From Fourth International, Vol.5 No.2, February 1944, pp.56-60.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
My Native Land
by Louis Adamic
New York, 1943. Published by Harper & Brothers. Price $3.75.
One of the central problems of European politics today presents a paradox: While national consciousness has been raised to unprecedented heights in the wake of unparalleled imperialist oppression, national liberation is less than ever possible on a national plane.
The Nazi technique of “depopulation” has at one and the same time carried grist to the mills of nationalism and swept the various nationalities together into a community fighting an international struggle. In the course of the experiences of the various nationalities themselves, the concept of national freedom has been transformed into an element of a policy whose application overflows and even obliterates the old national divisions and frontiers of Europe.
In My Native Land, Louis Adamic undertakes to demonstrate how this process unfolded in practice. He starts with a premise and concludes with an evaluation that is thoroughly nationalistic. It is well to bear this in mind. For, drawing in the main on the twists and turns of the struggle in Yugoslavia, Adamic deals with developments which have much wider ramifications. Sensing this, the author even ventures to speculate:
“The Loyalist-Franco war in Spain had been defined as a rehearsal for World War II; was there not danger of Yugoslavia’s becoming to World War III what Spain was to World War II?” (Page 18.)
Adamic’s opening chapters take as their point of departure the simple, yet deep national griefs and aspirations of Slovenian folk, one of the several component nationalities of pre-war Yugoslavia. With evident approval if not in self-identification, the Americanized Slovenian writer quotes Bozha, a girl compatriot whom he befriended on a visit to his homeland in 1932:
“We are not the way we ought to be, the way we could be, we Slovenians,” says Bozha, “Our land is beautiful; so far as I know there is no lovelier place on earth – but it’s a trap. We live here, a small people surrounded by stranger nations, and we are trapped ... We have a thousand years of foreign misrule and oppression behind us. Right now four hundred thousand Slovenians are under Fascist rule in Italy. Our men have had to fight in dozens of wars through centuries, not for themselves, but for people they had nothing in common with and for a long time there hasn’t been enough to go around. There hasn’t been enough to eat and many Slovenians have gone away to North and South America ... Yes, I know that this is pretty much true of all Europeans, probably of people everywhere, but it is more perhaps true to us Slovenians, of us Yugoslavs. There are so few of us, we can least afford it.” (Page 9.)
The same theme, translated into the language of theory, is treated in Adamic’s paraphrase of Kulturne Problemi Slovenstva, a pamphlet written by Josip Vidmar, one of the intellectual lights of tiny Slovenia. Vidmar’s pamphlet is a polemic published in 1930 against Pan-Serbian politicians and a group of Slovenians who were in favor of declaring the native language as a dialect of the Serbo-Croatian tongue, arguing that Slovenians would in this way cease to be a paltry nation of two million and become part of a large people of fifteen million. It is worth quoting the central idea from the paraphrase.
“Vidmar assembled historic facts proving that good things come in small packages. The as yet unsurpassed culture of the Old Greeks was the product of a few hundred thousand people. Christianity was a gift of the small and despised Hebrew group. Italian culture was higher in the days of small republics (Dante) than after the unification of Italy. The same was true of Germany, which after unification, followed by centralization, produced no figure comparable with Goethe ...” (Page 133.)
In other words, according to Vidmar Slovenia’s real future lay in remaining “little Slovenia.’’ Politically, the pre-war program summarizing the feelings of the Bozhas and the thoughts of the Vidmars was equally narrow in its horizons.
“We Slovenians,” Adamic quotes Vidmar as saying as late as 1939, “are now in three countries – a million three hundred thousand of us in Yugoslavia, a half million under Italy because Britain and France sold them out in their secret treaty with Italy in 1915, and close to a hundred thousand in Austria, part of the Third Reich, because Versailles did not honestly adhere to Wilson’s principles of self-determination of nations. At any rate we’re all chopped up as a people. And this fact plays the devil with us in nil sorts of ways ... Before we can have a possible future we must all of us attain political oneness and freedom and independence in a state of our own. This state must be accorded membership in the council of nations on the basis of equality. Then, as soon as we attain oneness and our freedom and independence, we shall be ready and eager to get together with the free Croatians, free Serbians and free Bulgarians and work out with them a fair and honest agreement for a federation of national states with broad autonomies.”
A few months later Hitler invaded Poland and World War II got into swing. Two years later Yugoslavia was invaded by the Axis. The conquerors began to meet with resistance. To cope with this resistance the Nazis granted “national independence” to the Croats, another of the component nationalities of former Yugoslavia. The “depopulation” technique began its work of destruction. The Croat “state” of Ante Pavelich organized wild slaughter campaigns against the Serbs, the dominant national group in the old South Slav set-up. Pan-Serbs in the refugee Yugoslav pro-Allied government boosted the resistance movement headed by Drazha Mikhailovich and encouraged, with Anglo-American backing, the counter-slaughter of Croats engaged in by Mikhailovich’s “Chetnik” forces.
By 1942 the name “Partisans” began to grow in the public mind as still another resistance movement, locked in unrelenting battle not only with the Axis and the Ustashi detachment of Pavelich’s Croat “state,” but also with Mikhailovich’s Chetniks. The Partisan military forces and their civilian counterpart – known as the “Liberation Front” – have been denounced from all sides as “Red,” “Communist,” etc.
This has not prevented them from gradually gaining universal recognition as the strongest fighting force among the nationals of former Yugoslavia. Nor from winning over the “Croatian Air Force” organized for Pavelich by the Nazis (AP dispatch December 15, 1943). Nor from penetrating and inundating, under the very noses of the Allied command, the “token army” of Yugoslavia, kept in the Middle East. (AP dispatch January 5).
Adamic reports that Bozha, the little nationalist girl, fell as a medical officer in the service of the Partisans. Vidmar is Chairman of the Liberation Front of Slovenia, a section of the movement headed by Tito and at present composed not only of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians, but Bulgars, Rumanians and even Italians!
If we quoted at length the words of Bozha and of Vidmar, it was with the intention of underlining their ultimate fate. For much more than their fate as individuals is involved here. Bozha and Vidmar, as Adamic rightfully points out, are symbols for the nationalities that intermingle and clash in the maze of present-day Europe. Starting out with the limited, rather formal outlook of pre-war nationalism they, like the vast mass of their countrymen, wound up in the international movement of Partisans that is sweeping Southeastern Europe.
What makes this Partisan movement tick? What is its program? Its origin? Its course of development? What logic forced the Bozhas and Vidmars in their million-headed mass to join in this international phenomenon, departing as they did from a nationalist base?
That is what the author undertakes to find out. Adamic is not a Marxist and doesn’t pretend to be. But his investigation, even as far as it goes – and for Marxists it naturally does not go far enough – provides sufficient material to understand the revolutionary import of this development; and to evaluate it scientifically as it affects European politics in general.
What is the program of the Partisan movement? Adamic writes:
“The Partisan movement was a year and a half old before any part of its political program was written down. But an unwritten program formulated itself in fighting action, in talk between battles, in physical and spiritual agony. It was very simple:
“1. South Slavic unity on the basis of equality and mutual respect for all national groups and all religions.
“2. Fight against the domination of one nation over others.
“3. Down with Chauvinism.
“4. Economic and social advances for the masses of people – the common man after the war.” (Page 84.)
“Down with Chauvinism!” A curious slogan to use in a “national” struggle! Yet it is beyond doubt that its use – from the first – guaranteed the success of the Partisans. For it was under the banner of “Down with Chauvinism” that the Partisans won over not only the mass of the common people, but even elements hitherto identified with “ultra” Croat and “Pan-Serb” ideologies, the Croat air force and the “token army” of King Peter – events recorded after the publication of My Native Land. So attractive has this slogan proved to be that it has brought detachments of Bulgars, Rumanians and even Italians under the Partisan tent, the Italians being remnants of the regular Fascist army in Dalmatia.
The author gives a sample experience to illustrate the attractive power of the Partisan policy.
“In normal times the city of Focha, in eastern Bosnia, was about half Serbian and half Croatian. In May 1941, the Ustashi came there and killed all the Serbians who had not got away. Five or six months later a Partisan unit, made up of both Serbians and Croatians, seized Focha. They tried and executed all the Ustashi they caught – in punishment for the crime of killing the Serbians. They did not touch any Croatian because he was Croatian. Then the Chetniks defeated the Partisans and capturing the town, killed every Croatian who had not escaped into the mountains. They killed them because they were Croatians. The people, just people, Serbians and Croatians, naturally went over to the Partisans.” (Page 84.)
It does not require extraordinary powers of the imagination to envisage how swiftly the Partisan slogan “Down with Chauvinism” could, under favorable circumstances, spread far beyond the confines of the Balkans, from Bulgars to Rumanians, to Hungarians, Czechs, Poles ... Yes, even to Germans and – Soviet Russians.
“Down with Chauvinism” – the answer to the national question in its most burning aspect – is however only one phase of Partisanstvo (the Partisan movement). The program cited above contains also [Point 4]. “Economic and social advances for the masses of the people – the common man – after the war.” It would be somewhat pedantic to lay stress on this last phrase, “after the war,” or to assume that it has anything in common with the “after the war” promises of the imperialist demagogues. For, insofar as the conditions of seesawing warfare permit, the Partisans are already carrying out “economic and social advances for the masses of the people.”
Adamic recites instance upon instance of temporary seizures and distribution of land among the peasants, the capture and communal operation of mines, the re-nationalization of forests previously handed out as private grants to foreign lumber interests, the confiscation of banks, not to speak of “food from army stores captured by guerillas ... distributed to the needy population ... Flour distributed among starving peasants ... Peasants (receiving) lumber for building without charge.” (Page 180.) The author sums this phase of the program up as follows:
“This was resistance against occupation, but also something else – revolutionary activity clearly aimed at the traitors to the people, at those who collaborated with the enemy and its Quislings, including the Chetniks, and less clearly, but just as surely, at the economic system of pre-war and war-time Yugoslavia which allowed huge individual holdings in the face of mass poverty and permitted the vast raw resources of the country, particularly mines and forests, to be exploited by foreign capital and its native servants and by the hierarchy of the church.” (Page 178)
If point 3 of the “program” answered the strictly national question, then point 4 – as worked out in practice – is beginning to answer the agrarian problem and is even approaching the broader economic solution – nationalization. The latter is somewhat obscured, or rather, relegated to the background in these predominantly agricultural South Slav areas. The far greater emphasis that this aspect of the program would take on with the spread of the movement into industrialized sectors of Europe is self-evident.
Another phase of Partisan policy, not treated in the “program” quoted above, is that dealing with the regime, the political organization of the state. A document, introduced by the author as evidence of the repeated attempts of the Partisans to come to terms with the Chetniks and establish at least a patched-up national unity against the foreign oppressor, sheds light on this phase.
One point in this document, which forms the backbone of the contention, so to speak, and on the basis of which negotiations broke down irremediably, reads as follows:
“6. A provisioning authority which would feed the population, oversee the economy, supply the means of warfare, and organize public safety and order (should be set up). In our opinion it would be a grave mistake if in the present liberation struggle any of these functions should remain in the hands of the old county commissioners, communal executives, gendarmes, etc. To rally the population for the struggle against the occupation it is necessary to install public officers who ... would be personally close to the people and therefore in position to assume responsibility. The old gendarmes, police and county apparatus as well as the old community officials do not answer the need. The old personnel has been in the service of the occupation and is infested with enemy elements and influences. It does not enjoy the people’s confidence and is unsuitable for this critical period. We believe the national liberation committees which the people themselves have begun to establish are currently the most appropriate public representation ... These national liberation committees should be elected by the people regardless of political beliefs. In places where it is impossible to hold elections, committees should be appointed by representatives of all political groups which favor the fight for liberation. We also consider it essential to create a Central National Liberation Committee for all freed territories; and in order to maintain public order and safety we propose the organization of a people’s guard in towns and villages.” (Page 68-69.)
As is well known, this proposal – rejected by Mikhailovich’s Chetniks – has since been put into practice by the Partisans themselves, who now directly challenge the authority of the “regular” refugee Yugoslav government and demand recognition in its place. What we have here is no longer just dual power but an actual reorganization of the whole state apparatus on a new social base. In other words, a revolution.
What kind of revolution? The word Soviet remains, to be sure, unmentioned. But, if this reorganization of the state is taken in context with the rest of the program of the Partisans can there be any doubt that it represents a sector of the coming proletarian revolution in Europe already in its initial stages in predominantly agrarian territory?
From fragmentary news reports, Soviet-sponsored broadcasts, smuggled documents and private letters, Adamic has pieced together a picture of Partisan program and policy that is, if not ideally, yet adequately clear. Adamic’s picture of the origin of the movement is neither precise, nor well-documented. He quotes a former career official who escaped from Belgrade in 1942:
“The Communists were the only people in position to exploit the chaos which ensued upon the enemy’s arrival. They forthwith spread among the people numerous capable men and women, who were especially effective in Serbia where, devoting themselves to entire counties, they mobilized the peasantry ...” (Page 123.)
“Communists” is not a very precise designation. Bourgeois press reports, referring to the first evidences of Partisan resistance in 1941 spoke of “Trotskyist” Communists and “Stalinist” Communists as well as of left Socialists, anarchists, etc., among the political forces participating in its organization. Adamic does not even mention these reports. If the “Communists” referred to in the Belgrade official’s story were Stalinists, then the question arises: how is it that Yugoslav Stalinists organized fighting resistance against the Nazis at a time when their French fellows, for instance, were still trying to collaborate in one way or another with the German occupation authorities? The Kremlin was still resting complacently on the laurels of its pact with Hitler. The Comintern – if that could be considered a factor in the situation – had not yet been dissolved. The exact facts are still shrouded in obscurity by the wartime censorship. And even so competent an investigator as the author of the volume under review has not yet been able to penetrate it. There is, of course, the possibility – indicated by Adamic’s silence about the early reports of “Trotskyist” Partisans – that he may in this instance, be lending support to the general obscurity.
But, even if we assume that the “Communists” who organized the Partisanstvo were indeed only Stalinists, it is hardly likely that they simply acted under Kremlin orders. More probably, cut off at the moment of invasion from direct Kremlin control, they entered into independent activity and – under the impress of actual struggle – developed a position more closely reminiscent of their early training in the Leninist International than the later corruption under Stalinism.
At any rate, up to the summer of 1942, by Adamic’s records, neither the Soviet broadcasts nor the Daily Worker in New York had made any notable mention of the Partisans. Presumably like Adamic himself they had “fallen victim to the Mikhailovich legend  along with everybody else.” (Page 65.)
The actual inter-relation between what later transpired in Soviet Russia and the subsequent development of the Partisan movement is described as follows by the Belgrade career-official already quoted:
“Russia’s entrance into the war followed by Hitler’s failure to destroy the Red Army, gave the Partisans an enormous plus in the eyes of the people, to the detriment of all other guerrilla forces ... Russia’s martial successes became Partisan successes. Their propaganda said that the Partisans were the new movement, the bearers of a new idea whose immediate aim was liberation. And God knows that most of our people – the great majority – were tired of the old and had longed for something new ... Soon Partisan units began to score victories of their own ... Russia’s successful winter offensive added new prestige to the Partisans ... I must admit that as I got out of Yugoslavia (May 1942) the trend was strongly Red ... Large sections of the natsionalni elementi have ceased to count on Mikhailovich. They doubt that help can come soon enough from England and America to stop the roll of the Red wave ...” (Pages 125-126.)
The program of the Partisans became more popular with the growing power displayed by the Red Army. The masses identified the two. Partisan victories began to appear as extensions of the Red Army’s victories. While Mikhailovich’s Chetniks made pacts with the Italian occupation authorities and the Nazi Quislings, the natsionalni elementi – the nationalist popular movement – went over en masse to the Partisans, attracted by this snow-balling power which has its roots in the October revolution of 1917.
Adamic devotes quite a number of pages – among the best writings in this book – tracing the mental metamorphosis of the pre-war nationalists who turned Partisan. He takes the case of Vidmar as a prism.
The reader will recall that on the eve of the war, the present Chairman of the Slovenian Liberation Front demanded the creation of an independent Slovenian state – “political oneness” – as a prerequisite for any further Slovenian interest in Balkan (or European) affairs. Here is how Adamic describes Vidmar’s further evolution. It is worth quoting at length:
“One nation’s demand for certain boundaries may be completely reasonable from its angle, but unreasonable from that of a neighboring country, or impossible in a wider international view. It may be that in 1939 or later, Josip Vidmar the nationalist came to this same impass in his own thinking.” (Page 142.)
What should Slovenians do? Become “Pan-Slovenians” as the Serbians had become “Pan-Serbs”? The danger here was in arousing counter-actions among the neighboring nationalities. The danger was that like other chauvinists, Slovenians would begin to seek boundaries for economic rather than “ethnic” reasons, that they would themselves go in for the predatory politics Vidmar detested.
“At what point did a nation’s struggle for survival shift from the cultural to the ... predatory? Vidmar’s thoughts must have retraced this vicious circle. Wherein then lay the answer to Slovenia’s problem, the problem of the small nation? Time and again his thoughts must have turned to the Soviet Union ...”
“... Perhaps the basis for a sound approach to the problem of small nations was really through economics, through some big economic-political upheaval like the Russian revolution ...”
The inter-relation between economics and national culture began to appear to Vidmar in a new light.
“... Perhaps big, rich, well-developed countries like Britain and the United States could afford capitalism indefinitely ... Their great resources and technics had given them the jump on backward parts of the world ... No overwhelming outside power could interfere with what the British or American industrialist wanted to do, nothing except their own cut-throat rivalry or the objection of their countrymen would frustrate them.
“This was not the case with small countries ... A small-nation capitalist was utterly dependent on foreign capital and on ‘contracts’ with foreign agents and international racketeers-financiers; and his government, on which he also depended, was usually under foreign influence or control. The interlocking pyramid forced him, for his own survival, to support the regime In power in Belgrade or Sofia or Bucharest or Athens or Warsaw; and since the national and international set-up worked only for its own aggrandizement, his own interests inevitably worked against the interests of the people of his country. He had to share the corruption of everything in and around the small nation’s government. He had to help in the deepening of cleavages, the stirring up of chauvinism, Pan-Serbianism, ultra-Croatianism.” (Page 144.)
Adamic has here traced not only the mental processes of a thoughtful nationalist. He has laid bare to the roots the whole process of the bourgeois betrayal of national interests. A process which could just as easily be traced in the recent history of France, or of Italy, as well as Yugoslavia.
Where could the South Slavs turn? According to Adamic, Vidmar answers as follows:
“Naturally the Western countries would be loath to give up the advantages that accrued from the exploitable set-up of small nations. The finance-power people in those countries would fight to keep the set-up or restore it after the war. The peoples of the big democracies would be inclined to back them, naively believing that restoration would be the democratic course. But for the small nations a return to the status quo ante was out of the question. Where to turn then? Russia, no matter What her deficiencies, had in her multi-national organization the sole answer that could possibly interest them. The Soviet Union was the only country strong enough, should they come within her sphere of interest and influence to check a return to the prewar pattern.” (Page 145.)
The consistent nationalist, who sees his aspirations betrayed by the whole interplay of Western monopoly capitalist economics, turns to the Soviet East for a solution. Undoubtedly both the Red Army’s unprecedented victories, and the frightful result of chauvinist politics at home, helped in practice to put the finishing touches to his inevitable decision. And that decision, in turn, means for him: Joining forces with the revolution in action, the proletarian revolution in Europe.
It doesn’t matter whether Adamic’s analysis of what went on in Vidmar’s mind during this metamorphosis is actually true. For Adamic speaks for himself as well. And Adamic is sufficiently immersed in the problems of European politics, to serve as well as any one else as an example of what motivates the mass of the people on that unhappy continent.
As a nationalist, Adamic has of course made a tremendous advance in choosing Sovietization and the USSR, even in its degenerate form under Stalin, in preference to Anglo-American imperialism. But as a social analyst he is too backward, too inconsistent, to be taken seriously.
The same Adamic who so murderously exposes the whole scheme of Anglo-American exploitation of the nationalism of Europe’s small countries winds up this book “thanking heaven” for Churchill and imploring Willkie, Wallace and Roosevelt to give leadership in an American foreign policy which will “mean victory” in “Bikhach, Bosnia”!
This student of European politics who realizes that the “finance-power people” in the Western countries will fight to keep or restore the old Balkan set-up, nevertheless, hopes and thinks it possible that they will tolerate an East European federation that “would go Left socially and economically and would follow the Soviet multi-national cultural policy.”
Perhaps Adamic has been so deeply engrossed with events in Yugoslavia that he has had no opportunity to follow Amgot’s policy in North Africa and Italy, where American and British “democrats” have already provided us with a few samples of what they intend for the rest of Europe.
Moreover, Adamic omits to mention just how he reconciles the Partisans’ “Down with Chauvinism” with the Stalinist campaign of chauvinism which accompanies the Red Armies in their advance against the German military machine.
He speaks of the example of the Soviet multi-national policy, but what thoughts does he have on the Stalinist “abolition” of the Volga German republics, the alleged Siberian settlement of several million Poles, not to speak of the Stalin-Hitler pact that violated the national independence of Poland and gave a weapon to Polish chauvinists? Or the manner in which the Kremlin conducted war against Finland in 1940 and presented all the imperialists with the pretext for posing as champions of small nations? Of all this there is no mention in his book. And yet, the very onward march of the Red Armies will soon raise all these questions in Europe as burning issues, on which sides will be taken and answers made.
However, Adamic is not, for all of his pro-Soviet – more correctly pro-Stalinist – orientation, altogether at ease with the prospect of the future development of Kremlin policy. He says:
“No one knows how strong Russia will actually be after the war. If she is not strong enough to challenge the reactionary forces in Britain and America if they push their way to the top, as they well might, then she may be forced into reaction herself. Back on her defensive, she may try to become a little like the western powers – in anything but the best sense. I think that Joseph E. Davies and other big capitalist-Industrialists who are making up to Russia have this in mind. I think Churchill is hoping that Stalin will become one of the boys.” (Page 471-472.)
But, Adamic does not attempt to go beyond these conjectures, into a political analysis of the Stalin regime. As a matter of fact, he has become one of the pillars of the Stalinist front organizations in this country. No matter what his own personal future may be, Adamic’s My Native Land does tell the story of the Partisans. And this story indicates the road of the European revolution in the making.
For Marxists this story is a striking affirmation of the correctness of the slogan, “Socialist United States of Europe” as the central rallying cry in that revolution. That slogan implies that the solution of the national question in Europe must be sought, first and foremost, along internationalist lines, in an intimate tie-up with a thorough-going class-struggle policy.
“For National Independence!” is an empty slogan which demagogues can fill with a false and even dangerous content. Democratic demands, the demand for constituent assemblies, for elections, for parliamentary government may or may not play an important role in the development of the revolution. Revolutionists will of course support and raise these demands when and where they can become pivots of the struggle against imperialism. But the slogan of “Socialist United States of Europe,” with its inherent support of the right of self-determination of peoples and the demand for power to Workers Councils will and must be raised by revolutionists from the first. This slogan serves not only to distinguish the Marxists from the nationalist fakers of all shades, but also to express the deep-rooted aspirations, both national and social, of the masses of the continent as they face the declining power of the Nazi occupation and the rising might of Yankee imperialism.
In the end, the insurgent European masses rallying to this struggle will overpower not only these two colossal oppressors. They will also, by the very logic of their development overcome the Stalinist attempt to corrode and corrupt the revolution from within. As this movement spreads and takes on its positive form, reaching the heart of the continent, it will sound the death knell not only of imperialism in Europe, but of Stalinism in the Soviet Union as well.
1. Adamic describes in detail how this “legend” was manufactured and fostered by Allied intelligence and propaganda agencies (pp.39-46); and continually refers to its misuse in efforts to combat the rise and popularity of Partisanstvo. But Adamic slurs over the role of the Stalinists in Moscow and abroad who themselves aided at the time in spreading the “Mikhailovich legend.”
Last updated: 18.12.2005