From Fourth International, vol.6 No.5, May 1945, pp.131-133.
Transcribed, marked up & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.
“PEACE” COMES TO EUROPE The belligerents in the second world slaughter have succeeded in reaching a clear cut military decision. Germany has been completely crushed. On the continent of Europe the agony of the imperialist war is thus concluded; the agony of the imperialist “peace” has begun. Amid the blaring trumpets of victory, the “democratic” imperialists are boasting that “civilization has been saved.” They mean of course that the world still remains safe for capitalism. Having survived the war, they confidently expect to survive the peace as well. But what does this mean in reality?
The answer to this question is to be found in Europe. For the second time within twenty-five years, Europe which emerged so terribly impoverished from the war of 1914-18 is confronted with the problem of “reconstruction.” Post-Versailles Europe was able to attain temporary stabilization within 5 years, that is by 1924. But even then, this postwar stabilization of capitalism was due primarily to the absence of mature and genuine proletarian parties in the advanced countries of Europe. World imperialism was thereby enabled to dam up the first wave of the proletarian revolution within the boundaries of the former Czarist empire.
The objective conditions under which the work of capitalist “restoration” must be conducted in the period ahead, however, differ not only quantitatively but qualitatively from the objective conditions in the period of 1918-24. A brief summary will serve to illustrate the new and unprecedented situation.
Europe entered the first imperialist war after decades of unbroken peace, with huge reserves of wealth and the highest living standards in its history. The arena of military operations at that time was restricted to a relatively small sector of the European continent. France and Belgium were the main battlegrounds. By and large, the direct impact of the war was felt by the predominantly agricultural areas of France. The most industrialized sections of Europe, first and foremost Germany, while gravely impaired, could be set in order again. The colonies, another vital sector of the world capitalist system, remained virtually immune. As a matter of fact many of these colonies underwent a certain development in wartime. As a consequence post-Versailles Europe could draw from the outset not only upon its industrial apparatus at home but also upon the raw materials, foodstuffs and other reserves of the colonial empires. Moreover, in the very course of the first imperialist war key sections of the capitalist world economy went through a period of unparalleled expansion.
UNREPEATABLE CIRCUMSTANCES First and foremost there was, of course, America. Freed from the competition of its European rivals, with the war market in Europe representing an unlimited and highly profitable outlet, with the colossal resources of the North American continent to draw upon, US imperialism developed its productive forces to the highest point attained under capitalism. In Asia, too, capitalist economy was able to record important advances through the hot-house development of Japan’s industries. And in Europe itself, the neutral countries like Denmark, Holland, the Scandinavian countries, and even backward Spain, passed through a period of war prosperity.
Finally the bourgeoisies of the victor countries in Europe – England and France – themselves disposed of sufficient resources, supplemented by the pillage of Germany, to postpone for almost two years the inevitable economic crisis resulting from the war. By extending the artificial war prosperity into the initial postwar period they were thus able to weather the highly critical stage of demobilization and reconversion to peacetime production. The combination of all these factors, in the absence of genuine revolutionary parties, made possible the post-Versailles stabilization of Europe. And even then it took half a decade. And even then this stabilization was so temporary that within four years, by 1929, Europe and the whole world were convulsed by the most terrible economic crisis and depression.
Not a single one of the above-listed favorable conditions obtains today.
When the continent was again plunged into the whirlpool of war in 1939, European economy as a whole was in a chaotic condition. The war has completed the devastation of the preceding peacetime period. The arena of military operations embraced the entire continent. Europe’s productive apparatus has been gutted. Even insular England has not been spared, suffering war damage which in all likelihood equals and even exceeds the 1914-18 devastation of France. The country that has suffered the most in point of destruction of the productive apparatus is unquestionably Germany, with the rest of the continent not far behind.
BALANCE SHEET OF THE WAR On May 6 the New York Times summed up the situation as follows: “Economically, the basis of Europe’s prewar economy is gone.” The May issue of Fortune magazine, one of the Big Business organs in the US, flatly states that not only the economic basis of capitalism in Europe but its financial system and political superstructure lie in ruins. “This time,” says Fortune, “the foremost war victim is Europe’s economic system. Its social, technological, financial order has to be restored in toto.” In other words, it is not a question of capital “repairs” but of rebuilding from the ground up.
Nor has Europe’s colonial empire remained intact. As a matter of fact, the colonies have this time served as one of the main arenas of struggle. The destruction in the Orient has been on a scale comparable to that in the Occident. It will take years to bring back the colonies to their prewar levels of production. Instead of aiding in Europe’s reconstruction, the colonies themselves are in need of rehabilitation. Furthermore the war in the Far East still continues.
The expansion of America’s productive capacity in the present war constitutes in essence a by-product of production for war. Nothing could be falser than the idea that this capitalist colossus has grown richer in this war, just as it did in the last. The monopolies and the other war profiteers have indeed benefited, but the country as a whole has been gravely strained by the war. The current prosperity is a fictitious one. And while the American imperialists possess the reserves with which to prolong the artificial boom of the war into the postwar period, such a repetition of the maneuver employed by the European bourgeoisies in the post-Versailles epoch will only render the inescapable economic crisis all the more catastrophic when it does erupt in this country. So far as Europe is concerned the crisis has long been raging there, and the lowest depths have not yet been plumbed. It is an economic crisis whose scope and intensity may well lead to consequences that will match the suffering and havoc of the war itself.
CAPITALIST BARBARISM In the midst of charred ruins and famine, unemployment is hitting all-time highs in such countries as France and Italy. The ranks of the unemployed are dwarfed by still another vast army of paupers, the dispossessed populations of wrecked cities and villages, the “freed” slave laborers of Germany, and the bulk of Germany’s own population of 80 millions who have been designated in advance as slaves by the Big Three conferees at Teheran and Crimea. Armies of homeless children are now a commonplace. Their number in France is estimated at half a million; dispatches from Italy paint a picture no less gruesome. The situation in Germany beggars description.
Transplanted to “civilized” Europe today are conditions of mass degradation and misery that have hitherto been witnessed under barbarous Asiatic regimes. That is how far Europe has been hurled back by the war.
The reports of Nazi horror camps, undeniably genuine, constitute only a segment of the horror that Europe has already gone through, and even ghastlier horrors ahead. Reports from Europe blandly admit that the coming winter on the continent will be far worse than at any time during the war itself. The article from May issue of Fortune reiterates that conditions in Europe at peace will be far worse than they were under Nazi occupation, and then goes on to quote “a most distinguished authority” who said:
“In the British and American area of occupation the condition, for the people will be those of a sweatbox, to say it politely.”
Allied propaganda concerning Nazi atrocities is intended to prepare public opinion not only for the savage peace terms for Germany agreed upon by the “Big Three” at Crimea but also for the even vaster abominations of their projected “sweatbox” in Europe.
Under far more favorable conditions it proved impossible for the continent as a whole during the post-Versailles era to return to the pre-1914 levels of production. After a shortlived period of stabilization, capitalist Europe plunged into a crisis which terminated in war. In view of the existing situation what sort of stabilization can Europe possibly look forward to under the decayed capitalist system? The only conceivable “stabilization” would have as its basis greatly reduced levels of production, with the toiling people reduced to the status of coolies and all this solely in preparation for other crises and wars.
THE ONLY WAY OUT The negative and destructive aspects of capitalism in every sphere of social life have thus come to the fore as a result of the second slaughter of the peoples. All the contradictions, evils and crimes of capitalism have become so monstrously aggravated and multiplied that the very physical survival of the peoples demands its immediate abolition. The very scope of the ruin compels that steps toward socialism be taken without delay. There is no other way for Europe to rise again; there is no other way of salvaging the continent ruined by the war; there is no other way of alleviating the sufferings and tortures of the toilers and the exploited.
Once the hypnosis of the war is dispelled, it will no longer be possible for the imperialist victors and their Stalinist accomplices to hide the grim truth. The full impact of the war and its consequences upon the consciousness of the duped and tortured millions still lies ahead. The great teachers of revolutionary Marxism warned consistently that under capitalism society was confronted with the alternative: advancement through socialism or regression into barbarism. This scientifically grounded forecast is the reality of our generation. Plunged headlong into capitalist barbarism, the peoples of Europe and of the whole world must seek and can find salvation only through socialism.
THE ADVANTAGES OF TROTSKYISM In May 1940, five years ago, the Emergency Conference of the Fourth International adopted its historic Manifesto on the Imperialist War and the Proletarian Revolution. It was the last great programmatic document written by Leon Trotsky. In it he made the following appraisal of the world movement which he founded:
... It is impermissible to put on the same plane the present revolutionary vanguard with those isolated internationalists who raised their voices at the outbreak of the last war. Only the Russian party of the Bolsheviks represented a revolutionary force at that time. But even the latter, in its overwhelming majority failed, except for a small emigre group around Lenin, to shed its national narrowness and to rise to the perspective of the world revolution.
The Fourth International in numbers and especially in preparation possesses infinite advantages over its predecessors at the beginning of the last war. The Fourth International is the direct heir of Bolshevism in its flower. The Fourth International has absorbed the tradition of the October Revolution and has transmuted into theory the experience of the richest historical period between the two imperialist wars. It has faith in itself and its future.
On May Day 1945, the day which for more than half a century has symbolized the international solidarity of the working class and the struggle for the communist future of mankind, we the followers of Leon Trotsky can proudly record the undeniable great strides achieved by world Trotskyism. No other movement has withstood the test of the second imperialist war.
GROWTH OF THE CADRES In country after country the organizations of the Fourth International are emerging from the crucible of the war much stronger than they entered it. The Fourth International was the only world organization that met on the eve of the war. It was the only world working class organization that was able to convene international conferences in the course of the war. The first of these was the Emergency Conference held in May 1940; the second was the European Conference which met in France in February 1944 under the very noses of the Gestapo.
In the very midst of the war fusions took place of Trotskyist groups into unified parties, among them the Revolutionary Communist Party of Great Britain, the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India and Ceylon, and most recently, the Internationalist Communist Party of France. Throughout, our comrades in India and France have had to conduct their activities, as they still do, under conditions of illegality.
In other countries where the original cadres were decimated by the Nazi executioners, the movement has been reconstituted. The revolutionary Communist Party of Belgium and the reorganization of our Greek thinkers are among the sections that have passed through this experience.
Some groups, like the German and Spanish, have continued their work under conditions of emigration – in many instances in Nazi-occupied Europe.
Among the most significant conquests of the world Trotskyist movement are its sections in the colonies and semi-colonies: India, China, Indo-China, Egypt, South Africa, Palestine, Cuba, Mexico, Chile and other lands.
Revivals of working class movements are swiftly followed by news of the formation of Trotskyist groups where none had existed previously. Thus, shortly after the downfall of Italian fascism, we received word of Italian Trotskyists in Southern Italy. We confidently expect in the near future to hear from our co-thinkers in Northern Italy.
GRANITE FOUNDATIONS OF MARXIST THEORY
The newspapers, theoretical organs and publications of the Trotskyists appear in many languages. The readers of our magazine have had the opportunity to acquaint themselves with the Marxist documents of our Indian and European comrades. These writings faithfully reflect the great vitality of the respective sections of the Fourth International and the unbreakable ideological bonds between them.
The unity of the world Trotskyist movement is sealed by the revolutionary will to struggle, indomitable perseverance, unswerving loyalty, iron discipline and the glorious tradition of struggle that they share in common. It can be said without any fear of exaggeration that no other political movement in history has ever faced such odds and withstood such persecution as have the Trotskyists.
The bourgeoisie, whether “democratic” or fascist, does not mistake its mortal enemies. The “democratic” jailers in the USA kept guard over 18 leaders of the American Trotskyist movement, who were sentenced for their opposition to imperialist war on the day this country entered the conflict. Churchill’s police clapped the leaders of the English Trotskyists in prison at the first favorable opportunity. Our Indian co-thinkers suffered the same fate at the hands of the colonial despots. Both the Gestapo and the GPU have ruthlessly hounded the Trotskyists.
OUR MARTYRS The list of our martyrs is very long. Among those who fell in the course of the second world war while fighting under the banner of the world revolution are:
In his May 1940 Manifesto, Leon Trotsky wrote:
At the beginning of the new revolution, the opportunists will once again strive, just as they did a quarter of a century ago, to imbue the workers with the idea that it is impossible to build socialism on ruins and devastation. As if the proletariat is free to choose! It is necessary to build on those foundations which history provides.
The Fourth International marches forward and, will conquer because it is consciously carrying out the task inexorably posed by history: the organization of the working class for the conquest of political power and the establishment of socialism throughout the world.
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Last updated on 12.9.2008