...the question of the right revolutionary response to imperialist war, and whatever else they were (vehicles for colonial liberation struggles, etc.) WWI and WWII were such wars, was developed by Lenin and the Bolsheviks during World War I.
That position of revolutionary defeatism for your imperialist homeland however has been a tough nut to crack no more so that during WWII when the long knives were very sharp and it was easy to become defensist for the losing imperialist side like in France during the Occupation. As recent wars like the American occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan have shown it is relatively easy (hell even bourgeois politician have fed at that trough) to oppose your side in the wars aims it pursues it is another to call for its defeat as the lesser evil in the class struggle. Yet as the Bolshevik example showed there is not much wiggly room on this question to drive the struggle forward.
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Peter Paul Markin comment on this series:
This is an excellent documentary source for today’s leftist militants to “discover” the work of our forebears, particularly the bewildering myriad of tendencies which have historically flown under the flag of the great Russian revolutionary, Leon Trotsky and his Fourth International, whether one agrees with their programs or not. But also other laborite, semi-anarchist, ant-Stalinist and just plain garden-variety old school social democrat groupings and individual pro-socialist proponents.
Some, maybe most of the material presented here, cast as weak-kneed programs for struggle in many cases tend to be anti-Leninist as screened through the Stalinist monstrosities and/or support groups and individuals who have no intention of making a revolution. Or in the case of examining past revolutionary efforts either declare that no revolutionary possibilities existed (most notably Germany in 1923) or alibi, there is no other word for it, those who failed to make a revolution when it was possible.
The Spanish Civil War can serve as something of litmus test for this latter proposition, most infamously around attitudes toward the Party Of Marxist Unification's (POUM) role in not keeping step with revolutionary developments there, especially the Barcelona days in 1937 and by acting as political lawyers for every non-revolutionary impulse of those forebears. While we all honor the memory of the POUM militants, according to even Trotsky the most honest band of militants in Spain then, and decry the murder of their leader, Andreas Nin, by the bloody Stalinists they were rudderless in the storm of revolution. But those present political disagreements do not negate the value of researching the POUM’s (and others) work, work moreover done under the pressure of revolutionary times. Hopefully we will do better when our time comes.
Finally, I place some material in this space which may be of interest to the radical public that I do not necessarily agree with or support. Off hand, as I have mentioned before, I think it would be easier, infinitely easier, to fight for the socialist revolution straight up than some of the “remedies” provided by the commentators in these entries from the Revolutionary History journal in which they have post hoc attempted to rehabilitate some pretty hoary politics and politicians, most notably August Thalheimer and Paul Levy of the early post Liebknecht-Luxemburg German Communist Party. But part of that struggle for the socialist revolution is to sort out the “real” stuff from the fluff as we struggle for that more just world that animates our efforts. So read, learn, and try to figure out the
wheat from the chaff.
Ian H. Birchall
With the Masses, Against the Stream-French Trotskyism in the Second World War
The enigma may be illuminated, if not solved, by examining how those revolutionaries who lived – and died – during the war elaborated their line. The case in France, where one of the strongest Trotskyist currents in Europe had to fight for four years against the Gestapo and the Stalinists in order to maintain independent proletarian politics, is of particular interest. Two recent books have made available much of the documentation on this period. 
The Trotskyist movement entered the war armed with a theoretical perspective developed by Trotsky in the extensive writings of his final year, notably the Manifesto of the Fourth International on the Imperialist War and the Proletarian World Revolution of May 1940, written by Trotsky himself. When compared with the confusion and opportunism emanating from the reformist and Stalinist parties, Trotsky’s analyses were lucid and principled. They were, however, to prove wrong on a number of key questions.
Essentially, Trotsky believed the coming war would produce a cataclysmic upheaval in the world order. The political regime in Russia, he claimed, would ‘not survive the war’.  And in the West the consequences would be equally catastrophic:
‘All countries will come out of the war so ruined that the standard of living for the workers will be thrown back a hundred years. Reformist unions are possible only under the regime of bourgeois democracy. But the first to be vanquished in the war will be the thoroughly rotten democracy. In its definitive downfall it will drag with it all the workers’ organisations which serve as its support. Capitalist reaction will destroy them ruthlessly. 
In such a perspective there was no place for reformist politics. The Comintern was ‘already a corpse’ and the Second International was being ‘killed by the present war for the second time and, one must think, this time forever’.  Trotsky was even confident enough to name names:
Attlee and Pollitt, Blum and Thorez work in the same harness. In case of war the last remaining distinctions between them will vanish. All of them, together with bourgeois society as a whole, will be crushed under the wheel of history. 
Trotsky sharply rejected any notion of taking sides in the war:
By his victories and bestialities, Hitler provokes naturally the sharp hatred of workers the world over. But between this legitimate hatred of workers and the helping of his weaker but less reactionary enemies is an unbridgeable gulf. The victory of the imperialists of Great Britain and France would not be less frightful for the ultimate fate of mankind than that of Hitler and Mussolini. Bourgeois democracy cannot be saved. By helping their bourgeoisie against foreign Fascism, the workers would only accelerate the victory of Fascism in their own country. The task posed by history is not to support one part of the imperialist system against another but to make an end of the system as a whole. 
Militants of the pre-war Parti Communiste Internationaliste came together to form the Comité Communiste Internationaliste pour la construction de la IVe Internationale (CCI), which published the paper La Seule Voie. This was a tighter-knit group, more orientated to theory, which only very gradually developed an agitational practice.
Thirdly there was the Octobre group, which had evolved out of the pre-war Abondanciste movement, and developed towards Trotskyist positions. And finally there was the Lutte de Classes group which had broken from the rest of the French Trotskyist movement in 1940, primarily over its insistence on tighter organisational forms.
Early in 1944 the POI, CCI and Octobre groups agreed to unite into a single organisation, the Parti Communiste Internationaliste (PCI), which became the French section of the Fourth International. Only the Lutte de Classes group stood aside from the reunification – it was the forerunner of the Lutte Ouvrière grouping of today.
The Lutte de Classes grouping essentially shared this prospective, writing in May 1943:
In fact European capitalism cannot live on after this war without lowering the standard of living to its furthest limit and establishing a dictatorial political order. Longer and deeper economic crises than all those we have hitherto known, massive and permanent unemployment, low wages, rising prices, political slavery, these are the post-war perspectives if we permit capitalism a further spell of life. 
The United States wants to preserve Hitler as a counter-revolutionary gendarme in Europe for as long as it will take them to overcome the resistance of the Stalinist bureaucracy, whose existence does not allow them the freedom of manoeuvre they need against the European revolution. 
Faced with the partly spontaneous character of the partisan movement, an expression of the open and inevitable revolt of broad layers of working people against German imperialism and against the order and the state of the native bourgeoisie who in their eyes are responsible for their poverty and suffering, the Bolshevik-Leninists are obliged to take into account this will to struggle on the part of the masses and to try, despite the many dangers deriving from the nationalist forms that this struggle assumes, to orient it towards class aims. 
The national movement of the masses, far from having strictly nationalist roots, goes deep into one of the most fundamental contradictions of the capitalist system in the imperialist epoch; it is above all the manifestation in the form of nationalism of the radicalisation of the petit-bourgeoisie, a new expression of the revolt of the middle classes against big finance capital. 
Unity can be established this very day in the struggle for wages, for food supplies, against deportations to Germany. But it cannot and must not be established around a programme which once more subordinates the working class to the bourgeoisie. It must on the contrary open the way to the struggle of the working class for power. 
One practical question on which the French Trotskyists were able to do limited but significant work was fraternisation with occupying Germany soldiers. They were not, of course, the only people to do so. In terms of sheer quantity the PCF distributed far more propaganda aimed at German troops. But what they produced fell within the normal framework of military propaganda aimed at demoralising enemy forces. It was within the framework of these analyses that the French Trotskyists had to face the practical question of how to relate to the growing Resistance movement. The harsh conditions imposed by the occupiers, and the imposition of forced labour and deportation, drove thousands upon thousands of people into active opposition. From 1941 onwards the movement was dominated by two tendencies, Gaullism and the French Communist Party (PCF), and the latter often outdid the former in terms of crude nationalism; their slogan was ‘chacun son boche’ (let everyone kill a Hun).
Such work is a testimony to the courage and dedication of those involved, but its actual effectiveness seems to have been limited. However, the political line which led to this work ensured that the Trotskyists clearly demarcated themselves from the political line of the PCF, which supported and organised acts of individual violence against members of the occupying forces. The Trotskyists opposed this, in terms of classical Leninist opposition to terrorism as well as because of their perspective towards the German proletariat. As La Verité put it:
The terrorist act creates a barrier between French workers and German soldiers, but no victory is possible without unity between them. 
On balance, we can say that the Trotskyist strategy of fraternisation was politically correct, but that the hopes of a significant response were very over-optimistic. The key factor, which both confirmed the validity of the perspective and prevented its success, was the determination of the United States that Hitler should be crushed militarily and that there should be no question of a popular anti-Hitler rising in Germany which could threaten the security of capitalist domination of occupied Europe. Hence the publication of the Morgenthau Plan, which declared the intention to reduce Germany to the level of an agricultural country, and the Allied insistence on unconditional surrender. Though this may have prolonged the war, it effectively stifled any revolt in the German army or working class.  Given the relation of forces, there was little or nothing the revolutionary left could do to alter this situation.
The other question which helped define the French Trotskyists’ attitude to the war was, of course, the characterisation of the Russian state. Here ‘orthodox Trotskyism’ was unchallenged. (At the first Congress of the PCI in 1944 one delegate argued that Russia was imperialist, and then left to join the Council Communists.) Theoretically, this was a serious defect; but in practice the consequences were not so grave, since the movement still held firmly to Trotsky’s contention that the best way to defend Russia was to strengthen the international working class and advance the cause of world revolution. The tendency to abstract the ‘defence of the Soviet Union’ from a revolutionary context and to glorify the Red Army as an agency of Socialist expansion still lay in the future. But the analysis of Russian society as essentially unstable did undoubtedly reinforce the tendency to develop a cataclysmic perspective of events at the end of the war. In January 1944 the European Conference of the FI declared:
The war, making contradictions of the Russian economy intolerably acute, has inescapably struck the hour for the liquidation of the Russian bureaucracy. 
These are only the first echoes of the crisis which will soon sweep away Stalinism as an ideology foreign to the proletariat. 
Yet despite the determination shown by the militants, the task of industrial implantation presented enormous problems. On the one hand was the danger of simply submerging oneself into the day-today economic struggles. In July 1944 the PCI internal bulletin reported on the success of the members in Nantes in producing a workers’ paper Front Ouvrier. This had taken up local grievances – for example poor conditions in a factory canteen – and had become very popular among the workers, who enthusiastically helped to distribute it. Yet the paper failed to draw out a clear political line; as a result many workers believed that the paper was produced by the PCF. 
Yet on the other hand militants of a tiny organisation found it difficult to integrate with their fellow-workers; as an article in the POI internal bulletin from April 1943 puts it:
Our comrades don’t go to the canteen with their workmates because they have too many other things to do, and they’re wrong. They change address frequently and local contacts suffer as a result. This tends to make Bolshevik-Leninists a sort of social category which is alien to the others, and having only rare and difficult points of contact with the others. 
Early in 1944, the PCF decided to build armed groups of workers in the factories (patriotic workers’ militias). Initially La Verité denounced these as a ‘nationalist trap’, and it was only towards the end of May that the line changed and the PCI called on workers to ‘join the militias in your factories, whatever label they have, and make them into effective workers’ militias’.  Once again, this was too late for effective United Front work.
In August 1944, at the moment of the liberation of Paris the PCI issued an appeal for a United Front with the PCF and the Socialist Party. Needless to say, no reply was ever received; without any prior preparation in terms of United Front at the base, the mass reformist parties could afford to treat the Trotskyists with contempt. 
It is, of course, a frequent phenomenon for small groupings to make their own weakness into a virtue; and the French Trotskyist movement was no exception. The worst offender in this respect was the grouping around La Seule Voie. This argued right up until 1943 that the key task was not to work among the masses, but rather to form a disciplined and theoretically trained cadre which would eventually be able to take advantage of a changed situation. Against this the POI grouping insisted that a cadre could be trained and a party built only through the experience of involvement in the mass struggle. 
In retrospect the 1944 fusion of the POI and the CCI may be seen as less than the major step forward which it appeared to offer at the time. If the POI had carried on with its own more open orientation, instead of compromising with the much more unhealthy sectarian elements in the CCI , it might have had more chance of taking advantage of the situation that opened up in 1944. The pursuit or ‘Trotskyist unity’ meant that much time and energy was diverted into internal debate and negotiation.
The Normandy landings in June 1944 opened up a new social dynamic. For the Lutte de Classes group nothing had changed; it refused to seek the right to publish legally and its paper continued to appear as a clandestine publication, arguing:
Today the bourgeoisie is trying to manoeuvre the Fourth International movement in France by granting permission to appear legally to a paper which claims to belong to the movement. We denounce this manoeuvre, and we also denounce the compromise of those who believe that they can really fight against imperialist war with the authorisation and under the control of bourgeois censorship. 
The PCI says to workers: you’ve had enough of the war; you want to be really liberated; trust no-one but your own class. Don’t trust Eisenhower. Get organised today in militias, stay grouped in your own factory which is your bastion; don’t let yourself be mobilised in the army of liberation; prepare for a new June 1936: you must elect your factory committee, your soviet, to free yourself from your proletarian slavery. 
From now on the movement was downhill. While immediate seizure of power was unlikely in 1944, a rising tide of struggle might have produced a revolutionary situation within two or three years. Instead, the PCF co-opted and tamed the movement. The Trotskyist movement retained a certain degree of influence up to the time of the Renault strike in 1947, before falling apart in a series of debilitating internal disputes. 
The story of French Trotskyism in the Second World War is, despite the enormous courage and determination of those involved, one of failure. To ask whether that failure was inevitable can only be an exercise in idle speculation. What we can learn from that experience is, firstly, the possibility of fighting for principled internationalism even against enormous odds; and secondly the danger, even in the deepest crisis, of underestimating the power of reformism.
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