“Our Eighth Army”
The bourgeois state desperately fears giving arms to the working class. Historically, the proletariat seizes arms when faced with a felt threat (e.g., the Spanish workers faced with Franco’s coup). The use of the slogan “arm the workers” gave a semi-defensist tilt to the WIL’s propaganda. Jock Haston, Sam Levy and Millie Lee opposed this tilt, particularly when it cropped up as softness to the bourgeois defense forces of the Home Guard. But Haston would not argue against the P.M.P. itself, since Cannon and Trotsky were its proponents. This led Haston into the dishonest methodology of denying that Cannon and Trotsky meant what they wrote—ludicrously he claimed that the P.M.P. was simply a program for work in the armed forces (as if Leninists had not always opposed individual draft resistance!).42 It was apparently Haston’s intervention that pulled the WIL back from an early approach to social-patriotism. A subsequent WIL resolution on the military policy drops the demand “arm the workers” and also demands the dissolution of the Home Guard.43
Yet a current conciliatory of defensism continued to run through the WIL’s propaganda. We have appended to this bulletin a flyer for a 1942 WIL meeting. This flyer presents workers control of production as the answer to the “chaos” of British war production, and it contains not one word of opposition to the war. In a speech to the 1943 WIL conference, Ted Grant went so far as to proclaim:
We have a victorious army in North Africa and Italy, and I say, yes, Long Live the Eighth Army, because that is our army. One of our comrades has spoken to a number of people who have had letters from the Eighth Army soldiers showing their complete dissatisfaction. We know of incidents in the army, navy and other forces that have never been reported, and it is impossible for us to report. It is OUR Eighth Army that is being hammered and tested and being organised for the purpose of changing the face of the world. This applies equally to all the forces.44
Trotskyists Under the Nazi Occupation
Especially after the Nazi occupation of France in June 1940, the pressure on the Trotskyists in occupied Europe was enormous. Added to this was the pervasive cliquism which had riddled the European groups ever since their formation in the early 1930s. So it is not surprising that, cut off from senior cadre internationally, and with the death of Trotsky, most individuals and virtually all the groups showed major disorientation, ranging from partial revision of some crucial aspect of Leninism to the total abandonment of Marxism. Jean Rous, who had supported Trotsky’s positions in many of the faction fights in the French section from 1934 to 1939, defected to found the “Mouvement National Révolutionnaire” under the slogan “Neither Vichy nor London, neither Berlin nor Moscow.” The MNR took the position that Hitler’s Germany, like Stalin’s Russia, represented a new, higher stage of capitalism. They flirted briefly with Déat’s French fascist party, calling on the French state to defend itself against “Judaism, Masonry and Jesuitism.”45 Most MNR members eventually joined the Gaullist Resistance.
The German section, the International Communists (IKD), which existed during the war only in exile, broke with Leninism toward Menshevism when it claimed that “the transition from fascism to socialism remains a utopia without a stopping place, which is by its contents equivalent to a democratic revolution.” They espoused a movement for “national freedom” by “all classes and strata.”46
But even among those who maintained a revolutionary perspective, the reaction to Nazi occupation generated symmetrical deviations on the national question that broke sharply, if episodically, with the tradition of Trotskyism and Leninism. When the P.M.P. did become a subject of debate, it was in the context of this broader debate on the national question.
Colony-starved German imperialism sought, first of all, to subject all of Europe to a savagely brutal imperialist domination. The more agrarian and backward Eastern Europe had long been the object of German imperialist ambitions. But the German occupation of industrially advanced West Europe also raised the issue of national oppression, though not in a way that is simply analogous to the struggle for national liberation in a traditional colonial situation, where the agrarian revolution is a central driving force. After the fall of France, Trotsky himself had noted that “France is being transformed into an oppressed nation....Added to social oppression is national oppression, the main burden of which is likewise borne by the workers. Of all the forms of dictatorship, the totalitarian dictatorship of a foreign conqueror is the most intolerable.”47
On the eve of the war the French Trotskyists were in political and organizational disarray. The official French section, the Internationalist Workers Party (POI), had fractured in February 1939 over the question of entry into Marceau Pivert’s PSOP. The PSOP had recently emerged from the French Social Democracy in opposition to support for the bourgeoisie’s war preparations (for much of the preceding period the head of the French Socialists, Léon Blum, had been leader of the governing Popular Front coalition). Entry into the PSOP represented an opportunity to intersect thousands of leftward-moving workers and petty bourgeois. While the minority of the POI, headed by Yvan Craipeau, did enter the PSOP, the majority initially refused to do so, leading to a break with the International Secretariat in June. The Pivert organization disintegrated after the war began.
Craipeau’s followers regrouped to form the “French Committees for the Fourth International,” which was considered to be the official French section of the Fourth International at the Emergency Conference held in New York in May 1940.48 In August, this organization fused with Marcel Hic’s wing of the ex-POI which had opposed entry into the PSOP. Documents written by Marcel Hic provided the basis for the fusion, though the new organization kept the name “French Committees for the Fourth International.” Hic espoused an explicitly nationalist and popular-frontist line, declaring that the Trotskyists “stretch out [their] hands to the ‘French’ faction of the bourgeoisie.”49 Hic also called on English workers to abandon revolutionary defeatism and support the military struggle of British imperialism.50 However, Hic’s positions faced strong opposition from within the fused group, especially from Marcel Gibelin.51 A period of intense internal debate followed, which resulted in the French Committees abandoning the more extreme class collaboration and social-patriotism expressed in the early documents.
Other groups broke with the Trotskyist program in an opposite direction, by denying that any aspect of the national question existed in Nazi-occupied Europe. This was the position of the “Revolutionary Communist” group composed of Austrians, Germans and Czechs who had fled to France in 1938.52 It was also the position of some of the Greek Trotskyists, represented by L. Kastritis of the Workers Vanguard group, who continue to maintain that “occupations during the imperialist war are nothing but a phase, an incident of a smaller or greater significance of the prolonged war....It neither raises a national question and a question of National Liberation, nor, finally, does it change the basic duties of the proletariat, i.e. the transformation of the war into a civil war.”53 This general approach was shared by the French Barta group,54 precursor of Lutte Ouvrière, which withdrew early on into the same kind of sterile economism it maintains today, and by the followers of Amadeo Bordiga, some of whom briefly fused with the Trotskyists in Italy in 1944.
In August 1940 Henri Molinier, central leader of the International Communist Committee (CCI, the Molinier-Frank group), wrote a document entitled “What Is To Be Done?” which equated the Soviet Union and Hitler’s Germany as new, “progressive” forms of “state capitalism.” Molinier (for whom Trotsky had always expressed a great deal of esteem, unlike for his brother Raymond) called for work in all mass organizations, including fascist ones.55 As might be expected, this document gave rise to an intense faction fight which lasted until the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 eliminated the basis for this eclectic and impressionistic state capitalism.
A little over a year later, the CCI sent to Germany some of its members who had been requisitioned by the Nazis for forced labor (the STO—Obligatory Labor Service).56 Some members of the Dutch Committee of Revolutionary Marxists (CRM) also went to work in Germany. The CRM had emerged in 1942 from the remnants of Henk Sneevliet’s organization and declared for the Fourth International a year later, though it remained out of contact until the end of the war.57 There was mass evasion of STO in most of occupied Europe, but it was either brute force or raw hunger which impelled most of those who participated—and some revolutionaries were forced to go through this experience with the rest of the European proletariat. Working in Germany was anathema to the bourgeois nationalist Resistance movements and their Stalinist collaborators, but another consideration entered into the equation for the Trotskyists: the strategic importance of the German revolution, in which STO workers could be expected to play an important role. The CCI formed a cell near Berlin and attempted to propagandize among French and German workers, while a member of the CRM participated in a strike in Bremerhaven.
Were the Trotskyists such wishful thinkers to expect (and work for) a proletarian revolution to arise from the ashes of a defeated Germany? Only worshippers of the accomplished fact can think so. The Nazi authorities were forced to shoot or hang some 80,000 German soldiers for insubordination or desertion during the war. In 1942 the Militant published two letters which had been smuggled to an American friend by a socialist worker who had been drafted into the Wehrmacht.58 This German soldier, a member of the League of Revolutionary Socialists, spent three weeks in Warsaw at the end of 1941. He records with horror the starvation, despair and utter hopelessness of the Ghetto masses. Managing despite all odds to make contact with some Jewish Bundists and Polish Socialists, when he returned to Berlin this young worker raised 500 marks from among those in his underground resistance group. The money was sent to the Polish Socialist Party, and to the Trotskyists and Bundists active in the Warsaw Ghetto.
The memoirs of André Calvès, one of the Trotskyists who helped build the cell in the German armed forces at Brest, are full of instances of German soldiers’ sympathy and material aid for acts of proletarian resistance. What of the German soldier at the Porte d’Orléans who handed over his pistol on demand with an “auf Wiedersehen Genossen” [see you later comrades]? What of the German soldiers and sailors in Brest, shot for their work with the Trotskyists in distributing Arbeiter im Westen?59 The putrid and venal nationalism of the mass bourgeois and Stalinist Resistance forces—“A chacun son boche”60 —made both fraternization and the task of organizing inchoate opposition within the German armed forces much more difficult than they had to be.
In the face of the overwhelming repressive forces unleashed against the proletariat (and these included the national bourgeois forces of “law and order” and the Stalinists as well as the invading imperialist armies), the Trotskyist cadre, for all their youth, inexperience and episodic disorientation, continued to be animated by the spirit and program of revolutionary internationalism. The reconstitution of a European Secretariat in early 1942 was a tremendous accomplishment. The 1945 Saigon uprising led by the Vietnamese Trotskyists; the publication of Arbeiter und Soldat; the cell built in the German armed forces at Brest; the publication of the Trotskyist newspaper Czorwony Sztandard in the Warsaw Ghetto; the work of the CRM and CCI in Germany; the participation of the Indian Trotskyists in the “Quit India” movement; the American Trotskyists who sailed on the Murmansk run; the involvement of Trotskyists (including British and American soldiers) in the revolutionary wave which swept Italy in 1943; and the participation of both the WIL and the SWP in strikes and other trade-union struggles which objectively cut across the imperialist war effort: all of these are ample testimony to the courage and even audacity of the small Fourth Internationalist forces in the face of almost incalculable odds.61
During the war and its immediate aftermath the ranks of the Fourth International were decimated by savage imperialist repression—and Stalinist assassination. Many of the sections were virtually decapitated; some, like the Vietnamese, destroyed altogether. It is almost impossible in hindsight to appreciate the magnitude of the losses. Rodolphe Prager lists names of those known to have fallen—over one hundred—and there were many more.62 Of these, almost half were murdered in Greece, especially by the Stalinists in the civil war of 1945. But it wasn’t only Greece. The Nazis eliminated the leadership of the French and Belgian parties. They also executed almost the entire Central Committee of Henk Sneevliet’s Dutch Marx-Lenin-Luxemburg Front. Of those Trotskyists who did survive the war, many returned from the hell of Ravensbrück, Buchenwald, Auschwitz. The years preceding the war had seen the leadership of the International thinned by a wave of Stalinist assassination (Leon Sedov, Erwin Wolf, Rudolf Klement, Trotsky himself). By 1945 few of the leaders of 1939 survived. Abram Leon, Léon Lesoil, Marcel Hic, Ta Thu Tau, Chen Chi-chang, Walter Held, Pietro Tresso (Blasco)—all were gone.
The losses in Europe and Asia underline a critical failure on the part of the SWP leadership—they were unable to take on the leading role in the International, a responsibility that was posed for the SWP after Trotsky’s death. The SWP was the one section which had been founded by cadre who came over as part of a faction from the Communist International; the section which had been strengthened most by close collaboration with Trotsky; the section which, because it was situated on the North American continent, had the most material resources, a large maritime fraction and thus some limited ability to move around the globe during the war. Yet they did not see themselves as responsible and barely kept up the pretense of maintaining a functioning International Secretariat in New York. They did not even attempt to set up an outpost in a neutral European country. No doubt the utter disaster of Cannon’s 1939 trip to France, made at Trotsky’s urging in an attempt to resolve the fracturing of the French section around the question of entry into the PSOP, played a role here.63 In addition, the defection of the Shachtman and Abern faction was keenly felt in the SWP. But they should have tried.
Opponents of the “Proletarian Military Policy”
The British and American Trotskyists emerged from the war relatively intact. The Stalinists had relentlessly condemned the Trotskyists for their defeatism, while both the British and American bourgeoisies had prosecuted Trotskyists for their opposition to the war. Yet the experience with the P.M.P. hardly steeled the SWP and RCP for what lay ahead—its sole redeeming quality was that it didn’t work. Its utopian character meant that it was not likely to be implemented, and in any case it had ceased to be the centerpiece of propaganda on the war by the end of 1943. The British and American Trotskyists continued to pursue the class struggle, and to view themselves as antiwar and anti-imperialist.
The documents presented to the March 1944 founding conference of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), reprinted in this bulletin, reflect the lack of applicability of the P.M.P. in the political climate created by certain German defeat. The resolution presented jointly by the WIL and the Trotskyist Opposition of the RSL, which was adopted as the position of the RCP, presents a very mild version of the P.M.P. Point 7 of this resolution, which attempts to detail the “progressive motives” of the defensism of the masses, does, however, reveal the central problem with the policy. The resolution of the Militant Group of the former RSL is correct as far as it goes, but perfunctory and formal.
The resolution of the RSL’s Left Faction gives the issue the attention it deserves, making some very cogent arguments for revolutionary defeatism. But the Left Faction errs in equating defeatism with a “neutral” attitude toward the “enemy” imperialist camp in war. Revolutionaries are defeatists toward all the imperialist combatants. Moreover, the Left Faction reveals a fatuous ultraleftism in opposing democratic demands during wartime (including the demand for air-raid shelters!). Demands to extend to the masses the provisioning and protection privileges enjoyed by army officers can be quite powerful in wartime. Moreover, if won, these measures represent a serious drain on the imperialist war effort. The February Revolution in Russia began as a strike by women textile workers in Petrograd demanding bread.
Max Shachtman’s polemics against the P.M.P., also reprinted here, do not suffer from the excesses of those of the Left Faction. Shachtman had recoiled in horror at the Hitler-Stalin pact, which precipitated WWII, and his Workers Party remained highly attuned to the views and moods of the large Depression-bred intellectual milieu typified by the Partisan Review. Shachtman seized on the patent revisionism of the P.M.P. to score some correct points against his bitter factional opponent Cannon, whom he attempted to portray as some kind of simpleton in “theoretical” matters. It was extremely convenient for Shachtman to brush aside Trotsky’s role in the elaboration of the P.M.P.: Cannon was a far more useful foil than the newly martyred Trotsky. It should be noted, however, that at the time Shachtman had available to him almost all of Trotsky’s writings on the subject—they had been published in the October 1940 Fourth International. By 1950 Shachtman had developed his own, anti-Soviet, version of a “proletarian military policy.”64
The document of Comrade C. adds a new dimension to the discussion of the P.M.P.—he observes that “trade-union control of national defense” under bourgeois rule could only be instituted in a fascist or corporatist sense. The acuity of Comrade C.’s observation (no doubt the result of first-hand experience of the Nazi jackboot) is borne out by the fact that the only trade-union federation which adopted the program of the P.M.P. during the war was the Confederation of Mexican Workers—the corporatist creature of the ruling party of the Mexican bourgeoisie (today’s Institutional Revolutionary Party).65 Aside from the too acrimonious debate on the question of whether the SWP’s resolution should have been printed, both Comrade C.’s letter and the reply of the leading committee are admirable statements, especially given the context in which they were written.
There were other opponents of the “Proletarian Military Policy.” The Indian BLPI evidently published a polemic on the question in 1944.66 And according to Rodolphe Prager the Belgian section, initially at least, refused to include the passage containing the demand for “trade-union control of military training” when they published Trotsky’s May 1940 Manifesto. Unfortunately, many of the issues in dispute during the war, including the “Proletarian Military Policy,” were never fought out to a real conclusion. While the European Secretariat published an informational bulletin on the P.M.P. in April 1945 and invited discussion on the subject, this never materialized.67 Jacques Privas attempted to reopen the question at the Second World Congress in 1948 but both the British and American sections evidently opposed this, and Privas’ motion referring the question to the incoming International Executive Committee narrowly failed. We can only agree with Prager when he regrets that the issue was never resolved.68 In hindsight it is clear that the uncorrected departure from Leninist principle over the P.M.P. facilitated the acceptance of the revisionist campaign of the International Secretariat leadership around Michel Pablo a few years later. Pablo deprecated the role of revolutionary Marxist program and organization, initially in the light of the consolidation of the Russian seizure of Eastern Europe, and he advocated the entry of the small Trotskyist nuclei into the Stalinist parties. This led to a split in the Trotskyist forces, the destruction of the Fourth International, and the subsequent shift of most of the elements involved onto the political terrain previously inhabited by the pre-war London Bureau.69
Trotsky vs. the SWP
That Trotsky’s motivations in putting forward the P.M.P. did not fully coincide with those of the SWP in adopting it, is clear from the series of discussions he held with SWP leaders in June 1940.70 In these discussions Trotsky advocated that the SWP give critical support to the presidential campaign of American Communist Party (CP) leader Earl Browder. Trotsky raised this proposal because the CP, as a result of the Hitler-Stalin pact, had temporarily dropped its popular-frontism in favor of exposing the imperialist war aims of the American bourgeoisie. The SWP refused to critically support Browder, and in the discussions Trotsky put his finger on the reason why: the SWP feared to break its bloc with the virulently anti-Communist pro-Roosevelt forces in the American trade unions. This observation by Trotsky lends weight to the view that the SWP’s fulsome adoption of the P.M.P. stemmed in part from opportunist appetites. One can see a similar opportunist thread in the workerist trade unionism of the WIL. In all fairness to Trotsky, it must be pointed out that he was murdered before the P.M.P. was fully elaborated by the SWP.
Daniel Guérin has suggested that Trotsky’s intransigent Soviet defensism played a role in the genesis of the “Proletarian Military Policy.”71 Certainly no one reading Trotsky’s writings over his last year can doubt that he saw catastrophe approaching as the disastrous effects of Stalin’s beheading of the Red Army became apparent in the wake of the Hitler-Stalin pact. Guérin certainly writes well on the startling prescience of Trotsky’s predictions as to the course of the war. But Guérin is wrong to posit the existence of “two” Trotskys, one a proletarian revolutionist and the other a Soviet official. Trotsky had since 1917 maintained both elements as integral to his revolutionary proletarian worldview. Yet Guérin is not completely wrong. In a letter to the New York Times on 1 October 1939, Trotsky, arguing that only U.S. entry into the war on the Allied side would break Stalin from his pact with Hitler, did implicitly suggest this course to the U.S. bourgeoisie.72 While Trotsky’s letter was in no way a programmatic statement of the Fourth International, it indicates that the extreme danger posed by the war to the homeland of the October Revolution loomed very large in his mind. This must have played a role as Trotsky elaborated the P.M.P.
Broué Picks Up the Gun
In his Cahiers Léon Trotsky article, Pierre Broué guts the P.M.P. of its programmatic content, and he is willfully blind to its Anglo-American bias. For Broué Trotsky’s last writings on universal imperialist militarism are simply a sort of call to “pick up the gun,” and he argues that the Trotskyists should have entered “a mass movement based on national and social resistance” to fascism—that is, the various Partisan movements in Europe.73 He sees the failure of the Trotskyists to enter such formations as central, implying that this determined their lack of success in leading a proletarian revolution in any country at the end of the war.
But Broué avoids a crucial question—the class independence of the proletarian fighting forces. Although the Partisan movements in France, Italy and Greece followed very different trajectories, where the leadership was not simply bourgeois nationalist it was Stalinist, and the Stalinists had subordinated their forces to the military and political alliance with the “democratic” imperialists. Participation by the small Trotskyist nuclei in nationalist bourgeois or Stalinist military formations in a subordinated or assimilated role would have meant abandoning a class position, crossing the line to class collaborationism. Moreover, it would have tended to cut across the necessary strategy of subverting the Axis armies through revolutionary fraternization.
Without securing sufficient weight for the class-conscious fraction as would allow the right of veto over the activities of the Partisan group or withdrawal from it, such involvement could only be, and was, a noose around the necks of the revolutionary workers, to be drawn tight sooner rather than later. Many of the Trotskyists who did enter or attempt to work in such formations were simply slaughtered by the Stalinists. This was true particularly in Greece, which Broué upholds as his main example. Only in Yugoslavia did a Partisan struggle against the German occupation forces end in a successful overturn of capitalist property relations, the first of a series of postwar social overturns led by peasant-based guerrilla formations. But what resulted was a workers state deformed from its inception by a bureaucratic regime qualitatively similar to that in the Soviet Union. In West Europe the Partisan forces were made to hand the reins of power back to the bourgeoisie, while in most of Eastern Europe the Soviet Red Army filled the vacuum of state power left when the Nazis retreated.
The question that Trotskyist strategy had to address was: who would prevail upon the collapse of the Axis occupation—the forces of the revolutionary proletariat, or those of the Allied imperialists? The Stalinist forces were still perceived by the masses as the proletarian vanguard formation (the exceptions being Vietnam, Ceylon and Bolivia, countries where the proletariat came to class consciousness after the Comintern adopted an explicit policy of collaboration with the “democratic” colonial powers). The prestige of the Communist Parties had only been enhanced by the military victories of the Soviet army, and the Stalinists used this prestige to tie the masses to the forces of bourgeois nationalist “law and order,” building illusions in “liberation” by the Allied armies.
There was a great disproportion between the end and the means: concluding the war through victorious proletarian revolution versus the scattered scores and hundreds that were the Fourth International. During the war the Trotskyist forces were for the most part too small to have anything but a propagandistic orientation to the layers of advanced workers, most of whom followed Stalinist leadership. In hindsight and from afar, we cannot presume to determine exactly what else they might have done, but the policy of the tiny Dutch CRM seems admirable. The CRM opposed political assassination and other individual acts of terror against the Nazi occupying authorities—these acts had no military impact and simply brought down increased German repression on the general population (dealing with proven informers for the Germans was of course another matter). The CRM advocated economic sabotage in the form of working slowly, and strikes and other forms of mass proletarian action where feasible. Defense of the Soviet Union was an important part of their calculations:
Since 90 per cent of the German army has been thrown against the Soviet army, the workers (German and foreign) have the duty deliberately to weaken German war production, by means of so-called “economic sabotage” in the weapons and munitions factories and in the transports to the Russian front.74
The CRM produced some 44 issues of De Rode October from their formation in 1942 until the end of the war. They also produced an internal discussion bulletin. While the CRM had a very small membership—between 50 and 75 by 1945—the biweekly De Rode October had a circulation of some 2,500 in 1943, and at the end of the occupation their cadre emerged virtually intact.75
The small Trotskyist forces had to await the opportunities provided by mass proletarian struggle. Such struggle did occur, even under Nazi occupation. A massive strike wave greeted the attempt to impose the forced labor program in Greece in December 1942, and the Nazis had to give way to it. The insurrectionary state of mind of the Greek masses was also reflected in the April 1944 mutiny against the Metaxas-supporting officers of the Greek armed forces in Egypt. In Italy there was an uprising against the German occupying forces in Naples in 1944, and insurrections in several cities in the north after the Allied landing. In Genoa the Germans actually surrendered to the Partisan forces. In the Netherlands there were three major strikes against the German occupation forces: in 1941 a strike in Amsterdam and other northern towns protested the first arrests and deportations of Jews; a two-day general strike in April 1943 protested the sending of Dutch prisoners of war to Germany for forced labor; and in September 1944 there was a national railway strike, called by the bourgeois Resistance in support of the Allied invasion.
The CRM expected that revolutionary resistance would erupt first in the Balkans and Italy—the weakest links in the Axis empire. They were right in their projection, but, as they had also noted, a revolutionary breakthrough in southeastern Europe would probably “bleed to death” unless the German proletariat came to its assistance. As early as February 1943 De Rode October put its finger on the main factor working against such a revolutionary upsurge in Europe—the projected Allied invasion.76 The much-heralded Allied “second front” would only be established when the Soviet Red Army had militarily weakened the Wehrmacht, i.e., at the point when a revolutionary development within Germany was most likely. De Rode October warned that it was a race against the clock between a German revolution and Allied-led counterrevolution. If revolution had broken out in Europe, including Germany, prior to the Allied landings, the imperialist armies would have been subject to the disintegrating effects of a major political upheaval, while at the same time the High Command would have made every effort to smash the revolution. As it was, however, the Allied imperialists invaded first. Events after the July 1943 landing in Italy confirmed the CRM in its prognosis—the Allied armies provided the indispensable military might under cover of which the Italian bourgeoisie, with the aid of the Communist Party, was able to disarm the insurrectionary proletariat.