler’s “New Order” reveals more clearly what it is—the old capitalist disorder, with its oppression, hunger, and misery. The petty-bourgeoisie is now going over to the other side; the pendulum is changing its direction. This phenomenon, which is very important and is still in its initial stages, is creating very favorable conditions for the shipwreck of German imperialism, but can lead to nothing by itself, if workers’ action not intervene.

As a whole the big bourgeoisie is moving in the opposite direction to the petty-bourgeoisie. More and more it is organizing and systematizing “collaboration.” It is trying to save whatever it can of its profits and privileges. It seizes the slightest opportunity for collaboration that Hitler feels like offering it.

And with the continuation of the war Hitler must make greater and greater use of the productive machinery of the invaded countries. The capitalists of these countries ask for nothing but amity with the German generals in order to feed the war machine of the Third Reich. They may of course dream of better conditions, but this does not prevent them from profiting as much as they can out of the present situation. What a lesson for the workers, whose struggles were always paralyzed by the bourgeoisie and its agents in the name of “national welfare"!

The most typical example of the behavior of the bourgeoisie is that of France. The French bourgeoisie, one of the feeblest and most decrepit, has already taken advantage of the defeat in order to plunge the country into the blackest reaction and find a language in common with the conqueror more easily. For the humiliations it received the bourgeoisie seeks compensation through the repressions of its own people. From Germany it is seeking, by means of more and more abject servility, nothing but a pardon for its alliance with Great Britain in order to save what it can of its right to exploit the French workers and the colonial peoples.

Collaboration has been extended to the economic, military, and political domain. To a large extent French industry is working for the German war machine. The men at Vichy are now gambling on a German victory and the defeat of their former ally.

This policy moreover has made Petain’s bonapartism rest upon a new point of support, the French fleet. The abruptness of the military debacle had left the fleet intact, in all its prestige and power. It had maintained its cohesion and stability considerably more than the army, which is the explanation of Admiral Darlan’s ascent to power. And in fact the French fleet was one of the most precious trump-cards in the hands of the Vichy men. Let us help Germany with our fleet which she needs—thought Darlan—and we’ll be able to save something of France’s position in Europe. The traditional animosity of naval officers towards England made the game easy. All this has helped give Petain’s regime a special complexion—made it in a certain sense a “naval bonapartism.”

The French bourgeoisie merely offers the clearest example of what the summits of the bourgeoisie in the various occupied countries are tending towards. In the face of such slavishness the Nazis are already dreaming of “unifying” Europe and counterposing it as a continent to the rest of the world, in order to attain their imperialist goals. Nazism succeeded (with the not inconsiderable help of the social-democratic and Stalinist leaders!) in bolstering up Germany with the national idea for imperialist ends.

Hitler Cannot “Unify” Europe

Is it possible to believe that Hitler will succeed in crushing internal opposition within the conquered countries, as in Germany he successively vanquished the radical wing of his own party, then the summits of the Reichswehr, and finally the various religious oppositions? A categorical answer may be given this question: No! In Germany Hitler was served by the national sentiment. but throughout all the countries of Europe now this sentiment is rebounding against him with tenfold force.

At the time of its historic rise the bourgeoisie was able to build up great modern nations and make all the provincial particularisms vanish, but it was only able to realize this because its dominion also meant a formidable economic expansion and a vast accumulation of new wealth. Even as a conqueror Hitler can bring the peoples nothing but stagnation and poverty. All dreams about unifying the continent must disappear before this reality. The Nazis’ imperialist nationalism exacerbates, and will exacerbate more and more, all the suffocated nationalisms surrounding it. It is chimerical to imagine a stable hegemony of German imperialism over a unified Europe, even in case of a military victory.

The Coming European Revolution Whether the struggle begins in Germany or elsewhere the decisive blows against Hitler can come only from the workers. On the first day of the rebellion they are the ones who will constitute the most determined vanguard. From the very first step in the collapse of the Nazi system they will create their instruments of battle, actions committees, the first form of soviets.

The national bourgeoisie will not hesitate to collaborate with the Nazis in an attempt to re-establish “order.” The petty-bourgeoisie will be what it has been in all the modern revolutions, an auxiliary force. No doubt it will give particularly enthusiastic support to the workers, at any rate during the first stage: but it is fundamentally incapable of maintaining the direction of the struggle, or even of sharing in this direction on an equal footing with the proletariat.

To put an end to Hitler a workers’ rank and file is needed. The proletarian revolution is what is on the order of the day for Europe. All hopes for a particular “national revolt” in which the proletariat and the petty-bourgeoisie will sharp the leadership are futile. Even more absurd is the notion of a victorious struggle on the part of the petty-bourgeoisie “supported” by the proletariat.

The primacy of the workers in the struggle, and the appearance of embryonic soviets in the very first stages, do not imply, of course, that the proletarian revolution will be completed by the day after tomorrow. There will be a more or less protracted period of dual power. The soviets will become aware of their power and of their role, which is that of a new government. Above all the revolutionary party will need time to consolidate its ranks and conquer the majority of the working class before finishing off the bourgeois regime.

National Emancipation and Proletarian Revolution

This general strategic perspective still does not resolve the tactical problems posed by the Nazi occupation of Europe. The national bourgeoisie in the various countries is thinking only of meriting by its servility the good-will of the conqueror. In the face of Nazi violence and plunder a savage hatred of the oppressor is growing from month to month in all the other strata of the population. On pain of suicide, the revolutionary party cannot forget this fundamental fact which is now dominating the life of all Europe. We give full recognition to the right of national self-determination and are prepared to defend it as an elementary right of democracy.

This recognition, however, has no effect on the fact that this right is trodden underfoot by both camps in this war and will hardly be respected in case of an imperialist “peace.” Capitalism in its agony can meet this democratic demand less and less. Only socialism can give nations the complete right to independence and put an end to every national oppression. To speak of the right to national self-determination and keep. silent concerning the only means of its realization, that is, the proletarian revolution, is to repeat a shallow phrase, disseminate illusions, and deceive the workers.

The Versailles peace gave birth to a certain number of independent states, but in reality they were nothing but the satellites of the victorious great imperialist powers. To the exploitation of their own proletariat they added the oppression of national minorities (Slovaks in Czechoslovakia, Ukrainians and White Russians in Poland, Croats in Yugoslavia, etc.). There can be no doubt that an imperialist peace, whichever camp is. victorious, will realize the right of national independence in an even more caricatural form. In present-day Europe the revolutionary party cannot fail to support all manifestations of national resistance to Nazi oppression, but its active participation in the struggle by no means signifies that it must strengthen any chauvinist tendencies and tolerate any illusions about tomorrow’s reality.

It is a particularly serious error to imagine that the struggle against national oppression creates any special conditions in which the proletariat must abandon its own aims and confuse itself with the petty-bourgeoisie (and sometimes. the big bourgeoisie as well) within the unity of the “nation.” National emancipation is by no means a “specialty” of the petty-bourgeoisie. On the contrary, the latter cannot give anything but utopian solutions, especially in our epoch (pacifism, an improved League of Nations, etc.). If the proletariat takes up tasks of national emancipation in its own hands (as it must do now in many countries of Europe) it is only in order to solve them by means of its own methods, the only ones capable of ensuring success, and to integrate national resistance in its general perspective of the total overturn of bourgeois society.

The national opposition of the peoples of Europe imparts a thoroughly unstable character to the dominion of German imperialism. But at the same time it forms a screen in front of the fundamental tasks of our epoch: the socialist transformation of society, the only thing capable of putting a stop. to national oppression. This twofold character is what conditions the activity of Marxists. They must support any national resistance to the extent that it represents a real struggle, but they can and must do it without mingling any chauvinist phraseology with their propaganda, without giving birth to illusions concerning the realization of national independence, without ever losing sight of the general aims of their struggle.

Besides, the battle is hopeless when limited to one country. The task of the revolutionary party is not to confine the. struggle against German imperialism within narrow national boundaries, but to integrate it in the resistance of all the European peoples to the common bondage. Hitler has already plunged the German workers into this bondage. The Marxists must possess slogans constantly tending to broaden the. arena of struggle, to generalize it, and spread it throughout all of Europe, including Germany, and not limit it, split it up and partition it off under different national banners. This is their rallying cry: Down with the Nazi regime! Long live the Socialist United States of Europe!

The European masses must carry on their struggle under terribly difficult and abruptly altered conditions. For years. the reformists and their allies laughed at the Trotskyists who were trying to transplant the methods of Russian Bolshevism, to Western Europe. What a bitter lesson our opponents have had! Czarist Russia now appears, if not actually a paradise, at any rate a purgatory compared with the hell Europe has become. Famine is hovering over the continent which only yesterday led the world. Workers cease their labor in order to demand more abundant food rations. This is a new form of struggle for wages in debased Europe. Demonstrations of starving housewives can only multiply. In the midst of misery and oppression every “economic” struggle at once assumes a political character. The task of the Marxists is not to impose on the masses any particular form of struggle they might “prefer,” but in reality to deepen, broaden, and systematize all manifestations of resistance, bring to them a spirit of organization and open up a broad perspective.

The Petty-Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat

National oppression forces broad strata of the petty-bourgeoisie to enter the political arena. Left to itself the petty-bourgeoisie is quite incapable of ensuring the overthrow of the Nazi regime. Its great majority is at present going over to the side of British imperialism. In France this movement supports General de Gaulle, who has no other program but a military struggle against Germany at the side of England. The activity of his adherents in France consists primarily in espionage on behalf of England and the recruiting of young men for the “free” French forces. The Marxist party has nothing in common with such a program and with such methods. For us the success of the revolution does not depend on the victory or on the defeat of one imperialist camp or another, but on the revolutionary training of tested fighters and on the formation of the cadres of an intransigent party. This is the fundamental task. The sympathy for England now spreading in the occupied countries is the elementary initial form of resistance to Nazi oppression (and in France to the national bourgeoisie as well). The task of the Marxists is not to adapt themselves to this (completely sterile) sentiment, but to foresee the forms s of struggle which are coming and to prepare for them.

The petty-bourgeoisie makes its appearance on the stage with its own specific weapons. Cases of individual terrorism have already occurred throughout Europe. In Poland, Norway, and France some excessively cynical adherents of an understanding with Hitler have been disposed of. There has been no lack of assassinations of German officers. All this can only multiply. The revolutionary party can do nothing but repeat all the classical arguments of Marxism against individual terrorism—they still retain their full value. Exceedingly symptomatic of the state of mind of the petty-bourgeois masses, sometimes amazingly heroic, individual attempts at assassination can lead to nothing except the sacrifice of lives which would be of incalculable value if they were to find a better use. The duty of the Marxists is to direct the devotion of the adherents of terror into the path of preparation of the mass struggle. Meanwhile the physical struggle can even now take other forms besides individual acts of terror. In Norway, for example, riots between groups of local fascists and the population are not rare. An analogous situation may occur elsewhere. In such cases the Marxists must primarily organize and systematize the spontaneous forms of struggle, constitute detachments of militia, connect their activity with the population, etc.

Together with terrorism, sabotage has also appeared in enslaved and degraded Europe. Sabotage is not a specifically proletarian weapon but, rather, peculiar to the petty-bourgeoisie. All the Marxist arguments concerning the ineffectuality of individual terrorism also apply to the destruction of such and such a military or economic objective by an individual or a small isolated group. However, certain forms of sabotage may be found combined with popular resistance. In the factories slowing up of production or the debasement of quality may appear whenever Nazi oppression becomes too brutal. The revolutionary party cannot fail to support and enlarge every form of struggle to the extent that it is intimately bound up with the masses.

* * *

After what will shortly be two years of war, after sensational victories, no perspective of solution on the strictly military plane has appeared. The generals can only offer humanity larger and larger theatres of war. Even more directly than in the last war it is the social factor that will decide. It is in following this line that it is necessary to outline our perspective, and it is with this perspective that we must align all our tasks.

Throughout Europe the proletariat is now submerged in the troubled waters of chauvinism. But the socialist solution, so remote today, obscured by nationalisms of all shades, tomorrow will be placed on the order of the day at once. It is necessary to explain patiently to the advanced workers the lessons of yesterday, the situation today and the tasks of tomorrow. It is necessary to gather together the cadres of the party of the revolution. But this preparation is neither possible nor worthwhile except by participating in all forms of mass resistance to misery and oppression, by working to organize this resistance, to co-ordinate and broaden it. It is a task demanding the greatest efforts. But they are worth it, for tomorrow they will bear fruits a hundredfold.