Pierre Broué

Van Heijenoort

A Trotskyist in New York in the Second World War

(April 1990

From Revolutionary History, Vol. 9 No. 4, 2008, pp. 262–276.
Un trotskyste à New York pendant la deuxième guerre mondiale: van Heijenoort, in Cahiers Léon Trotsky, April 1990 (43), pp. 33–47.
Transcribed by Alun Morgan for the Revolutionary History Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

In the obituary that I did for my old friend Van I touched on for the first time the question of his rôle in the analysis of the Second World war and his position in particular on this matter in the IV International. [1] In the past the Cahiers Leon Trotsky has published an article of his from 1942 on The National Question in Europe which enabled one to emphasise the originality of his political analyses. [2] Lastly the international Spartacist tendency with the characteristic irresponsibility in its method of analysis and its taste for amalgamating positions has attributed to both of us similar positions throughout the period.

In fact Van and I had long conversations in the eighties about the Second World War. From 1939 to 1945 Van was a foreign resident in the United States, living in difficult circumstances and sometimes in penury [3], semi-clandestine because of his position as a political emigré [4], kept away from influence by the leaders of Socialist Workers Party, in spite of, and perhaps because of, the part which he had played close to Trotsky and of his membership of the International Secretariat. [5] French in origin, he tried desperately during all those years, to find out what was happening in France, the shifting politics, the major movements in the working class and youth, watching for signs of the rise of the revolution. It was not simple curiosity: convinced of the accuracy of the “proletarian military policy” of which Trotsky had started to present the broad outline before his assassination, he sought the means to apply it in the European situation on the basis of which Trotsky had defined it. He did it with all the more ardour in that he was convinced he was the only one to have understood its spirit and that, as leader of the IS in New York, he clashed daily with Cannon and his representative Bert Cochran (E.R. Frank): forty years later, he still did not know if he had met with total incomprehension or a sectarian bad faith.

During this same period, I was then a young lad fourteen years younger than him, my perception sharpened by observing the crisis of French society, the collapse of the Army and its traditional values, the loss of prestige of “the elite” and the arrival in power of what seemed to me the worst militaro-clerical reaction in the wake of the military defeat. A teenager, initially attracted by Gaullism, then Stalinism, and, in both cases, put off by their organisational practices, I was won only to the idea of armed struggle with the masses against the occupation and the collaborators in Paris and Vichy; anti-fascist, as I said, I however refused to be or to let myself be called an anti-German and these were the “contradictions” which led me into the ranks of the Trotskyists in 1944.

This itinerary fascinated Van and I had to tell him, going over the extra details and unceasingly describing networks, groups, cadre schools, maquis frequented, operations carried out, which made me recollect my state of mind for him, my vision of the war, and also that of my companions in the struggle and my clandestine leaders, and what I had learnt through my personal experience, of the relations between Gaullists and Stalinist, for example. For him I was a past which he still wanted to decipher, a witness to be cross-examined and, it seemed to me, to provide evidence, somewhat despairing, that he had been right when he was silenced, which revived his regrets, his curiosity and sometimes his incredulity.

Undoubtedly these long conversations in the evenings by the side of the Charles river, at Cambridge, or on the paths bordered by eucalyptus on the Stanford campus, left me with the obligation to try today, in this article, to locate and identify his position on the war through his articles in Fourth International for the period when the SWP allowed them to be expressed without too many qualifications: I used for a great part of the period, relatively abundant material, a dozen articles which would undoubtedly occupy a little more than two-and-a-half issues of the Cahiers.

The sources of information on which he based his analyses were nothing extraordinary: the main ones consisted the big American national dailies, the European newspapers until 1940, then only the English ones, afterwards the rare letter from France, brief messages, sometimes the official reports which were confidential but available, a few meetings with someone who had come recently from Europe, reports also from England and Portugal based on bits of information, direct or indirect, from France.

Van was not a contributor to Fourth International who enjoyed the authority of a James P. Cannon. Only one “official” text was from his pen: the manifesto of the executive committee of November 1940 devoted to France under Petain and Hitler. All the others carried the signature of Marc Loris except for the last ones, which are signed Daniel Logan. [6]

The Manifesto gave a progress report on the world situation after the defeat of France. It rejected all the “technical” explanations for the defeat of the French Army. According to him the key resided in the fact that the bourgeoisie never defends the fatherland for itself, but only for private property, privileges and profit, and that it becomes “defeatist” when they are threatened. It was the fear of unleashing, while resisting to the limit, “a revolutionary war against Hitler”, which turned general Weygand into an advocate of capitulation and led him to request an armistice.

He began with the objective fact that the French revolution had not taken place. For him, the opportunity of June 1936 was deliberately snatched away by the socialist and communist parties, whose policy was to bar the road to the proletarian revolution while opening the way to war and Fascism.

Hitler had left to Petain — that was, to the Army high command, supported by “some anglophobe politicians” and the central core of the bourgeoisie — the “free zone” with its capital at Vichy and the job of dealing with the refugee problem and maintaining order cheaply, while enabling him to concentrate his forces for the invasion of Great Britain. The policy of collaboration and the denunciation by Vichy of Great Britain, again given the status of hereditary “enemy” were an invaluable lesson for the French workers:

The bourgeoisie … everywhere and always curbs, in the name of “national” interests, the struggle of the proletariat for its emancipation. The experience of France shows once more that “national” considerations serve only to mask the interests of the bourgeoisie which is always ready to change sides when it is a question of preserving its privileges. [7]

The fate of England had not yet been settled in a conflict which was still spreading. Laval was hoping for a German victory as a result of which he hoped that the French bourgeoisie would be able to participate in the “reconstruction” of Europe. The Manifesto continues:

The struggle for democracy under the flag of England (and the United States) will not lead to a noticeably different situation. General De Gaulle struggles against “slavery” at the head of colonial governors, that is to say, of slave masters. In his appeals, this “leader” uses, just like Petain, the royal “we.” The defense of democracy is in good hands! If England should install De Gaulle in France tomorrow, his regime would not be distinguished in the least from that of the Bonapartist government of Petain. [8]

It was not on the military chiefs that van Heijenoort focused. For him, the class struggle continued:

The big French bourgeoisie has already succeeded in arriving at an understanding with Hitler. National resistance is concentrated in the poorer sections of the population, the urban petty-bourgeoisie, the peasants, the workers. But it is the latter which give the most resolute character to the struggle and will know how to connect it with the struggle against French capitalism and the Petain government. [9]

An act of faith? Van enumerated the evils which were starting to hit them: food shortages, unemployment, inflation and price rises and control of the economy by the large companies. After having drafted the broad outline of a programme of transitional demands (workers control of food supply, sliding scale of working hours and wages, workers’ control of the production, elected factory committees), he continued:

The present situation will scarcely last long. Up to now Hitler’s successes have been due above all to the weakness and decline of the democracies. The real test of the Nazi system has only begun.

He predicted “the inevitable revolts” whose outcome would be determined by the existence of a revolutionary leadership and the Manifesto ends in a statement of faith in the victory of the IVth International in the new period, “that of the struggles and the convulsions of the death agony of capitalism”. [10]

The second article by Marc Loris related to Europe and its prospects. [11] The author’s youth had been marked by the German occupation of the North of France and he was aware of the people’s feeling of hatred against the foreign occupier. He noted as a prominent feature the similarity of the situation everywhere in the various occupied countries, and everywhere the decline of national fascist movements under the German occupation. He stated on the other hand that the upper bourgeoisie was most deeply involved in collaboration and that the advent in France of Admiral Darlan, who derived his influence from his fleet, a major element in the situation, had made Vichy what he called amusingly a “naval Bonapartism”.

On the prospects, he was categorical: Hitler could not unify Europe because the national feeling, which had initially helped him, had come back with a tenfold strength in the occupied countries. The European revolution which was coming would be led by the proletariat and would be characterised by the appearance of Soviets and a more or less long period of dual power. The question of the revolutionary leadership could only be settled if the candidates for this rôle recognised the rising wave of hatred against the occupier and drew the consequences by a declaration of the right to national self-determination.

Criticising the conception according to which the fight against national oppression would force the proletariat to make an alliance with the petty bourgeoisie on the basis of the latter’s demands, he vigorously emphasised that the socialist transformation of society was the only guarantee of the end of national oppression.

Noting that there was developing among both the petty bourgeoisie and even the workers in France a pro-English feeling, he dealt with the question by insisting that it was only necessary to envisage the types of struggle which were coming and to prepare for them. That meant in particular firmness against the petty-bourgeois methods of individual terrorism and sabotage. He concluded:

Throughout Europe the proletariat is now submerged in the troubled waters of chauvinism. But the socialist solution, so remote today, obscured by nationalisms of all shades, tomorrow will be placed on the order of the day at once. The lessons of yesterday, the situation today and the tasks of tomorrow must be explained patiently to the advanced workers. The cadres of the party of the revolution must be gathered together. But this preparation is neither possible nor worthwhile except by participating in all forms of mass resistance to misery and oppression, by working to organize this resistance, to co-ordinate and broaden it. It is a task demanding the greatest efforts. But they are worth it, for tomorrow they will bear fruits a hundredfold. [12]

It was in October 1941 that Marc Loris saw “the first signs of the storm in France”. The conditions in his opinion, had radically changed in the past months: Petain, whose base was weakened, was dedicated to “loyal collaboration”, and the terrorist attacks, like that directed against Laval, were, despite of their futility, an indication of crisis. He wondered whether there was a relationship between the growth of individual terrorism and the Stalinist policy of defense of the USSR by all means, admitted that he was not able to settle the question, but repeated that the coming explosion was approaching and that it was necessary to build the revolutionary party before then.

The article Europe under the Iron Heel, dated 28 January 1942 [13], was a remarkable attempt to describe and analyze resistance in Europe. It described the various armed “resistance” activities, attacks against soldiers of Wehrmacht, attacks against their buildings, sabotage of the telephone installations, the railways and the bloody response of the Nazis leaders — executions of hostages. He stressed the importance of industrial sabotage, ranging from passive resistance to poor manufacture, continual misunderstanding of orders, which caused many “accidents” to materials.

Then he studied the clandestine press in which he first of all distinguished the newspapers that he called “national-bourgeois”, which called for a union of the “men of goodwill”, but were very guarded about their intentions at “liberation”. He stressed that some avoided too much criticism of Petain and that others said openly that they blamed him, above all, for opening the road to revolution. He showed that some of them sharply criticised the Communist Party by pointing out the desertion of Thorez in 1939. He spoke about the ambiguous attitude of the CP and the clandestine Humanité to Germany until the attack of 22 June 1941 and indicated in a sentence the new line of the “National Front”. In a few words he described the attitude of the churches, all the more divided since they were rooted in society and, he pointed out, in this last case, that the mass of the faithful were hostile to the occupation. For him, the hierarchy in general was playing into the hands of the collaborators. Once more he emphasised the decomposition and accelerated decline of the “indigenous” Nazis groups totally compromised by their links with the occupier, more hated than them if that were possible. He was very cautious about the state of affairs among the occupying troops and the rumours of mutinies and executions, but on the other hand he made a solid analysis of the economic situation, the draining of resources by the occupier, the shortages and inflation, the development of black market, together with the social consequences for France of the mass of prisoners of war kept in Germany. He thought that the reports of real hunger riots in several large French cities at the end of 1941 were to be believed.

The sequel to this analysis was in the July 1942 article entitled Washington’s “New Order” [14], in which he analysed the declarations by the Secretary of State Summer Welles and in particular his comment on the “Atlantic Charter”. He wrote:

Today Hitler’s “New Order” has already shown its real face. It is something old — oppression, misery, exploitation. But the “democracies” as well have nothing else to bring to the world. American imperialism is unable to develop the wealth of the globe by making fantastic promises. Far from raising China and India to the material level of the advanced countries, it can only reduce Europe to the level of India. […] the pax americana will be, in the final count, as unstable as the pax germanica. The union of the workers will be the peace of the world. [15]

The two long articles on The National Question and The Tasks of Revolutionaries under the Nazi Boot [16] constitute in a sense the core of Jean van Heijenoort’s thoughts after the three years of war and two of occupation. It is a veiled polemic against those in the movement, who treated the national question with contempt and did not understand the fantastic revolutionary power that came from generalised hatred of national oppression under the Nazi jackboot, and he also asserted the progressive character of a number of small bourgeois groupings of resistance which he stated should not be confused with “the Gaullists”. For him, the latter used the national feeling to chain resistance to the imperialist camp. A more educational approach was needed with other groups which were turning towards socialism but remained very confused. And van Heijenoort insisted on the value and the importance of the democratic slogans during the coming period, in particular that of the Constituent Assembly, which many Trotskyist leaders saw both as a concession to opportunism and at the same time as something counterposed to soviets. The elements of the conflict which would oppose van Heijenoort and his allies, Goldman and Morrow, to Cannon and the SWP leadership were now in existence.

However it remained to deal with the political aspects of the allied landings in North Africa. Van saw a clear confirmation of his world analysis in the decision to keep the admiral Darlan [17], the heir-apparent of Petain and chief of government of “the French State” in Algiers in power. The account he gave, derived from the reports in the New York Times was very appropriate, as was his assessment:

Now, this ex-democrat turned fascist has become an ex-fascist democrat and he works to “free” France. [18]

And van Heijenoort stressed that the American generals, to explain the confidence that they had in the Admiral, invoked “non-interference” in French politics, a supreme hypocrisy, however, since one the first things they had done was to recover the weapons which had fallen into the hands of Algerian peasants.

The conclusions of Van about this episode are very optimistic, because he considered it revealing.

He wrote:

The American collaboration with Darlan must have tremendous political repercussions, not only in France but throughout all Europe. For years millions of men have known intolerable suffering under the Nazi iron heel. A great number of them imagined that their liberation will come through the Anglo-American troops. The first act of the commander of these troops after the first landings was to collaborate with a lackey of the Nazi executioners, who finds a few hours enough to pass from one camp to the other. The people who are now still suffering and struggling under their own Darlans will learn quickly and well — we can be sure of that — the political lesson that must be drawn from this ignoble event. [19]

His last comment showed that he believed that the forecast of Trotsky was now close to becoming reality:

On both sides of the stage the masks are falling off. This means we are approaching the final act, where a new figure enters the scene: the revolutionary proletariat. [20]

In fact, he would recall again on several occasions the Darlan business which he regarded as extraordinarily revealing of the war aims of the allies, or, if one preferred, of the character of the war. In Political Misadventures of the French Bourgeoisie (March 1943) [21] he reconsidered the role of the working masses in the resistance to the occupation, showing the pressure which they exerted, in France, on the so-called “Resistance” organisations and the alliance of the Gaullists and of Stalinists to keep this movement as a sacred union for war. Thus he stressed that reluctantly both because he broke army discipline and because he opposed Vichy which, for the French, embodied reaction, the monarchist Charles de Gaulle embodied a certain kind of “left”.

As for its character, he defined it in a quotation taken from a broadcast speech by de Gaulle, where he criticized the American policy of support for Darlan, on 6 December 1942:

The nation will not permit that these men, having failed in foreign war and feeling themselves condemned, should save themselves by creating conditions from which would spring civil war. [22]

His comment struck like a blow from a fist:

Thus, according to the general, the deal with Darlan is dangerous because it revives class antagonisms. Since then, several spokesmen of the Gaullist movement have underlined the fact that Washington’s policy in North Africa increases the danger of communism in France, against which the Gaullist movement is a much better guarantee than Darlan or Giraud. [23]

A few weeks later, still in Fourth International, still under the name of Marc Loris, van Heijenoort studied the conflict between Giraud, the man of the Americans and de Gaulle, who, he said, was in this matter not in the pockets of the British. [24] For him, this conflict is full of lessons, because it marked what he called “this political rebirth of the French bourgeoisie”, … “in the very special conditions of a colonial milieu”.

According to him, Giraud, the personification of the military chief, had no other program but that of Vichy whose rule in Africa he had maintained, but the general outcry which followed the agreement with Darlan obliged him “to take a democratic mask” and he had to throw out some ballast by dismissing the too well-known Vichyites: which did not prevent him from stressing that he had “no wish to revive the follies that led to the catastrophe in 1940.”, an allusion, in the purest Vichyite style, to the strike movement of June 1936 and the working-class upsurge.

De Gaulle, at the beginning represented a “purely national-military” opposition, but had covered himself since then with a programme of “democracy” and “restoration of republican legality” to preserve contact with and to gain, if possible, control of the Resistance in the interior. The fact that he succeeded in getting foothold in Algiers, against the will of the American government, illustrated the instability of the pax americana. In July 1943, van Heijenoort was astonished that the French upper bourgeoisie did not yet seem to have chosen “the most intransigent bourgeois” nationalism” this Gaullism which, in North Africa, succeeded in bringing together officers of high rank, youth, the students and the “left” petty bourgeois, and which among the working class enjoyed the support of the CP.

His conclusion is a remark of long term significance with which a historian of colonial wars could not fail to be struck.. He stressed how difficult it was for a ruling class to reconstruct its national unity after a military defeat, especially if it had broken the officer corps, like that of 1940 which led to the demand for an armistice and de Gaulle’s broadcast of 18 June, indications of a rupture which would last a long time.

The last contribution of van Heijenoort on the European question in the columns of Fourth International is an article entitled Whither France?, signed Daniel Logan, and dated 17 September 1944. [25]

He started with the observation that a real insurrection had just occurred in France against the German occupation. The press reports of American correspondents enabled him to show that this insurrection was in the majority of cases preceded by strikes in the factories and forced on by the pressure of the masses. He stressed that this insurrection, “whose immediate objective was to destroy the German yoke”, had thus a “popular” and “unanimous” nature which made it resemble the revolutions of the 19th century.

Power was in the hands of insurgents and, even more important than the presence of armed civilians in the streets, was the fact that the factories passed into the hands of the workers as was shown in an article by David Anderson in the New York Times of 7 September. How would the question of property be dealt with? He thought that it could only be by a workers’ government:

The first necessary conditions to go along this road are already here: a firm will among the workers not to go back to the past, a deep contempt for the ruling classes, a great confidence in their forces. That’s what the mere existence of the workers’ committees means. They will gradually fully understand the implications of their position and draw the revolutionary conclusions. The obstacles will not be lacking, the most dangerous of them being the treacherous policy of the Stalinist Party. But the French workers are on the march. [26]

The article by the American journalist led van Heijenoort to a certain number of remarks on points which he thought of greatest importance: the Parisian FFI [French Forces of the Interior] were in fact, according to him, the armed working class, the workers militia in the factories. He stressed their political heterogeneity while indicating the great weight of the CP. He wrote:

On the whole, a leftist spirit must dominate, — a great thirst for freedom, a deep distrust for authority, a complete contempt for the old ruling classes, with their industrialists and bankers compromised by collaboration, a strong desire for something new. [27]

He explained De Gaulle thus:

De Gaulle’s program is, nationally and internationally, the restoration of bourgeois France. Nationally, his first aim is the re-establishment of “law and order.” The present objective of De Gaulle is to stifle the uprising against the Nazis and Vichy in the noose of “republican legality”, — which, of course, would not prevent the general from using in the future, if need be, the Bonapartist sabre. [28]

For the rest, he could make only hollow promises, and announce elections eventually while immediately nominating prefects who came into conflict with against the liberation committees.

For the first time since he had been writing for the American journal, van Heijenoort finally tackled the question of Stalinist influence. The bad state of relations between Gaullists and Stalinists, at the time when he wrote, he explained by the removal of the French Communists from the government and the will of the latter to channel the present discontent against the “men of Algiers”. He did not underestimate them, and wrote:

The Stalinist influence among the Parisian workers is very great … The party has strong positions in the FFI. In fact, the Stalinist Party is the strongest organised political force in France. It has avoided outright collaboration with De Gaulle and is, at the present time, in a kind of opposition, which cannot fail to increase its influence. [29]

The conflict on the horizon was that of the arming of the people:

After the first “popular”, “unanimous” stage of an uprising is over, a problem inevitably rises up: what to do with the arms that brought victory? Today in France hundreds of thousands (maybe over a million) have arms in their hands. The De Gaulle government cannot tolerate such a situation for long, so fraught with dangers for the bourgeois “law and order.” It can do, and is probably attempting to do, two things: either outright disarming the FFI groups or incorporating them into the regular French army. In the second case the question of the discipline would immediately rise up. The FFI elected or chose their own leaders. In the regular army they have to obey officers imposed upon them from above.

[…] The problem of disarming the population will occupy a large part of the political arena in the coming period.

[…] De Gaulle has obviously not the force at the present time to imitate Thiers. His first task is the regrouping of the bourgeoisie. He will eliminate its most discredited and hated representatives, soothe its divisions, try to give it back its internal strength and cohesion and an honest face. He needs time. [30]

This time, van Heijenoort did not conclude with the need for “the revolutionary party” and for the victory of the revolution.

He concluded:

Victory will not be easy. But the French workers have made a good start: coming out of the political primitivism of German oppression, they have immediately started to storm capitalist society. We are entitled to place our highest hopes in them. [31]

In the meantime, Jean van Heijenoort had devoted an article to the Italian situation: Problems of the Italian Revolution dated 9 July 1944, which did not appear in Fourth International like the preceding ones, but in the Quatrième Internationale of the European secretariat in January–February 1945 [32]. It was already clear that he had differences with the SWP leadership and even with the European secretariat. [33]

The author started by recalling that Italian Fascism, for a long time the “herald of the reaction” appeared “one of the weakest links” of capitalism. With the fall of the Mussolini regime, “like a rotten apple” Italy has entered a period “of revolutionary instability”:

The Italian revolution is still in its infancy, but it will grow, will fight, will educate itself and will win. Nobody has any more illusions in the stability of the present regime. [34]

The primary question in his eyes was that of monarchy: whether it was that of the king or the crown prince recently proclaimed the lieutenant-general of the kingdom with the blessing of Togliatti’s CPI, the monarchy remained the centre of reaction, as in the time of Mussolini, which it had borne in its arms for so long. Van Heijenoort wrote:

To all the monarchists, to the ambulating corpses of liberalism and to the stalino-royalists, the revolutionary party must answer by the slogan: Immediate proclamation of the Republic, arrest of the king, the crown prince and the royal family, immediate confiscation of all their goods for the benefit of the people! [35]

He commented:

The party that during present weeks would untiringly diffuse these slogans among the large masses would infallibly draw their attention and thus prepare their ears to receive more advanced slogans. At a further stage it would enjoy the authority of having foreseen the march of the development and of having been with the masses in their most elementary struggles. [36]

To the primary slogan of the “republic”, he added that of the “constituent assembly” together with elections of officials by the people as the only correct way of “purging”, the rights of assembly, freedom of press, meeting, of association, the separation of the Church and the State and the confiscation of Church property.

Breaking with a position which had been his at the beginning of the war, he proposed, on the question of the Soviets, to push the idea in a more “Italian” form. Continuing what was apparently an internal polemic within the SWP, he wrote: “The opposition between the national assembly and the Soviets is at present completely artificial. It becomes a reality only at a higher level of struggle — in fact with its conclusion. If Soviets make their appearance in Italy in the immediate future, it will be by mobilizing the masses on the basis of democratic watchwords [...] the formula should not be “Constituent assembly or Soviets” but to “create Soviets and develop their political consciousness”. [37]

His work on the problems of the Italian revolution ended in a long warning against “the danger of ultra-leftism” and a warning which showed where the core of the discussion was:

History puts all the teachings of Bolshevism on the order of the day more imperatively than ever. And one of these lessons is Bolshevism’s contempt for mere enlightening propaganda about the virtues of Socialism, its ability to feel the aspirations of the masses, to seize upon the progressive side of these aspirations and on that point to drive a wedge that would detach the masses from their conservative parties and leaders. Can this lesson be forgotten in the present time? [38]

So it is no surprise that the last article signed Daniel Logan to appear on this general area in 1945 was a piece dated 1 October 1944 entitled On The European Situation And Our Tasks, a closely argued critique of the SWP congress resolution from November 1944, presented by the editorial board as a discussion article from a member of the minority.

It was a timely intervention. It allowed the author at least to emphasise some inconsistencies and show that the line which underlay them was not particularly clear. Moreover he attacked with devastating irony the assertion of the SWP leadership according to which the coalition government of Ivanoe Bonomi in particular, including Socialist and Communist ministers, would only be a cover for the “open military dictatorship” of the Anglo-American occupation.

He also stressed the confusion which prevailed in the majority resolution on the possibility of seeing the re-appearance in Europe of bourgeois democratic regimes, the only real alternative after the war being, according to it, either the dictatorship of the proletariat or the most brutal police or military dictatorships.

Pointing out that the majority resolution spoke neither about the slogan of “republic”, nor of that of “constituent assembly”, limiting itself to “the election of officials” and the “freedom of the press” he suggested the launching of the slogan of a “Togliatti-Nenni Government” (PC-PS).

He explained:

Thousands, tens of thousands can learn through direct propaganda [...] But millions, tens of millions have to come to Socialism through their own experience. They have to discard, one after the other, regimes about which they have had illusions. They have to discard false leaders in whom they have put their confidence. The task of the revolutionary party is to speed up and facilitate that process as much as possible, but it cannot jump over it. This is precisely what programs of democratic or transitional demands are designed for. [39]

The amendments presented by Van at the national congress were rejected by 51 votes to 5. A few weeks later, he declared himself in favour of transferring the powers of the IS [International Secretariat] in New York to the ES [European Secretariat] in Paris, putting an end to this situation. His struggle in the SWP minority with Goldman and Morrow belongs to another chapter of the history of IV International.

The best analyst of the SWP, Alan Wald, in the few allusions which he makes to Goldman, Morrow and van Heijenoort, is very severe towards them, recognising however that they were largely correct when they opened the discussion and when they raised the problems of methods, but criticised them for having deviated seriously and having become hostile, adopting methods that they themselves had condemned. [40]

Such as it was, with its breaks, imperceptible turns, interruptions, and with the gaps in our knowledge, the route of Jean van Heijenoort between 1940 and 1944 is enthralling. In conclusion one finds there very little incantation and acts of faith, of hollow formulae and set language, but on the other hand a permanent attempt to analyse the facts under development as Trotsky would have done. In this respect, this reflection is rather impressive, opening horizons of which professional historians and political commentators seem to have been unaware.

His thought seems to have become more concrete as the formulae and references, which were not justified by reality but which at first he considered essential to convince people of his orthodoxy, disappear. From this point of view, it seems that van Heijenoort evolved while moving away from and even opposing Cannon, whose more rigorous formulations were often scarcely compatible with a complex reality.

There remained a terrible gap. The ritualistic references of the early years were followed at the end of this period by the recognition, which was not completely disillusioned, that the “revolutionary party” did not exist; the revolutionary crisis had not waited for it, and without it, it was fated to go into decline.

Like all the Trotskyists of his generation, wasn’t Van convinced that, without such a party, the revolution had not least chance of being successful?

Was this, in the last analysis, the cause of a certain despair observable both in his writings and in later remarks made in confidence? The last political text of van Heijenoort, his farewell to Marxism, placed the responsibility for the “bankruptcy” of the revolutionary cause on the working class which had failed to play the role of a revolutionary class, and thus forced the revolutionaries who had expected too much to recognise that their beliefs had been illusions and their analyses abstract constructions. [41]

Under these conditions, indeed, one cannot long continue an effort in the political field, if one has a feeling, which undoubtedly van Heijenoort had, that he could “be useful” in and develop his enthusiasm in another area. But I maintain the conviction that the isolated French Trotskyist in New York who tried to disentangle and get a grasp of the chain which led from national oppression to proletarian revolution, did not waste his time and that his effort to understand the course of the war will one day, in one way or another, help to understand and to change the world.


1. Pierre Broué, Van, le Militant, l’Ami, l’Homme, Cahiers Léon Trotsky, no. 26, June 1986, pp. 7–14.

2. Marc Loris, La Question nationale en Europe, Cahiers Léon Trotsky, no. 23, September 1985, pp. 88–110. For the originals in English see all these articles on the web at http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/heijen/index.htm.

3. He lived by “moonlighting” and doing odd jobs for comrades.

4. The American Army called up for military service a man who went under several pseudonyms, and who eventually took a female pseudonym to make his life easier.

5. Trotsky’s correspondence expresses the fear that his old colleagues, Jan Frankel, and Van, would be regarded as his “spies”. In their correspondence from New York, both hid neither their difficulties nor their severe judgements on the American leadership.

6. We have used here one unsigned article, twelve signed Marc Loris and two signed Daniel Logan; fourteen published in Fourth International and one in Quatrième Internationale. The Manifesto appeared in Fourth International, I, no. 7, December 1940, pp. 179–182, under the title France under Hitler and Petain. Manifesto of the Fourth International. For the original in English see http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/heijen/index.htm.

7. Ibid., p. 180.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid., p. 182.

11. Marc Loris, Perspectives for Europe, Fourth International, II, no. 6, July 1941, pp, 179–182.

12. Ibid., p182. For the original in English see http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/heijen/index.htm.

13. Marc Loris, Europe under the Iron Heel, ibid., January 1942, pp. 52–57. For the original in English see http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/heijen/index.htm.

14. Marc Loris, The Washington “New Order”, ibid., III, no. 7, pp. 211–214. For the original in English see http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/heijen/index.htm.

15. Ibid., p. 215.

16. Marc Loris, The National Question in Europe, ibid., III, no. 9, pp. 264–268 & Revolutionary Tasks under the Nazi Boot, ibid., no. 11, pp. 333–338, both published in French in Cahiers Léon Trotsky, LT no. 23, cf. N.2. For the originals in English see http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/heijen/index.htm.

17. Marc Loris, North Africa, A Lesson in Democracy, ibid., III, no. 11, pp. 359–362. For the original in English see http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/heijen/index.htm.

18. Ibid., p. 361.

19. Ibid., p. 362.

20. Ibid.

21. Marc Loris, The Political Misadventures of French Bourgeoisie, ibid., IV, no. 3, pp. 76–79. For the original in English see http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/heijen/index.htm.

22. Ibid., p. 78.

23. Ibid.

24. Marc Loris, The Giraud-de Gaulle Dispute, ibid., IV, no.7, pp199-202. For the original in English see http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/heijen/index.htm.

25. Daniel Logan, Whither France?, V, no. 9, pp. 267–270. For the original in English see http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/heijen/index.htm.

26. Ibid., p. 268.

27. Ibid., p. 269.

28. Ibid.

29. Ibid.

30. Ibid., p. 270.

31. Ibid.

32. Marc Loris, Problèmes de la Révolution italienne in Quatrième International, janvier–fevrier 1945, no. 14/15, pp. 19–22.

33. An introductory note to Loris’s article expressed reservations because of the date at which it was written, six months earlier. It should be remembered that the Loris article can be found in almost its entirety in that of Logan cited below.

34. Quatrième International, no. 14/15, p. 19.

35. Ibid., p. 20.

36. Ibid.

37. Ibid., p. 21.

38. Ibid., p. 22.

39. Ibid., p. 31.

40. Alan Wald, The New York Intellectuals, NY 1987, pp. 254–256.

41. Jean Vannier (JvH), A Century’s Balance Sheet, Partisan Review, March 1948, pp. 288–296.

Last updated on 1.11.2011