Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History

How Trotsky and the Trotskyists confronted the Second World War

This article links the subject matter of our previous issue on the history of the revolutionary movement in Greece to the general theme of this magazine, that of the attitude to be taken up by revolutionaries towards the Second World War. It first appeared under the title Trotsky et les Trotskystes face à la deuxieme guerre mondiale, in Cahiers Léon Trotsky, no.23, September 1985, pp. 35-60. Yet again we must offer our thanks to Professor Broué and his conscientious translator John Archer for permission to publish this thought-provoking contribution. It drew a sharp criticism at the time from Pierre Vert, Trotskyists in World War Two, Spartacist, nos.38-39, Summer 1986, pp. 46-8, to which Broué addressed a curt rejoinder, Broué Replies in Spartacist, no.40, Summer 1987, and then a more extensive reply, La deuxième guerre mondiale: question de method in Cahiers Léon Trotsky, no.39, September 1989, pp. 5-21.

The debate was extended by the publication of the Documents on the Proletarian Military Policy, the second of the Prometheus Research Series, in February 1989. The implications of the documents were further commented upon in World War II and the Proletarian Military Policy in Workers Vanguard, 17 March 1989, and Workers Hammer, April 1989.

Three issues of the Cahiers Léon Trotsky have so far been devoted to this historical problem (nos.23, 39 and 43, September 1985, September 1989 and September 1990), and we have been able to publish two of our own, Revolutionary History, Volume I nos.3 and 4, Autumn and Winter 1988. In the first of these appears Jean-Paul Joubert’s essay on revolutionary defeatism (from the Cahiers, no.23) along with an essay written for us by Sam Levy, The Proletarian Military Policy Revisited, which now appears in the Cahiers, no.43. Those who are anxious to explore this theme in more detail are referred to the introductions to the different articles in these two previous issues of our journal, where numerous other references can be gleaned.

The dilemma of the European Trotskyists at the time is explored in Le Trotskysme et l’Europe pendant la deuxieme guerre mondiale by Gerd Rainer-Horn, a young man who does not always see fit to acknowledge the sources of his material, in Cahiers Leon Trotsky, no.9, pp. 49-75, and by Al Richardson, Fourth International? What Fourth International? in Workers News, October-November 1990. Other documentation on the collapse of the leading organs of the movement at the start of the war occurs in Trotsky in 1939-1940: The IEC Does Not Exist, in Spartacist, nos.43-44, Summer 1989, pp. 28-31. The politics of the French Trotskyists during the resistance struggle are now becoming more clearly known, both through their propaganda, more of which is now available in Documents sur la politique du Front Ouvrier (POI 1943) et sommaires des numeros du journal Front ouvrier (1944-48), which appeared in Les Cahiers du CERMTRI, no.48, March 1988, and by their courageous activity on the spot as remembered by Andre Calves, Sans bottes ni medailles: Un trotskyste breton dans la guerre, which can be obtained from La Breche at 2 rue Richard Lenoir 93100, Montreuil, France, at a cost of 60 francs plus postage.

Opinions regarding the American (or Proletarian) Military Policy among the Trotskyists were sharply divided at the time, and remain so today. Readers of the former issue of our journal will gather that the majority of Greek Trotskyists were opposed to it. Stinas expressed himself most bitterly on the politics of the American, British and French Trotskyists during the Second World War (Memoires, Paris, 1989, p. 273), and an equally forthright condemnation by Karliaftis takes up the Minneapolis case in particular, in Cannon and the SWP: On the Track of the Social Betrayers in Front of the Second World War: Documents of the Workers Vanguard (Greece), in Internationalist, no.5. January 1983. His criticism is derived from that made at the time by the veteran Spanish revolutionary Grandizo Munis, in Defense Policy in the Minneapolis Trial in International Bulletin, Volume 2 no.4, and afterwards in El SWP y la guerro imperialista (1945) and Le Trotskysme et la Defaitisme Revolutionnaire (both of them still obtainable from Alarma, BP 329, 7564 Paris Cedex I 3). Similar criticisms were made at the time by the Indian Trotskyists (cf. Charles Wesley Ervin, Trotskyism in India, in Revolutionary History, Volume 1 no.4, pp. 312). In Britain opinion was divided, the Revolutionary Socialist League itself being torn between outright rejection of the Military Policy by the Militant Centre Group of D.D. Harber and John Archer, together with the Left Fraction led by John Robinson and Tom Mercer, as against enthusiastic support from the Trotskyist Opposition of John Lawrence and Hilda Lane. The other group, the Workers International League, moved from a guarded response to a more whole-hearted agreement with the American SWP as the war went on (cf. S. Bornstein and A Richardson, War and the International, London 1986, pp. 12-5, 34-5, 40-2), to the extent of publishing Cannon’s courtroom testimony as a general educational pamphlet on Socialism in three separate editions. And there were still those associated with the WIL, like Fred Kissin, the leader of the Danzig Trotskyists, who felt that it did not go far enough, submitting a contribution of this own to the internal bulletin, The Present War and Socialist Internationalism in April 1943. (Cf. S.F. Kissin, War and the Marxists, Volume 2, London. 1989, pp203-3, which shows that this was still his opinion just before his death.) The agitation of the WIL inside the armed forces has also been touched on by Tony Aitman, The War Within the War in the British Militant, 15 September 1989.

General Marxist analyses of the Second World War should be consulted by those who do not have the time to subject the various problems to closer scrutiny. Among the shorter of these we might mention Phil Frampton, Why the World Went to War, Militant, 8 September 1989, and Marxism and the Second World War, Workers Power, no.122, September 1989. A good overall guide remains Ernest Mandel’s The Meaning of the Second World War, Verso, London 1986) which was sharply criticised by Gemma Forest in Marxism and the Mid-Century (Confrontation, no.3, Summer 1988, pp. 147-55) and in her review in this magazine (Volume 1 no.4, Winter 1988-89, pp. 45-8; cf. the correspondence upon this in Volume 2 no.2, pp. 65-6, no.3, p. 50, and Volume 3 no.1, pp. 48-9).

1. Little-Known Documents

Some years ago Daniel Guérin published some texts which Trotsky wrote on the Second World War. [1] His preface caused him to be subjected to some heavy fire from different groups claiming to be Trotskyist. He was accused, in particular, of having distorted Trotsky’s thinking by arbitrarily mutilating what he had written, and of having misrepresented Trotsky’s ideas, if not in the direction of social-patriotism, at any rate in that of narrow anti-Fascism, and of taking the liberty of presenting Trotsky as a “Soviet patriot”, for whom the necessity of “defending the Soviet Union” took precedence over every other consideration in the war. [2]

The preparation of Volumes 22 to 24 of the Oeuvres led me to work on the complete texts of the documents which Guérin published. Moreover, the opening of the closed section of the archives at Harvard has given us access to many documents, which, taken as a whole, enable us today to present an interpretation of Trotsky’s thought, one which agrees neither with Guérin’s version nor with that of the militants who have defended against him an ‘orthodoxy’ based upon the attitude of the Bolsheviks during the First World War – one war behind, and far behind the thinking of Trotsky as it leapt forward after Hitler’s great advances in 1940. [3] Trotsky, of course, understood what the war and the destruction which accompanied it meant for human civilisation. But in the spring of 1940, as the proverb says, “the wine was drawn and it had to be drunk”. Trotsky was no longer prepared merely to pose the revolution as the means to escape the war. The war had begun, and nothing could save humanity from it. Trotsky discerned in the war the gigantic crucible in which, amid unspeakable suffering, the revolutionary wave was to gather itself together, and within which the new phases of the world revolution would take shape. Trotsky expressed this very clearly in a fragment of an article which was cut short on 20 August 1940. Guérin knew of this article, but preferred to ignore it, no doubt because he did not understand its drift:

The present war, as we have stated more than once, is a continuation of the last war. But a continuation does not imply a repetition. As a general rule, a continuation implies a development, a deepening, a sharpening. Our policy, the policy of the revolutionary proletariat towards the second imperialist world war, is a continuation of the policy elaborated during the last imperialist war, primarily under the leadership of Lenin. But a continuation does not imply a repetition. In this case, too, a continuation means a development, a deepening and a sharpening. [4]

He then developed what he regarded as constituting the difference – a difference of development, quantitative and qualitative, between the policies of revolutionaries in the First and Second World Wars:

During the last war, not only the proletariat as a whole, but also its vanguard, and, in a certain sense, the vanguard of the vanguard, were caught unawares. The elaboration of the principles of revolutionary policy towards the war began at a time when the war was already in full blaze and when the military machine exercised unlimited rule. [5]

During the First World War the perspective of revolution seemed remote even to Lenin. He wrote that only future generations would see it. Trotsky recalled:

Prior to the February Revolution and even afterwards, the revolutionary elements felt themselves to be not so much contenders for power as the extreme left opposition. [6]

Therefore, the struggle for the independence of the proletariat, the rejection of ‘civil peace’, and the necessity for the class struggle of the proletariat, were the primary tasks in 1914-18, as defensive measures:

The attention of the revolutionary wing was centred on the question of the defence of the fatherland. The revolutionaries naturally replied in the negative to this question. This was entirely correct. This purely negative reply served as the basis for propaganda and for training the cadres. But it could not win the masses, who did not want a foreign conqueror. [7]

Trotsky recalled that the Bolsheviks succeeded in Russia in winning the proletariat and the majority of the people, in the space of eight months, and that this success was not in response to a negative refusal to defend the bourgeois fatherland, but to the aspirations of the masses, to which the Bolsheviks knew how to give positive answers:

The decisive rôle in this conquest was played, not by the refusal to defend the bourgeois fatherland, but by the slogan “All power to the soviets”. And only by this revolutionary slogan! The criticism of imperialism and of its militarism, like the renunciation of defence of bourgeois democracy and so on, could never have won the overwhelming majority of the people to the side of the Bolsheviks. [8]

The difference between the First and Second World Wars was to be found, in Trotsky’s opinion, at one and the same time, in the objective situation, the deepening impasse of imperialism, and in the worldwide experience which the working class had accumulated. Through the suffering and impoverishment due to the war, these factors imperiously demanded the seizure of power by the proletariat. Trotsky was categorical:

This perspective must be made the basis of our agitation. It is not merely a question of a position on capitalist militarism and of renouncing the defence of the bourgeois state, but of directly preparing for the conquest of power and the defence of the proletarian fatherland. [9]

In reality, when Trotsky was struck down on 20 August 1940, the essential elements of the second phase of the Second World War had only just emerged after the collapse of the French army. He wrote that this was “not just an episode, but an integral part of the ‘catastrophe of Europe’”. The materials which enable us to grasp the outlines of the conception which Trotsky was forming of the war, which he began to form at the same time as he outlined the direction of the revolutionary forces which could not fail to emerge from it, are to be found in the notes on the war and on the Soviet Union which he drafted in the spring of 1940. [10]

Daniel Guérin has vigorously emphasised that Trotsky had formed a remarkably exact and precise idea of the coming war in 1940. When men who had been close to him seemed resigned to decades of ‘Brown Europe’ under Nazi rule, Trotsky simply and confidently forecast the war between Germany and the USA for world hegemony, and, in addition, foresaw the ephemeral character of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, the future alliance of the Soviet Union and the bourgeois democracies, the orientation of Japanese imperialism which was to avoid a collision with the Soviet Union, and many other features, which eminent strategists and commentators failed to foresee.

Guérin did not fail to notice all that. However, he made it impossible for himself to penetrate to what was at the centre of Trotsky’s thinking. Guérin reduced the analyses, which had only been sketched, and especially Trotsky’s expectations of the revolutionary movement during the war, to what he calls “his ardent conviction that the Second World War would end in the victory of the world revolution”. Guérin wrote that this was an “erroneous point” in which Trotsky “showed the utmost confidence’.

In this way, the insights which Guérin provided led him to deny Trotsky’s revolutionary perspective. No doubt this is not what Guérin intended, but some of his citations had the effect of clothing Trotsky in the mantle of a prophet, even in military matters. This is a distorted image of Trotsky. Indeed, Guérin himself reproduced many of Trotsky’s forecasts about the approach of the revolution! But we must be fair. Trotsky did no more than glimpse the future and give indications in these matters. He neither explained nor developed. The defenders of the ‘archaic’ conception, conceived as an orthodoxy, have generally ignored these indications. As some of the reactions to Guérin’s analyses show, they continue to ignore them when they look back at the solid mass of history which the war now appears to them to be.

For these reasons I wish to try in this article to show what were the main lines of Trotsky’s vision of the Second World War. I emphasise that his vision includes not merely essential aspects of the conflict, but also certain aspects of the period immediately following the war. We shall ignore some questions here, for example his analyses of the changes effected in 1939 in Poland by the Soviet bureaucracy, and those which it dreamed of making in Finland. These were the foundations of a theory of satellite bureaucratic states within the sphere of interest of the Soviet Union, which later became known as the buffer zone countries. This is to be found in the documents of the internal discussion in the Socialist Workers Party in 1939-40 on the nature of the Soviet Union.

Trotsky recognised that ‘Brown Europe’ under the Nazi jackboot would not last for a thousand years. He confidently gave it 10 years at most. He especially pointed out what the formidable conquests of the German army under Nazi leadership would mean for the working masses of Europe: “They bear a sentimental hatred against Hitler mixed with confused class sentiments.” [11]

According to Trotsky, we have here the positive aspect on which the work of revolutionary preparation in the USA was to rely. This was the starting point from which he developed (before his somewhat disconcerted comrades of the SWP) the idea that they must demand worker-officers in the army and the military training of every worker under trade union control, in anticipation of new forms of political work in a militarised society. These demands for militarisation and control – political independence by means of arms – went alongside agitational slogans, “to explain to the millions of American workers that the defence of their ‘democracy’ cannot be delivered over to an American Marshal Pétain”:

You, workers, wish to defend and improve democracy. We, of the Fourth International, wish to go further. However, we are ready to defend democracy with you, only on condition that it should be a real defence, and not a betrayal in the Pétain manner. [12]

The ‘orthodox’ interpreters of Trotsky’s thoughts have often seen this as nothing more than a tactical device, a ruse, a trick intended to have made the bourgeoisie reveal its true self, to show that it really feared the working class more than the Fascists at home and abroad. This argument cannot stand up to serious examination. How is it possible to reconcile, even at the most abstract level, the formula “not ... in the Pétain manner” with a certain vulgar conception of ‘defeatism’ which was never that of Trotsky?

That is not all. In Trotsky’s discussions with his SWP comrades, he did not hesitate to pose the question of ‘militarising’ the party, of its distancing of itself from pacifist attitudes, which he forcefully condemned. He proceeded to proclaim that his comrades, and every revolutionary, must become ‘militarists’ ’ the expression he used was “proletarian Socialist revolutionary militarists”. [13] They had to turn themselves into ‘militarists’ because of the prospects for humanity were of a militarised society and armed struggle. The proletarian revolutionary Socialists had to become militarists because the fate of humanity was to be decided arms in hand. The Second World War had started. Revolutionaries had to prepare themselves for a rapidly approaching armed struggle for power against the class enemy. They could only prepare themselves for that fight by being where the masses were. Such was Trotsky’s conviction.

This conviction rested on a concrete forecast about the movement of the masses, especially in Europe. In an article of 30 June 1940, Trotsky outlined a perspective of European development, which he expected to pass through the mass uprising against foreign occupation:

In the defeated countries the position of the masses will immediately become worsened in the extreme. Added to social oppression is national oppression, the main burden of which is likewise borne by the workers. Of all the forms of dictatorship, the totalitarian dictatorship of a foreign conqueror is the most intolerable. [14]

Can we doubt that Trotsky located the revolutionaries on the same side as those who were socially and nationally oppressed, who felt the “totalitarian dictatorship” of a “foreign conqueror” to be “intolerable”?

He knew the Nazis would try and exploit the industries and natural resources of the countries which they conquered and occupied. He knew that this super-exploitation would reduce them to pauperism. He foresaw a workers’ and peasants’ resistance: “It is impossible to attach a soldier with a rifle to each Polish, Norwegian, Danish, Dutch, Belgian, French worker and peasant.” [15] He believed that the Hitlerite domination of Europe would provoke the general uprising of the peoples:

One can expect with assurance the rapid transformation of all the conquered countries into powder magazines. The danger is rather this, that the explosions may occur too soon without sufficient preparation and lead to isolated defeats. It is in general impossible, however, to speak of the European and the world revolution without taking into account partial defeats. [16]

The threat which hung over Hitler was that of the proletarian revolution in every part of Europe. He forecast “attempts at resistance and protest” by the masses, “at first muffled and then more and more open and bold”, against which the armies of occupation would have to act as pacifiers and oppressors. [17]

Addressing the Dewey Commission, Trotsky had distinguished the attitude to adopt in an imperialist country at war with the Soviet Union from that towards an imperialist country allied to it. In the former case, the immediate aim was to disorganise the whole machine, and in the military machine in the first place. In the latter case, the immediate aim was political opposition to the bourgeoisie and preparation for proletarian revolution. [18] It was clear, likewise, when the Wehrmacht attacked the Soviet Union, that throughout all occupied Europe the necessity to disorganise and to strike at the German military machine would be added to that of armed resistance, and this implied armed struggle.

However, to understand at least some of the aspects of the criticism which we have called ‘orthodox’, we may recall that Vereeken and some of his political friends had accused Trotsky of denying his principles by abandoning ‘defeatism’ in a country allied to the Soviet Union, in the event of war, on the pretext of the defence of the Soviet Union. We find a little of that manner of thinking in the criticism made by the Spaniard Grandizo Munis of the policy followed by James p.  Cannon and the SWP in their defence at the time of the Minneapolis Trial. The political history of the Fourth International during the Second World War certainly demonstrates the strength of the current, which, under the flag of ‘orthodoxy’, often confined itself to pacifist positions, considering armed struggle to be participation in the war and in the union sacrée, and an acceptance of the war, purely because it was armed struggle. This current was simultaneously sectarian and conservative.

Of course, the belief that the policy which Trotsky advocated betrayed the influence of his ‘Soviet patriotism’ is completely out of the question. He explained the basis for his defence of the Soviet Union often enough to preclude anybody taking this belief seriously. Nor is there in his analyses or slogans the slightest concession to social-patriotism or to national defence in an imperialist country. Simply, as he forcefully declared: “ny confusion with the pacifists is a hundred times more dangerous than temporary confusion with the bourgeois militarists.” [19]

Guérin considers that the Manifesto of the International Conference of May 1940 is “the central piece” in his compilation, “both by length and by content”, and that it “expresses with so much force and conviction the fundamentals of proletarian internationalism”. Trotsky’s conclusion, which follows the call for workers to “become skilled specialists of the military art”, leaves no doubt on the matter:

At the same time, we do not forget for a moment that this war is not our war... The Fourth International builds its policy not on the military fortunes of the capitalist states but on the transformation of the imperialist war into a war of the workers against the capitalists, on the overthrow of the ruling classes of all countries, on the world Socialist revolution. [20]

The question for Trotsky, therefore, was indeed that of the revolution, of the form which the revolutionary movement was to adopt, as it was developed by the war and the crisis of the capitalist world, which the war both expresses and exacerbates, and which creates the conditions for the working class to struggle for power. This struggle during the war and within the framework of the militarisation of society could not be imagined if it did not have a practical link with political struggle in a form which was not, in the main, armed class struggle or class war. Only incorrigible dreamers or sectarians could imagine anything else. The new arena, in which it would be necessary to smash the militarists, demanded that revolutionaries and the working class themselves be militarised.

There are certain observations which must be made by anybody wishing to test the validity during the war of the perspective which Trotsky sketched out in 1940. In the first place, the various Communist parties have often succeeded in giving the illusion that they held the monopoly over the armed struggle, with which they identify with their politics after the events. This is due to them propounding the ‘defence’ of the Soviet Union, which from June 1941 transformed them into ‘Resistance activists’. However, on the basis of a certain development of the armed struggle, what this ‘defence’ of the Soviet Union actually meant, as it was conceived in Moscow, no longer consisted of sabotage or partisan operations against the German military machine. It became a direct or indirect political struggle and, where necessary, a police-style repression aimed at the mass movement itself, whenever, as it nearly always happened, the latter threatened to disrupt the agreements between the Soviet Union and its allies, to call into question the arrangement of spheres of influence, or, still more seriously, to unleash a revolution, which Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill desired as little as Hitler, and who were, in any case, determined to crush any uprisings if Hitler failed previously to do so.

In fact, the whole of Europe underwent German occupation, and suffered in varying degrees not merely the national oppression which every country undergoes when it is occupied by a foreign army, but also the systematic looting which plunged several of these countries into famine, and all into poverty. In this way the conditions for a revolutionary upsurge were created. This revealed itself first and with the greatest force in the weakest links of the imperialist chain in Europe. In the face of this danger, the safety valves provided by the Stalinist apparatus no longer had the same effectiveness in relation to the former relations between the parties and the masses, and even to historical circumstances of an accidental kind. Nonetheless, the movement did advance through its contradictions.

We shall attempt here to ascertain which general verifications of Trotsky’s perspectives can be found in the cases in which a revolution occurred, and which, with its own momentum and as far as it could by its own efforts, broke out of the hold of the official Communist movement, but which lacked an alternative leadership to that which handed them over to Allied repression once German imperialism fell. From this viewpoint, the Greek example appears to be the most instructive.

2. The Greek Resistance

We shall attempt to test Trotsky’s conceptions about the Second World War by studying two aspects of it: firstly, the revolt of the soldiers and sailors of the Greek armed forces in the Middle East, and secondly, the armed resistance in Greece, which was crushed by the British army in December 1944 on the personal orders of Winston Churchill, who denounced the armed resistance as “triumphant Trotskyism”.

One of the peculiar features of Greece, which we find also in its neighbouring countries, Italy and Yugoslavia, is that it had been subjected to a bloody military/Fascist regime, in this instance the 4 August regime of General Metaxas and King George II. It had very severely repressed the workers’ movement, imprisoning or interning in dungeons on the islands the leaders and cadres of the workers’ movement.

This drove the Greek Communist Party (KKE) into precarious clandestinity, which made its communications with Moscow intermittent and fragile. Like their comrades in neighbouring Yugoslavia, what the Greek Communists failed to understand about their international movement was that, after the death of Metaxas, his successors and executioners would become the ‘democratic allies’, and the restoration of the king would become a positive factor in the liberation of humanity!

Immediately after the German attack, the KKE issued the slogan of a constituent assembly. This automatically opened up the ‘royal question’. The king was in exile, under the protection of Churchill. This demand placed an obstacle between the internal resistance and the exiled monarch, and was an obstacle to the adoption of the policies which the Communist International was to dictate to the KKE. From 1942 communications became difficult not only between Moscow and the KKE, but also between the party leadership and the leaders of the partisan fighters. The KKE had attempted to start to control and centralise the activities of the partisans, who were growing stronger, arms in hand, in the mountains and in the workers’ quarters in the cities. The fighters were led by the andartes, the kapetanios, who had gained popularity by acceding to the demands of the poor peasants.

The Greek resistance, like that of the proletariat, the petit-bourgeoisie and the peasantry, did not emerge from any organisational decision. Likewise, it was outside any organisational framework that on the night of 30-31 May 1941 two students scaled the Acropolis and tore down the swastika from it. André Kedros describes this as “a madly daring and splendidly gratuitous act”, for him it became “the symbol of the Greek refusal to submit”. [21] Around that time, army officers often organised or provoked the disbandment of the defeated Greek army. The first guerrilla bands appeared in the countryside, armed with rifles and ammunition which they collected almost without resistance on the battlefields and alongside the roads where the army had been defeated.

There was a tradition of agrarian struggle in Greece. The ‘bandit’ had long been regarded as the liberator and defender, beloved by the poor. Kedros relates how the villagers “bred armed bands as an antidote to poverty and oppression” that was caused or exacerbated by the occupation. We know that tiny groups were formed more or less everywhere. They sported a variety of names, ranging from “mixed companies” to “assault groups”. They were formed spontaneously and developed their own leaderships. Some of their leaders were young men of militant temper, others had won their spurs by escaping from Metaxas’ concentration camps during the retreat of the army.

However, at first the KKE did not apply itself to the organisation, centralisation and development of these groups. It remained obedient to the orders of Moscow. It considered its first task to be the formation of a ‘national front’ against the occupation, which meant a bloc for a certain period with other Greek political formations. It did not, however, succeed in doing so, mainly because, despite its efforts, it could not formulate a consistent policy towards the restoration of the monarchy. This was a very sensitive point with its own supporters. It was also a very sensitive point with the forces linked to the bourgeoisie and the landlords. They did not wish to break from the monarchy and their British ‘protectors’ – nor could they.

The EAM (National Liberation Front) was founded in September 1941, but it was no more than one organisation which bore this name. It was not the hoped-for national front. Alongside the KKE there were only the very small Socialist formations, two equally small ‘democratic’ organisations, and the trade unions. However, the EAM only accepted a ‘national’ basis for struggle. It refused to consider social liberation, and addressed the ‘nation’ regardless of classes. It concentrated on attempting to attract support from the upper strata of society, and kept silent on the demands of the workers.

This desire to maintain a ‘united nation’ against the invader – when it was not united – and to ignore in silence the class sources of the popular opposition to the occupiers and to the members of the Greek bourgeoisie who collaborated with them, did not, however, succeed in preventing the workers and the poorest strata of the people from laying hold of the framework of organisation which the KKE offered. They instinctively used it to fight for their demands. The influx of fighters gave a working class character to the EAM, which was doing so much to reject it.

The workers demonstrated in their thousands on 18 October 1941, the first anniversary of the Italian invasion. Then in December 1941 the students took up the fight. On 26 January and 17 March 1942 the wounded war veterans, a particularly downtrodden section of the poor, took to the streets, supported by militants of the clandestine EAM clad in hospital nurses’ uniforms. The organisation spread and was elaborated. On 15 March 1942 there were strikes in support of economic demands in several cities, including Athens. Other strikes followed, including, for example, those by 40,000 civil servants, in whose leadership were Trotskyist militants. Then there was the fertiliser workers’ strike in the Piraeus in August 1942. Meanwhile, the peasants of the Peloponnese had successfully mounted a series of demonstrations. The KKE decided to send a handful of its militants to organise the partisans, the andartes, within the framework of the People’s National Liberation Army (ELAS), the armed wing of the EAM.

A report by the German Abwehr in November 1942 mentioned that whole districts of Greece were in the hands of the guerrillas, who executed traitors, distributed the corn which they collected by forced levies, and who called upon the villagers freely to elect their representative leaders and to discuss all their problems in a democratic manner. The struggle of the andartes became a factor in the rural class war, by the force of events and against the desire of their political leaders, even when the partisan group led by the celebrated Aris Velouchiotis took part in spectacular acts of sabotage of communications and transport which disorganised the German military machine.

We cannot detail here the history of the mass movement in Greece. On 22 December 1942 there were 40 000 people on strike. The demonstrations and strikes which followed the announcement of compulsory labour service in Germany, and which developed from 24 February to 5 March 1943, resulted in the only occasion when the occupying power backed down on this issue. By 1943 the armed struggle was no longer the work of small groups but that of real military units. When they arrived in a region with the intention of extending the liberated zones, there would be an immediate mass uprising of the armed people. Kedros declared that “the entire population was involved in the armed resistance”. The mass movements in the cities were irrepressible. There was a general strike in Athens on 25 June 1943 against the execution of hostages by the occupying power. The tram drivers’ strike, which began on 12 June, had led to 50 tramway workers being sentenced to death. They were saved by the general strike. By 1944 not only were wide rural areas liberated, but the German troops lived under siege in the cities, which they could only leave in guarded convoys. The ‘Red Belt’, the workers’ quarters around Athens, were nothing less than fortresses of the armed people.

During all this the KKE leaders, who controlled the EAM and ELAS, continued to insist that they were waging a purely national struggle, and denied that it had any class character. This was by no means the opinion of the Greek Government in Exile, under the protection of Winston Churchill. In 1942 elements in the officer corps – that “ultimate rampart of the state”, as Churchill said at the time of Franco – grouped in Grivas’ Khi organisation, the Pan organisation, the military hierarchy, the Zervasites and Dentirisites, attached to Metaxas’ secret services, organised a counter-attack.

They tried to organise –national guerrillas’ with the intention of fighting the –Communist guerrillas’ rather than the occupying invaders. Here we had exactly the Greek equivalent of Mihailovic in Yugoslavia, the Serbian colonel who led the Chetniks, who was a minister in the king’s government in exile, and who fought arms in hand against Tito’s partisans. There was no shortage of money or equipment. They wanted to create new formations, but they also hoped to undermine the ELAS militants, who were deprived of equipment now that their operations seemed certain to succeed. One of the leaders of the British Special Operations Executive, Eddie Myers, quoted a document on this subject in his memoirs. It corroborates Trotsky’s analysis, and demonstrates how lucid was Churchill, that champion of the existing order, the strategist of the opposite side of the class war. Myers’ superiors informed him in April 1943 that “the Cairo authorities consider that after the liberation of Greece, civil war is almost inevitable”. [22]

The mass movement swelled the ranks of the EAM and ELAS, which grew from strength to strength, sweeping these diversions aside, and never ceasing to assert its mastery. Colonel Saraphis, the ‘democratic’ officer chosen to be the Mihailovic of Greece, decided to join the ELAS because he recognised how efficient and representative it was! The Italian capitulation placed more weapons in the hands of the andartes and their civilian allies than all that the Allies provided by parachute drops.

The crucial year was 1943. Ioannis Rallis, a politician whom even the Germans knew was in contact with the British secret service, became Prime Minister of occupied Greece. [23] The ruling classes actively and consciously prepared to transform the national war into a civil war. In Athens there were Security Battalions, a militia with a sinister reputation. In Cairo there was the Mountain Brigade. Both were intended to crush the popular movement. The KKE announced that more than ever it sought collaboration with the ‘national guerrillas’ and desired ‘toleration’, which meant renouncing a class approach, whilst at the same time it prepared to launch attacks upon the left. In March 1943 Aris Velouchiotis was summoned to Athens from his mountain base, despite the dangers posed by such a journey, to receive a severe reprimand. That May, when the Communist International was dissolved, the KKE adopted an orientation from which it would not thereafter deviate:

The KKE supports by all possible means the struggle for national liberation, and will do all in its power to help gather all the patriotic forces into one unbreakable national front, which will unite the whole people to shake off the foreign yoke and to win national liberation at the side of our great Allies. [24]

At the same time it developed its own political police, the OPLA, recruited from reliable killers, and used them more against ‘Trotskyists’ and leftists in its own ranks, than against real collaborators.

The policies of all these tendencies underwent their first test when the Greek army in Egypt mutinied. The history of this episode is still fairly obscure, and seems to this writer to be a fruitful contribution to the discussion about the Proletarian Military Policy. The affair occurred in what, by analogy with France, could be called ‘Free Greece’; this consisted, after the defeat of the Greek forces in April 1941, of the remnants of the Greek army and fleet, with senior civil servants and ministers of King George II’s government in exile.

These worthies, especially the military chiefs, were evidently important figures in the Fascist dictatorship of Metaxas. Many people believed that this was the reason for their ‘treachery’ in the face of the Nazi invasion. Nonetheless, as Dominic Eudes says: “Alongside the royal clique of officers and politicians, however, the embryo of a new Greek army was formed in Egypt.” [25] This was composed of people who had escaped by sea from military units, volunteers who had endured tremendous hardships travelling individually to Egypt, and merchant and naval seamen. They were obviously people who wanted to “fight against Fascism for freedom and democracy”, as the new ‘liberal’ head of the government put it. A collision was inevitable between the bulk of the 20,000 men who had arrived in Egypt to fight Fascism, and the monarchist camarilla which, like Churchill, was concerned above all to “save Greece from Communism”.

In October 1941 a secret organisation, the Military Organisation for Liberation (ASO), was formed within the Greek army in the Middle East. Its aims were simple, even over-simple. They were to send Greek units to the front, to fight in Greece alongside the Resistance, and to oppose the infiltration into the army in Egypt of those sympathetic to Metaxas, who wanted to restore their regime in Greece at the end of the war. The Metaxist cadres demanded that cadres sympathetic to the ASO be removed by large-scale discharges from the army. The officers due to be dismissed from the Second Brigade were arrested and replaced. The mutineers stood firm in the face of threats. The First Brigade supported them. The government submitted and accepted that the Metaxist officers should be isolated, on the one hand to prevent events from running out of control, and on the other hand to prepare a fresh attack. Over the next few months military directives caused the units to be dispersed, the rebels were punished by disciplinary training, and finally the subversive elements were weeded out and the officers who had been isolated were brought back into key positions.

The second mutiny was more serious and significant. The demands of the officers under the influence of the ASO were evidently more political than before. Under the pressure of the men, the Committee for Armed Coordination presented a petition, signed by the majority of the Greek soldiers, as soon as the real provisional government of the Greek resistance, the PEEA, was formed in Greece. It demanded that a real government of ‘national unity’ be formed on the basis of the proposals of the PEEA. The initiative came neither from the EAM and ELAS nor from Greece, but quite simply from the ideas which the soldiers formed of the situation in their country and the conditions in which they could really ‘fight Fascism’.

On the same day, 31 March 1944, the delegates of the soldiers and the mixed committee demanded to be received with their petition at the Soviet Embassy. The ambassador closed the doors on them. They found no echo or promise of support except from the left wing of the British Labour Party. In Egypt, however, they enjoyed the sympathy of the Egyptian population, who were always close to the Greek workers. There was a series of meetings and demonstrations in Alexandria and Cairo. On 4 April the Egyptian police intervened on the side of the Greek Government in Exile and the British, and arrested some 50 militant workers and trade union leaders, in particular the leaders of the Greek dockers. The British High Command, for its part, disarmed two regiments and sent 280 ‘ringleaders’ to concentration camps. Then on 5 April it disarmed the unit attached to the High Command of the Greek army and interned the mutineers. By now the mutineers had their backs to the wall. The First Brigade arrested its Metaxist officers, reorganised its command, and refused to hand over its arms as a prelude to internment. The movement spread to the navy, to the destroyer Pindos, the cruiser Averoff, the Ajax and several more. The crews elected a mixed committee of men and officers to take conunand. The British Ambassador to the Greek Government in Cairo, Reginald Leeper, telegraphed to Churchill: “What is happening here among the Greeks is nothing less than a revolution.” [26]

Churchill directly and personally took control of the repression. The arrival of King George II was a symbol as well as a provocation. The support of the Egyptian youth for the mutineers was a promise. On 13 April Admiral Cunningham announced that he had decided to put down the rebellion by force, and if necessary to sink the Greek ships in the very roadstead of Alexandria. The mutinous land formations were surrounded, deprived of water and starved out. On 22 April a successful raid was made on the Ajax by the leading Metaxist, Admiral Voulgaris. The other ships lay under British guns and surrendered. General Paget launched his tanks against the First Brigade, and it also surrendered. Within a few days, some 20,000 Greek volunteers on the Army of the Middle East found themselves in concentration camps in Libya and Eritrea. [27]

The Greek army in the Middle East no longer existed, and its place was now free for the formation of specially prepared shock troops, technically equipped and politically trained for the civil war following the ‘liberation’.

We must note that British censorship suppressed reports of this episode in the press. It was not a minor episode, in fact it was very significant, which no doubt explains the violent response of the British authorities. It exposed the myth about ‘national defence’ and ‘national unity’. The 20,000 volunteers wanted ‘defence’ and ‘unity’, but their leaders did not, and they crushed them. The incident exposed the lie about the “war against Fascism and for freedom and democracy”. The Greeks considered Metaxas to be a detested Fascist dictator. Churchill’s policy aimed at restoring the rule of the forces upon which Metaxas had been based.

Trotsky’s remarks in 1940 about the war became concrete. The Greek soldiers in the Middle East wanted to fight, arms in hand, against Fascism. They therefore demanded officers whom they could trust, allied themselves with.the labour movement, and formed their own soviet-style organisations. This was precisely along the lines which Trotsky had developed when he wrote that the defence of their ‘democracy’ could not be delivered over to the likes of a Marshal Pétain. The mass movement born out of the war expressed itself along these lines, and did so, as Trotsky had forecast, in the army, that central section of militarised society, no less important than in the factories.

The talks in Moscow and the bargaining which followed them led to the agreement with Stalin that Churchill would have a free hand in Greece. The KKE and through it the EAM were ultimately to place the noose around the neck of the extraordinary mass movement in Greece itself, after contributing politically to the repression of the mutineers.

After the April 1944 crisis, the Government in Exile in Cairo was entrusted to George Papandreou, who helped to develop the anti-Communist movement. Under his pressure the leaders of the EAM and ELAS signed on 30 May 1944 the Lebanon Charter, which denounced ELAS ‘terrorism’, the indiscipline of the mutineers (many of whom served sentences for it), left open the question of the monarchy, and agreed to a single command of the Greek armed forces and to the re-establishment of order “alongside the Allied troops” at the Liberation. The EAM and ELAS were unhappy at this, and for several weeks bargained and demanded ministerial posts and a change of prime minister.

However, a Soviet mission, led by Colonel Popov, arrived and put an end to these ill-tempered grumblings. The KKE and the EAM unconditionally entered the government. When the German forces left Athens on 12 October 1944, the KKE called on the Greek people to “ensure public order”. It also ensured that Papandreou came to power. He arrived with the British forces, at a time when the ELAS exercised real power all across the country.

Churchill was to provoke the Resistance when he ordered that General Scobie, the commander of the Allied forces, to maintain the military formations of the collaborators as ‘security battalions’ and to forbid them to be purged, and to ensure that on 2 December the Papandreou government could disarm the ELAS forces. A demonstration against the disarmament of the ELAS in Athens on 3 December was fired upon by the police. This assault in Syntagmata Square upon the biggest demonstration in Greek history left dozens dead and hundreds wounded. Thirty-three days of armed fighting followed in Athens between the forces of order grouped around Scobie and those of the local Resistance.

At last Churchill carried through his plan to crush the Greek revolution. He announced that he was intervening to prevent a “hideous massacre”, and to stop what he called the victory of “triumphant Trotskyism” – with a grin of complicity in the direction of Stalin. [28] From 3 December onwards those ELAS units whose leaders had decided not to surrender their arms were paralysed by the orders not to fire on British forces, who, as Churchill put it, were there by the “goodwill” of Roosevelt and Stalin. The andartes in Macedonia, the shock troops and the forces in the mountains were ordered to stay put and let the fighters in Athens be exterminated. The heroism with which they fought could not prevail against the policies of leaders who had made up their minds to lead these fighters into the surrender that was demanded by Moscow.

The Varkiza agreement of 15 February 1945 provided for all Resistance forces to be disarmed, but the ELAS forces in Athens had not submitted to this. The forces in the countryside had not moved to support them. This time Aris Velouchiotis understood the magnitude of the KKE’s betrayal. He was attacked in the KKE’s journal Rizospastis on 12 June. On 16 June he was assassinated, and his head was publicly exhibited in the villages on 18 June. How many other Resistance fighters fell at tha time under the fire of the British and of the counter-revolutionary formations which the Germans had created in Athens and the British in Cairo? Nonetheless, several more years of Stalinist treachery were required to exhaust the fighting potential of the Greek revolution.

3. The Trotskyists in the War

We cannot undertake here a wide-ranging study of the policies of the Trotskyists during the war, or compare them with the policies which Trotsky outlined on the eve of his death and of which his comrades were generally unaware at the time. This will be the objective of larger works. My ignorance of the Greek language prevents me from making use of the solid researches into the activities of the Trotskyists during the war which exist in Greek. Let us hope that this gap will be closed.

But in the meantime, let us be careful not to make over-hasty judgements. From 4 August 1936 onwards the Trotskyists were subjected to ferocious repression. The great majority of Trotskyist militants were arrested and thrown into prisons from which many did not emerge. Several leading cadres, including Pantelis Pouliopoulos, the former General Secretary of the KKE, were killed during the occupation. The conditions of illegality appear to have been particularly difficult for them because they were unable to participate even in the unification of the three organisations on which the leaders had agreed in 1938.

At best, any known Trotskyist militants who actually managed to join ELAS units were closely observed and carefully isolated. The Stalinists removed in one way or another any Trotskyists who managed to win responsible positions in the ELAS or in the People’s Army. Furthermore, between October and December 1944, the OPLA, which was really a Greek GPU, mounted a campaign of extermination against the Trotskyists. Throughout the country OPLA agents abducted, tortured and murdered such militants as Stavros Veroukhis, the Secretary of the Association of the War Wounded, and Thanassis Ikonomou, former Secretary of the Communist Youth at Ghazi. Workers, dockers, metal workers and teachers all suffered alike. “We killed more than 800 Trotskyists” boasted Barzotas, a member of the KKE Political Bureau, in 1947.

We do not have the means here to discover the truth about the policies of the Greek Trotskyists and how they could have escaped the dreadful fate that awaited them. Rene Dazy quotes from a document of 1943 in a Greek Trotskyist publication: “The Anglo-Americans will come to restore state power to the bourgeoisie. The exploited will only have changed one yoke for another.” [29] If that really was the case, then it is clear that the Greek Trotskyists sentenced themselves to death by confining themselves to negative perspectives and not taking their place in the mass movement.

Michel Raptis, at that time European Secretary of the Fourth International, and writing under the pseudonym of M. Spiro, recalled just after the events of December 1944 what Trotsky had written about the era of armed struggle. He paid tribute to the activity of the Greek masses when “a wind of revolution blew through the workers’ districts and suburbs of Athens”, declaring that their activity would “stand among the finest examples of the proletarian movement”. But he said nothing about what the Greek Trotskyists were doing. He also stated that “despite the official ideology of its Popular Frontist democratic and petit-bourgeois leadership”, the EAM “retained considerable class independence in action”. [30] There is nothing more, and often much less, to be found in the documents of the Fourth International.

André Kedros, the historian of the Greek Resistance, whose ideas about Stalinism are far from clear, stresses the international impact and effect of the ‘Athens coup’ as a “rebuke to all the resistance movements heavily influenced by the Communist parties”. Does this mean, as he declares, that the British repression in Greece “weighed heavily upon the decisions and tactics of Thorez, Togliatti and other such leaders”? [31] That view cannot be accepted. Their decisions and tactics were determined by the same factors that had determined the tactics of the KKE – and they had been determined in Moscow. But it is highly probable that the Greek defeat strengthened the Stalinist policy of capitulation and of restoring the capitalist order in Western Europe, and that it weighed heavily and negatively upon those who throughout Europe had identified the national struggle with the social struggle, and had believed that they had found the road to revolution when they joined the Resistance. We need to do what we cannot do here: to analyse concretely the developments in each of the countries of Europe.

However, an examination of the documents which Prager has assembled in Les congrès de la Quatrième Internationale provides what is essential for the study of the Fourth International during the war. He has omitted little but the initial positions of the former PCI and its sister-tendency led by Vereeken in Belgium. In the introduction to the second volume, he writes:

The war sharply corrected those who had doubted the timeliness of founding the Fourth International in a period of downturn and with weak forces. The Fourth International bravely confronted the violence and persecution of ‘democratic’ and Fascist regimes, plus the Stalinist thugs who attacked our organisations. Despite heavy losses to be mourned, and despite some inevitable individual collapses, it is remarkable that it not only maintained its forces, but notably strengthened and rejuvenated them in the USA, Britain and other countries. Even though it could not break through into the masses as it had hoped, because of the limits of revolutionary situations and of the rise of Stalinism, nonetheless it saw new sections come into existence. [32]

This was undoubtedly a remarkable result, but it was in stark contrast with what Trotsky had written at the beginning of the war, for example about the USA:

The American working class is still without a mass labour party even today. But the objective situation and the experience accumulated by the American workers can pose within a very brief period of time on the order of the day the question of the conquest of power. This perspective must be made the basis of our agitation. It is not merely a question of a position on capitalist militarism and of renouncing the defence of the bourgeois state, but of directly preparing for the conquest of power and the defence of the proletarian fatherland. [33]


Ahead lies a favourable perspective, providing all the justification for revolutionary activism. It is necessary to utilise the opportunities which are opening up and to build the revolutionary party. [34]

In the face of these absolutely clear statements, the historian cannot restrict himself to mentioning the “limits of revolutionary situations”, or “the rise of Stalinism”, or to suggesting that we have “here elements which Trotsky could not foresee”. We must, at least, recognise the contradiction, even if we do not explain it, or even consider whether it was Trotsky or the Trotskyists who were wrong.

Moreover, Prager indicates that the Proletarian Military Policy, which the SWP (US) adopted at Trotsky’s suggestion, provoked widespread opposition within the Fourth International. He notes that the Belgian section excised several paragraphs on this question from the clandestine version of the May 1940 Manifesto. He also refers to the ‘reservations’ of the French section and of the European Secretariat. [35]

In 1940 the French Trotskyists were divided into two tendencies over perspectives which were ultimately as far away from each other as they both were from that of Trotsky. Beginning from the conception that the defeat of French imperialism and the occupation of French territory were leading, not only to national oppression, but to the rebirth of a genuine ‘national question’ in which all classes were interested, as in a colonial country, the majority of the POI, organised around the committees which published La Verité, outlined a strategy according to which the bourgeoisie of an occupied country becomes the natural ally of the workers’ movement, and the latter devotes itself completely to “national resistance”. Conversely, the La Seule Voie (The Only Road) group, which had emerged from the PCI, and subsequently became the CCI, denied that an imperialist nation could ever become an oppressed nation following a military defeat, and considered that national demands were “the importation of bourgeois ideology into the proletariat in order to demoralise it”.

These two positions, remote from each other, were both in a way the result of isolation. Under the pressure of the European Secretariat, they were gradually abandoned. The European Secretariat, led first by Marcel Hic and, after his arrest, by Raptis, was formed in the village of St Hubert in the Belgian Ardennes. This was a remarkable political and organisational feat in itself, and it also signified a return to an organisation which planned and functioned on an international scale. In 1944 the two viewpoints were rapidly converging, whilst the CCI continued to assert that the elementary duty of revolutionaries at the time was ferociously to denounce the union sacrée, to explain to the working class that it had to prepare for another ‘June 1936’ on a world scale, and at the same to carry out intense agitation for fraternisation with the German workers. Prager adequately summarises the consensus on the question of armed struggle:

Relations with the official Resistance could take on no forms other than independence, without agreeing to the ‘Front of Frenchmen’. But this structure should not be confused with the mass movements, nor include the latter in the same condemnation. Nor did these relations exclude individual participation in these movements in order to influence some of its members ... This work no doubt did not develop sufficiently, due to lack of forces and because the Trotskyists gave priority to the struggle in the factories. It certainly did not noticeably change the balance of forces or the course of events. The lack of success of the Trotskyists was not essentially the result of tactical or other faults, but to their situation, swimming against the stream, and to the grip of Stalinism on the masses. [36]

All the evidence shows that Trotsky’s appeal for the line of armed struggle and his proposal that revolutionary Socialists should become ‘militarists’ in order to play their rôle in a militarised world, are missing in this conception, or rather reduced to a secondary, ‘partisan’ level, entirely subordinated to ‘the struggle in the factories’. The discovery that ‘the armed struggle’ exerted an attractive force upon the masses must have presented many problems in the absence of the dimension which Trotsky contributed on ‘militarisation’.

Thus the resolution of the Provisional European Secretariat in 1943 on the partisan movement – which was adopted in full by the 1944 European Conference – recognised the “partly spontaneous character” of the partisan movement, and declared that Bolshevik-Leninists were now “obliged to take this form of struggle into account”. The resolution stated that “the guerrilla movements” were “military organisations in the tow of Anglo-Saxon imperialism”, but it noted that “the participation of the masses in the Balkans and in the West since the large-scale deportations of workers to Germany, though they had not changed the character of these movements”, obliged revolutionaries to advance a programme for them, in order to “make them understand that they must play the part of armed detachments in the service of the proletarian revolution”. [37] The resolution undoubtedly had left it rather late.

One could suggest that there was a wide gap between the positions of the Europeans, as Prager had summarised them, and those of the Americans, who systematically applied in their 1940s meetings and statements the Military Policy as advocated by Trotsky. Indeed, a completely exceptional kinship revealed itself on this level as well as on that of general principles. James p.  Cannon came under attack from Munis for the ‘opportunist’ manner in which he presented the attitude of the SWP towards the war at the trial of its Minneapolis leaders which commenced on 27 October 1941. Cannon replied in May 1942:

The masses today, thanks to all kinds of compulsions and deceptions, and the perfidious role of the labour bureaucracy and the renegade Socialists and Stalinists, are accepting and supporting the war, that is, they are acting with the bourgeoisie and not with us. The problem for our party is, first, to understand this primary fact; second, to take up a position of ‘political opposition’; and then, on that basis, to seek an approach to the honestly patriotic workers and try to win them away from the bourgeoisie and over to our side by means of propaganda. That is the only ‘action’ that is open to us, as a small minority, at the present time. [38]

If we leave aside two documents which were published at that time by Jean Van Heijenoort under the pseudonym of Marc Loris [39], who was then Secretary of the Fourth International, we could conclude that apart from him, who had been in contact with Trotsky’s undogmatic thinking for years, nobody in or on the fringe of the Fourth International had understood the question of militarisation. Jean Rous, with his National Revolutionary Movement [40], and Marcel Hic with his theses on the national question in the Committees for the Fourth International [41], each in his own way missed the mark.

Meanwhile, the other tendencies locked themselves in a paralysing orthodoxy, and were running the risks arising from the ‘pacifist’ tendencies against which Trotsky had warned so vigorously. Apart from the veteran of the Russian Left Opposition, Tarov (A.A. Davtian), who under the false identity of Manouchian individually joined the FTP/MOI and was executed with other members of the group that was named after him, we meet only one contrary example.

This is Chen Duxiu, whose foresight led him, soon after he emerged from jail, to intervene in the political department of a division of the army, the head of which understood how military effectiveness depends upon political clarity. [42] This enterprise was nipped in the bud. The Guomindang police understood the danger better than Chen’s own comrades did.

In the same order of ideas, the hesitancy with which Trotskyists looked at armed resistance suggests that it would be interesting to study how the revolution was conceived within the Fourth International during the war. It seems sometimes to have been conceived as something apocalyptic, which would occur independently of what was going on, and not as a result of being worked for. Had their almost exclusively ‘propagandist’ education, involving the use of the weapons of denunciation and ‘explanation’ – which clearly were the essential activities of an organisation the leaders of which felt themselves to be “swimming against the stream” – prepared the cadres for such a belief?

Did not the extraordinary weakness of the SWP’s resolution of November 1943 result in part from this same ‘propagandist’ isolation? [43] How could people – who declared that the Kremlin was unable to play a counter-revolutionary rôle on a large scale, that American imperialism would play in Europe in the immediate future the same plundering rôle as German imperialism, that the only alternatives in Europe were a workers’ government or a brutal dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, without any prospect of a parliamentary regime, and which rejected democratic demands with the declaration that the European working class had no ‘democratic illusions’ – place themselves in the stream of development after the objective turn in the situation?

We can go even further and say that if the Trotskyists, after pushing that line for years, had found themselves placed, if not at the head of such a revolutionary movement, but actually within it, they would have been obliged to revise the ABC of teachings of Marxism and Bolshevism. They would have had to admit the correctness of a point of view which sectarians always defend, according to which the role of revolutionaries consists in confining themselves to propaganda in periods of reaction, whilst they wait for the swing of the pendulum to bring the masses back to them.

What lay beneath this discussion – or rather this absence of discussion – on the most vital issues is not merely the question of the role of Stalinism, but that of the orientation towards the construction of the revolutionary party, as Trotsky had defended it in 1940. Our feeling, after treading the documents of the war period, is that there were often references that more resembled incantations than reflections on what had been gained and on working out a method by which to construct parties. It seems to me – and there is no ill-will here, because I was one of them – that during this period the Trotskyists at least learned how not to build a revolutionary party.

Serge Lambert has shown in a recent work, Revolutionary Tradition and a ‘New Party’ in Italy 1942-45, that, contrary to a certain legend, the Italian revolution was not decisively defeated at the moment when the short-lived dual power was set up in 1945 between the Allied administration and the Committees of the Republican Partisans, but from 1943 when the apparatus of Togliatti’s ‘new party’, which the men from Moscow established, broke the resistance of the scattered Communist oppositional groups.

When every chance of establishing a revolutionary party had been destroyed, the game was played out in which the leaders of the Italian Communist Party could without risk give the signal for what they called “the insurrection against the revolution”. [44] Moreover, Lambert shows very well that the decisive political weakness of many of these groups – some of which here and there developed considerably more powerful armed forces than those of the PCI – lay in the illusion which they held that the Soviet Union possessed some kind of “objectively revolutionary” character. They thought that the revolution was spreading along with every advance of the Red Army. We meet this conception not only in the well-known article in La Verité in February 1944, but throughout the world press of the Trotskyist movement. [45]

The question which we have tried to raise here is by no means academic. During the Second World War were the Trotskyist organisations, leaders and members alike, victims of an objective situation that was beyond them? Could they have done no more than what they did, that is to survive by drawing in more members and saving the honour of the internationalists, by maintaining against wind and tide the militant work of fraternising with German workers in uniform?

If that is the case, it would be necessary to recognise that Trotsky, with his analysis of the militarisation which had to be carried out, and his perspective that the revolutionary party could be constructed and the struggle for power begun in a short time, was completely isolated in 1940, not only from what was really happening politically in the world, but also from the political reality of his own organisation. He was, therefore, entertaining illusions and perceiving possibilities of breakthroughs when the Fourth International was in fact doomed to impotence, forced for a long time to swim against the current, and confronted with “the grip of Stalinism on the masses”.

But we may suppose, on the contrary, that the Trotskyist organisations, their members and their leaders, were involved, and that they have at least some responsibility for their own setbacks. In that case, we may think, if we start from the premises of Trotsky’s analysis of 1940, that the Second World War did see the development of a mass movement based upon a national and social resistance, which the Stalinists did their utmost to divert, and which, in the case of Greece, they led to its destruction – a resistance which the Trotskyists could neither support nor utilise, because they did not know how to locate themselves in it and even, perhaps, because they could not understand the concrete character of the moment in history in which they were living.

We believe that this question deserves to be asked.

Pierre Broué



1. These documents are in L. Trotsky, Sur la Deuxième Guerre Mondiale, originally published by La Taupe in Belgium, and republished by Seuil in Paris in 1974. The articles and interviews by Trotsky were sometimes mutilated by the removal of passages which do not bear directly upon the Second World War, but were generally concerned with the Spanish Civil War and the Fourth International.

2. The preface and postscript are printed below. pp. 12–14, 18–19 – Editors.

Some of these documents were published in 1945 in the European Secretariat’s Internal Bulletin (No. 5). Some members reacted strongly against Trotsky. One of them, ‘Am’, French or Belgian, sent to the International Secretariat an article entitled On the Subject of the Proletarian Military Policy: Did the Old Man Kill Trotskyism?. This article characterised Trotsky’s position as “pure and simple chauvinism”, speaking of the “importance of his errors”, and attributing to him “willingness to defend the fatherland without first overthrowing the bourgeoisie, while at the same time using in agitation the danger from its imperialist opponent”.

He went as far as to ask: “We must openly and frankly pose the question whether we can continue to bear the name of ‘Trotskyists’, when the leader of the Fourth International has dragged it into the mire of social-chauvinism.” This article is in the Archive of the International Secretariat, in the possession of the Institut Léon Trotsky.

3. L.D. Trotsky, Bonapartism, Fascism and War, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1939–40, New York 1977, pp. 410ff. This version has been slightly edited. Another version, with editorial interpolations, appears in L.D. Trotsky, The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, New York 1971, pp. 444ff. It first appeared in the October 1940 issue of Fourth International in the incomplete state in which Trotsky left it on his death – Editors.

4. L.D. Trotsky, Bonapartism, Fascism and War, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1939–40, op. cit., p. 411.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid. The translator of Trotsky’s article added: “Several citations from Lenin during that period fit Trotsky’s description”, and gives two: “It is possible, however, that five, 10 or even more years will elapse before the Socialist revolution begins.” (V.I. Lenin, The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination, Collected Works, Vol. 22, Moscow 1977, p. 153), and: “We of the older generation may not live to see the decisive battles of this coming revolution.” (V.I. Lenin, Lecture on the 1905 Revolution, Collected Works, Vol. 23, Moscow 1974, p. 253).

7. Trotsky, op. cit., p. 411.

8. Op. cit., p. 412.

9. Op. cit., p. 414.

10. These will be published in Volume 23 of the Oeuvres, and the articles and interviews, including Bonapartism, Fascism and War, will be found in Vol. 26. [Cf. L.D. Trotsky, On the Future of Hitler’s Armies, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1939–40, op. cit., p. 406, Fragments from the First Seven Months of the War, Fragments on the USSR, Preface to a Book on War and Peace, Writings of Leon Trotsky: Supplement 1934–40, New York 1979, pp. 72ff.Editors]

11. L.D. Trotsky, Discussions with Trotsky, Writings of Leon Trotsky 1939–40, op. cit., p. 253.

12. L.D. Trotsky, How to Really Defend Democracy, op. cit., pp. 344–5.

13. L.D. Trotsky, Discussions with Trotsky, op. cit., p. 257.

14. L.D. Trotsky, We Do Not Change Our Course, op. cit., p. 297.

15. Op. cit., p298

16. ibid.

17. L.D. Trotsky, On the Future of Hitler’s Armies, op. cit., p. 406.

18. The Case of Leon Trotsky, New York 1969, pp. 289–90

19. L.D. Trotsky, Discussions with Trotsky, op. cit., p. 256.

20. L.D. Trotsky, Manifesto of the Fourth International on the Imperialist War and the Proletarian World Revolution, op. cit., p. 222.

21. A. Kedros, La Resistance Grèque: 1940–44, p. 174.

22. E. Myers, The Great Entanglement, p. 189.

23. A. Kedros, op. cit., p. 199, mentions a report by the German police when Ioannis Rallis came to power: “He passes for the confidential adviser of Pangalos, who is on the side of the English.” Kedros also refers to the semi-Fascist military hierarchy, General Papagos and Rallis: “All these men and formations were to be headed in a certain direction by a secret adviser of the king, who was also a prince of the church, the Metropolitan of Athens, Chrisanthios.” (p. 179)

24. Svetozar Vukmanovic-Tempo, How and Why the People’s Liberation Struggle of Greece Met With Defeat, London 1985, cited in Kedros, op. cit., p. 409.

25. D. Eudes, The Kapetanios, New Left Books, 1972, p. 75.

26. W. Churchill, The Second World War, Vol. 5, London 1952, p. 479. Churchill’s account clearly shows how much he was worried about the mutiny, and how anxious he was to see it crushed.

27. The official sources of the Government in Exile placed this figure at 10,000.

28. Churchill, speaking in the House of Commons on 19 December 1944, defended his use of the term ‘Trotskyism’, saying:

I think that ‘Trotskyism’ is a better definition of Greek Communism and certain other sects than the usual term. It has the advantage of being equally hated in Russia.

This was followed by “prolonged laughter”. On 13 December Churchill had invited Communist MP William Gallacher not to get too excited over the subject of the situation in Greece, if he didn’t want to be accused of ‘Trotskyism’. Interestingly, Churchill noted that Archbishop Damaskinos, who was more or less imposed by the British authorities as regent, “greatly feared the Communist, or Trotskyite as he put it, combination in Greek affairs” (W. Churchill, The Second World War, Vol. 6, London 1954, p. 272).

Churchill noted that the British massacres in Athens were widely and strongly criticised in the US press and by the US State Department, and also in The Times and the Manchester Guardian in Britain, but added:

Stalin, however, adhered strictly and faithfully to our agreement of October, and during all the long weeks of fighting the Communists in the streets of Athens, not one word of reproach came from Pravda or Izvestia. (Ibid., p. 255) [Editors’ note]

29. R. Dazy, Fusillez les chiens enragés, p. 266.

30. M. Spiro, The Greek Revolution, Quatrième Internationale, no.14-15, January-February 1945. On the same subject, the special International Internal Bulletin (January 1945) does not even mention the existence of Trotskyist organisations in Greece. The organ of the US Socialist Workers Party, Fourth International (February 1945) contains a documented article, Civil War in Greece, and the paragraph headed Trotskyism in Greece confines itself to generalities:

ELAS is ‘Trotskyist’ in one sense only – in the revolutionary instincts of its indomitable fighters, in their great capacity for struggle and sacrifice. But its programme and leadership has no resemblance to Trotskyism.

Further on it declares: “The Trotskyists will team to connect themselves with the masses and their struggles.” It adds that under the reign of terror unleashed by the Stalinists, this would take some time. Quatrième Internationale (no.22-24, September-November 1945) contains a note headed Greece which calls for the exposure of the murder of revolutionary militants in Greece by the Stalinists, and is followed by a preliminary list of names. Fourth International (October 1945), 39. reported in the Inside the Fourth International column that:

Papers of the International Communist Party (Fourth International), the only revolutionary party in Greece, are illegal. Members of that party are persecuted, hounded and quite frequently killed by both the government and the Stalinists.

In fact there were serious divergences between the International Secretariat and the Greek Trotskyists. On 25 November 1946 Michel Raptis (Pablo) wrote under the name of ‘Pilar’ to the Greek section:

It is not a matter of conforming to the letter of every political resolution of the International. But it is not a matter, either, of taking a diametrically opposite line on such important questions as your attitude to the movement of the EAM and ELAS and to the events of December 1944.

Quatrième Internationale (October–November 1946) reported on the Unification Congress of July 1946, which produced the KDKE, and published the Congress manifesto:

Despite itself, despite its nationalist pronouncements, despite its policy of conciliation and class collaboration, the Greek Communist Party grouped around itself the forces which history set in motion and which, in the last analysis, were the forces of the proletarian revolution.

Rodolphe Prager stated that the Greek Trotskyists held a “generally dismissive attitude to the national movement”, that they distanced themselves from it, and held a neutralist position “hostile equally to the two factions in struggle” during the civil war:

The principle mistake was an inability to discern the anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist character which was powerfully germinating in this mass movement, and its revolutionary dynamic, behind the bourgeois and Stalinist leaderships. Ignorance of this reality prevented the Trotskyists from understanding that in December 1944 the conflict could not be reduced to a confrontation between British imperialism on the one side and the Soviet bureaucracy and its supporters on the other. (R. Prager, Les congres de la Quatrième Internationale, Vol. 2, pp. 348–9, cf. R. Prager, The Fourth International During the Second World War, Revolutionary History, Vol. 1 no. 3, Autumn 1988, p. 33)

It is not an easy question to answer. We have found in the archives of the International Secretariat a letter from George Vitsoris in which he protests against the omission from the manifesto of the Unification Congress of the slogan “Withdraw the British troops”, and considers “unacceptable” the fact that the manifesto does not say a word about the murder of the Trotskyists by the Stalinists.

31. A. Kedros, op. cit., p. 512.

32. R. Prager, op. cit., p. 2. This introduction does not appear in the English translation.

33. L.D. Trotsky, Bonapartism, Fascism and War, op. cit., p. 414.

34. Op. cit., p. 413.

35. Prager, op. cit., pp. 13–4.

36. Op. cit., p. 12.

37. Op. cit., p. 221–3.

38. J.P. Cannon, Socialism on Trial, New York 1970, p. 167.

39. One article by Van Heijenoort appeared in the September and November 1942 issues of Fourth International, with an editorial note in the October issue describing it as “a discussion article”. In an article dated June 1941, entitled Where is Europe Going?, Loris stated that the working class would lead the struggle against the Hitlerite occupation. He then emphasised the dialectical link between ‘national’ and ‘social’ liberation, in fact proletarian revolution, whilst he criticised the illusions that could arise from the national liberation movement. This article appeared in the October 1942 issue of La Verité. Loris wrote:

It is not the task of Marxists to impose this or that form of struggle which they themselves may prefer. The task is really to deepen, widen and make more systematic all the manifestations of resistance, to bring to them the spirit of organisation, and to open a broad perspective before them.

The article seems to criticise the European ‘revisionists’ on the national question. The 1942 article seems rather to be a polemic against the position of the SWP. One of the documents that Loris wrote in 1944 stresses as “one of the teachings of Bolshevism” its contempt for simple propaganda that merely tries to shed light on the virtues of Socialism, its “capacity to sense the aspirations of the masses and to take advantage of their progressive aspects”, and in knowing “how to conduct activities which can win the masses away from their conservative parties and leaders”. Much of the original documentation in the discussion was devoted to the Three Theses of the IKD, and to their position on the national question. We have not dealt with this question here, which involves open revisionism that conceals other divergences. In any case, the essential documents are in the second volume of Prager’s collection.

40. Compare La Révolution Française, 1/1940, and the different comments of J. Rabaut in Tout est Possible, pp. 343–4, and J.P. Joubert in Revolutionaires dans la SFIO, pp. 224–6.

41. Prager, op. cit., pp. 92–101, and M. Dreyfus, Les Trotskystes pendant la Deuxième Guerre Mondiale, Le Mouvement Sociale, pp. 20–2.

42. P. Broué, Chen Duxiu and the Fourth International, 1938–42, Revolutionary History, Vol. 2 no. 4, Spring 1990, pp. 16–21.

43.The text of this resolution of the SWP’s National Committee appeared in Quatrième Internationale, no. 11–12–13, September–November 1944, under the title of Perspectives and Tasks of the European Revolution. It was accompanied by an introduction which emphasised “the remarkable agreement between the general line of this document and that of the resolution of the European Conference of February 1944”.

44. Serge Lambert, Tradition Revolutionaire et ‘Parti Nouveau’ Communiste en Italie, 1942–45, thesis in political science, Grenoble 1985.

45. The clandestine issue of La Verité (10 February 1944) carried a front-page headline, The Banners of the Red Army will Join with Our Red Banners. Felix Morrow in the SWP Internal Bulletin (Vol. 8, no. 8) quotes this article and mentions analogous positions adopted by the Bolshevik-Leninist Party in India, La Voix de Lenin in Belgium, El Militante in Chile, etc. Of course, the fact that they all reacted in the same way is not necessarily a sign that they agreed on principle. It may also express conservative responses or overriding pressures upon them.

Updated by ETOL: 24.7.2003