Memoirs of a revolutionary (A. Stinas, Greece): Nationalism and antifascism

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The extracts we're publishing from the book by A Stinas, a revolutionary communist from Greece (1), are an attack on the antifascist Resistance during the Second World War. They thus contain a pitiless denunciation of the fusion of three mystifications which are particularly murderous for the proletariat: the 'defence of the USSR', nationalism and 'democratic antifascism'.

The explosion of nationalisms in what used to be the USSR and its empire in eastern Europe, like the development of huge 'antifascist' ideological campaigns, in the countries of western Europe in particular, make these extracts, written at the end of the 40s, as relevant as ever (2).

Today it is becoming harder and harder for the established order to justify its rule. The disaster that its laws have led to prevent it. But faced with the only force capable of overthrowing it and building another kind of society, faced with the proletariat, the ruling class still has at its disposal ideological weapons that can divide its enemy and keep it subjected to national factions of capital. Today nationalism and 'anti-fascism' are at the forefront of the bourgeoisie's counterrevolutionary arsenal.

A. Stinas takes up the marxist analysis of Rosa Luxemburg on the national question, recalling that once capitalism reaches its imperialist phase, "... the nation has accomplished its historic mission. Wars of national liberation arid bourgeois democratic revolutions are henceforth void of meaning". On this basis he denounces and destroys the arguments of all those who called for participation in the 'antifascist Resistance' during the second world war, on the pretext that its 'popular' and 'antifascist' dynamic could lead to the revolution.

Stinas and the UCI (Union Communiste Internationaliste) were part of that handful of revolutionaries who, during the second world war, were able to swim against the tide of all the nationalisms, refusing to support 'democracy' against fascism, to abandon internationalism in the name of the defence of the USSR'(3).

Since they are almost unknown, even in the revolutionary milieu, partly because their work only existed in the Greek language, it is worth giving some elements on their history.

Stinas belonged to that generation of communists who went through the great international revolutionary wave which put an end to the First World War. All his life he remained faithful to the great hopes raised by Red October in 1917 and by the German revolution of 1919. A member of the Greek Communist Party (in a period in which the Communist Parties had not yet passed into the bourgeois camp) until his expulsion in 1931, he was then a member of the Leninist Opposition, which published the weekly 'Drapeau du Communisme' and which referred to Trotsky, the international symbol of resistance to Stalinism.

In 1933, Hindenburg gave power to Hitler in Germany. Fascism became the official regime there. Stinas argued that he victory of fascism signalled the death of the Communist International, just as 4 August 1914 did for the Second International, and that its sections were definitively and irretrievably lost to the working class. Having begun as organs of the proletarian struggle, they had now become part of the class enemy. The duty of revolutionaries all over the world was thus to form new revolutionary parties, outside and against the International.

A sharp debate provoked a crisis in the Trotskyist organisation, and Stinas left it, after being in a minority. In 1935 he joined an organisation, Le Bolshevik, which had detached itself from archeomarxism and which now became a new organisation calling itself the Union Communiste Internationaliste, At that time the UCI was the only recognised section in Greece of Trotsky's Internationalist Communist League (ICL); the Fourth International wasn't created until 1938.

From 1937 on, the UCI rejected a fundamental slogan of the Fourth International: the 'defence of the USSR'. Stinas and his comrades didn't reach this position through a debate on the social nature of the USSR, but through a critical examination of the policies and slogans to be adopted in the face of an imminent world war. The UCI aimed to eliminate from its programme any aspect which could allow the infiltration of social patriotism, under the cover of the defence of the USSR.

During the Second World War, Stinas, as an intransigent internationalist, remained loyal to the principles of revolutionary marxism, such as Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg had formulated and practically applied during the first world war.

Since 1934 the UCI had been the only section of the Trotskyist current in Greece. During all the years of war and occupation, isolated from other countries, this group was convinced that the Trotskyists were fighting along the same lines, for the same ideas, and against the stream.

The first news they got about the real positions of the Trotskyist International left Stinas and his comrades open-mouthed. Reading the French pamphlet 'Les trotskystes dans la lutte contre les nazis' provided proof that the Trotskyists had fought against the Nazis like all the other good patriots. They then learned about the shameful attitude of Cannon and the Socialist Workers Party in the USA.

In the war, i.e. in conditions which put the organisations of the working class to the test, the Fourth International had crumbled to dust. Its sections, some openly through 'the defence of the fatherland', others under the cover of the 'defence of the USSR', had passed to the service of their respective bourgeoisies and had in their own way contributed to the massacre.

In autumn 1947, the UCI broke all political and organisational links with the Fourth International. In the years that followed, the worst period of counter-revolution at the political level, when revolutionary groups were reduced to tiny minorities and when most of those who remained faithful to the basic principles of proletarian internationalism and the October revolution were completely isolated, Stinas became the main representative in Greece of the Socialisme ou Barbarie current. This current, which never managed to clarify the completely capitalist nature of the social relations in the USSR, developed the theory of a kind of third system of exploitation, based on a new division between 'order-givers' and 'order-takers'. It moved further and further away from marxism and finally fell apart in the 1960s. At the end of his life, Stinas didn't really have any organised political activity. He moved close to the anarchists and died in 1987.



Marxism and the nation

The nation is the product of history, like the tribe, the family, and the city. It has a necessary historic role and must disappear once the latter has been fulfilled. The class which bears this form of social organisation is the bourgeoisie. The national state merges with the state of the bourgeoisie, and historically, the progressive work of the nation and of capitalism concur: to create, with the development of the productive forces, the material conditions for socialism.

This progressive work comes to an end with the epoch of imperialism, and the great imperialist powers with their antagonisms and their wars. The nation has accomplished its historic mission. Wars of national liberation and bourgeois-democratic revolutions are henceforth void of meaning. The proletarian revolution is now on the agenda. It neither engenders nor maintains but abolishes nations and frontiers and unifies all the peoples of the earth into a world community.

The defence of the nation is, in our epoch, nothing other than the defence of imperialism, of the social system which provokes wars, which cannot live without war and which leads humanity into chaos and barbarism. This is as true for the great imperialist powers as for the small nations, of which the ruling classes are, and can only be, the accomplices and associates of the great powers.

"Socialism is today the only hope of humanity. Above the ramparts of the capitalist world which is finally collapsing, these words of the Communist Manifesto are burning in letters of fire: socialism or descent into barbarism." (Rosa Luxemburg, 1918).

Socialism is the task of the workers of the entire world, and must be constructed on a global scale. The struggle for the overthrow of capitalism and for the construction of socialism unites all the workers of the world. Geography creates a division of tasks: the immediate enemy of the workers of each country is their own ruling class. It is their sector of the international workers' struggle to overthrow world capitalism.

If the working masses of each country do not become conscious that they are only a section of a world class, they will never he able to go down the road of their social emancipation.

It is not sentimentalism which makes the struggle for socialism in a given country an integral part of the world socialist society, but the impossibility of socialism in a single country. The only 'socialism' in national colours and with a national ideology that history has given us is that of Hitler, and the only national 'communism', that of Stalin.

The struggle within a country against the ruling class, and solidarity with the working masses of the entire world, such are two fundamental principles of the movement of the popular masses in our epoch, for their economic, political, and social liberation. That goes for 'peace' as for war. War between peoples is fratricide. The only just war is that of the people fraternising beyond nations and frontiers against their exploiters.

The task of revolutionaries in times of peace as in times of war is to help the masses become conscious of the ends and means of their movement, to get rid of the bureaucratic political and union leadership, to take their destiny into their own hands, and not give any confidence to any other 'leadership' than that of the executive organs which they themselves have elected and they can revoke at any moment. It is to acquire the consciousness of their own political responsibility, and firstly and above all to emancipate themselves intellectually from national and patriotic mythology.

These are the principles of revolutionary marxism that Rosa Luxemburg formulated and practically applied, and which guided her policy and her action in the first world war. These principles guide our policy and our action in the Second World War.

The anti-fascist resistance: an appendage of imperialism

The "Resistance movement", that is, the struggle against the Germans, under all its forms, from sabotage to the partisan war in the occupied countries, cannot be envisaged outside of the context of imperialist war, of which it is an integral part. Its progressive or reactionary character can be determined neither by the participation of the masses, nor by its anti-fascist objectives, nor by the oppression of German imperialism, but as a function of the progressive or reactionary character of the war.

The ELAS like the EDES (4) were the armies which continued the war inside the country against the Germans and the Italians. That alone strictly determines our position towards them. To participate in the Resistance movement, whatever the slogans and justifications, means to participate in the war.

Independently of the feelings of the masses and the intentions of its leadership, this movement is, owing to the conditions of the second imperialist massacre, the organ and appendage of allied imperialism…

The patriotism of the masses and their attitude toward war, so contrary to their historic interests, have been very well known phenomena since the preceding war, and Trotsky in many texts has indefatigably warned of the danger of revolutionaries being surprised and letting themselves be drawn along by the current. The duty of the internationalist revolutionaries is to stand against the current and defend the historic interests of the proletariat against the current. This phenomenon is not only explained by the technical means utilised, propaganda, radio, press, processions, the atmosphere of exaltation created at the beginning of the war, but also by the spirit of the masses, which results from their previous political evolution, the defeats of the working class, from its discouragement, from the destruction of confidence in its own strength and in the means of action of the class struggle, from the dispersion of the international workers' movement, and from the opportunist policies which have sapped its energies.

There's no historical law fixing the point at which the masses, having first been caught up in the war, will rediscover their own goals. It is concrete political conditions which awaken class consciousness. The horrible consequences of the war for the masses will undermine patriotic enthusiasm. With the growth of discontent, their opposition to the imperialists and to their own leaders, who are the agents of imperialism, will unceasingly open and awaken their class consciousness. The difficulties of the ruling class are growing. The situation is evolving towards the rupture of internal unity, the disintegration of the internal front and towards the revolution. Internationalist revolutionaries contribute to the acceleration of the rhythms of this objective process by their intransigent struggle against all patriotic and social patriotic organisations, open or hidden, by the consistent application of the policy of revolutionary defeatism.

The results of the war, m the conditions of the occupation, have had an entirely different influence on the psychology of the masses and the relations with the bourgeoisie. Their class consciousness has fallen into nationalist hatred, constantly reinforced by the barbaric behaviour of the Germans. Confusion is rife, the idea of the nation and of its destiny have been placed above social differences. National unity has been reinforced, the masses have submitted to their bourgeoisie, represented by the organisations of national Resistance. The industrial proletariat, broken by the preceding defeats, its specific weight severely reduced, has found itself prisoner of this frightening situation for the whole duration of the war.

If the anger and the outrage of the masses against German imperialism in the occupied countries is 'just', that of the German masses against allied imperialism, against the barbaric bombing of workers' areas is equally so. But this justified anger, which is reinforced by every means by the parties of the bourgeoisie of all shades, is being exploited and used by the imperialists for their own interests. The task of revolutionaries remains to stand against the current, and to direct this anger against 'their' bourgeoisie. Only this discontent against our own bourgeoisie can become an historic force which will allow humanity to get rid of wars and destruction once and for all. The moment a revolutionary in a war alludes simply to the oppression by the enemy imperialism in his own country, he becomes a victim of the nationalist mentality and of the social patriotic logic. He cuts the links which unite the revolutionary workers who remain faithful to their flag in all the different countries, in the hell that capitalism in decomposition has plunged humanity…

The struggle against the Nazis in the countries occupied by Germany is a trick, one of the means allied imperialism uses to chain the masses behind its war drive. The struggle against the Nazis is the task of the German proletariat. It is only possible if the workers of all countries fight against their own bourgeoisie. The workers of the occupied countries who fought the Nazis fought for the interests of their exploiters not for their own interests, and those who pushed them into this war were, whatever their intentions and justifications, imperialist agents. The call to the German soldiers to fraternise with the workers of the occupied countries in a common struggle against the Nazis was an artificial trick of allied imperialism. Only the example of the Greek proletarian struggle against its 'own' bourgeoisie, which in the conditions of the occupation, would have signified a struggle against nationalist organisations, could have awakened the class consciousness of the enlisted German workers, made fraternisation possible, and stimulated the struggle of the German proletariat against Hitler.

Hypocrisy and trickery are no less indispensable to the pursuit of the war as tanks, airplanes, and artillery. War is not possible without the conquest of the masses. But to conquer them, it is necessary to make them think they are fighting for their own interests. All the slogans and promises of liberty, prosperity, crushing fascism, socialist reforms, the popular republic, the defence of the USSR, have this aim. This work is above all reserved for the 'workers' parties, which utilise their authority, their influence, their links with the working masses, the very traditions of the workers' movement, the better to trick the workers and cut their throats.

The illusions of the masses in the war, without which it would be impossible, don't make it any more progressive, and only the most hypocritical social patriots can use this to justify it. All the promises, all the proclamations, all the slogans of the SP or the CP in this war have only been deceptions…

The transformation of a movement into political combat against the capitalist regime doesn't depend on us and the persuasive force of our ideas, but on the nature of this movement itself.

'Accelerating and facilitating the transformation of the movement of Resistance into a movement of struggle against capitalism' would have been possible if this movement had been able to create, both in class relations and in the consciousness and psychology of the masses, the most favourable conditions for the transformation into a general political struggle against the bourgeoisie, and thus for the proletarian revolution.

The struggle of the working class for its immediate economic and political demands can transform itself in the course of its development into a general political struggle to overthrow the bourgeoisie. But it is made possible by the very form of this struggle: by their opposition to the bourgeoisie and its state, and by the nature of their class demands, the masses rid themselves of nationalist, reformist and democratic illusions and the influence of the enemy classes; they develop their confidence, initiative, their critical spirit, their confidence in themselves. With the extension of the field of struggle, the masses participating in it become more numerous, and the more profoundly the social soil is ploughed, the more clearly the class fronts distinguish themselves, and the more the revolutionary proletariat becomes the axis of the masses in struggle. The importance of the revolutionary party is enormous, to accelerate the process of coming to consciousness, to aid the workers to assimilate their experience and to grasp the necessity for the taking of power by the masses, for the organisation of the uprising in order to ensure its victory. But it is the movement itself, by its nature and its internal logic, which gives its strength to the party. It is an objective process of which the policy of the revolutionary movement is the conscious expression. The growth of the Resistance movement has, equally by its very nature, exactly the inverse result: it destroys class consciousness, reinforces illusions and nationalist hatred, disperses and atomises the proletariat still more in the anonymous mass of the nation, subjects it even more to its national bourgeoisie and brings to the surface the most ferociously nationalist elements.

Today, what remains of the Resistance movement (hate and nationalist prejudices, the memories and traditions of this movement which was easily used by the Stalinists and Socialists) is the most serious obstacle to a class orientation of the masses.

If there had been an objective possibility of the Resistance movement transforming itself into a political struggle against capitalism, the latter would have manifested itself without our participation. But nowhere have we seen a proletarian tendency emerge m its ranks, even the most confused…

The shifting of the military and occupation fronts in this country, as in nearly the whole of Europe, by the armies of the Axis powers, doesn't change the character of the war nor give rise to an authentic national question; it does not modify our strategic objective nor our fundamental tasks. The tasks of the revolutionary party in these conditions is to develop its struggle against the nationalist organisations, to protect the working class from anti-German hate and nationalist poison.

Internationalist revolutionaries participate in the struggles of the masses for their immediate economic and political demands, attempting to give them a clear class orientation and opposing with all their strength the nationalist exploitation of these struggles. Instead of blaming the Italians and the Germans, they explain why the war broke out - a war whose barbarism is the inevitable consequence of its nature. They denounce with courage the crimes of their own imperialist camp and their bourgeoisie, represented by the different nationalist organisations, calling the masses to fraternise with Italian and German soldiers for the common struggle for socialism. The proletarian party condemns all patriotic struggles, however massive and whatever their form, and openly calls the masses to abstain from them.

Revolutionary defeatism, in the conditions of the occupation, will encounter frightening and unprecedented obstacles. But the difficulties cannot change our tasks. On the contrary, the stronger the tide, the more vigorous must be the attachment of the revolutionary movement to its principles, the more it must intransigently swim against the tide. Only this policy will make it capable of expressing the sentiments of the revolutionary masses tomorrow and of putting itself at the forefront of their struggles. The policy of submission to the tide, that is the policy of reinforcing the Resistance movement, can only add a supplementary obstacle to the workers' attempts to find a class orientation. It can only destroy the party.

Revolutionary defeatism, the true internationalist policy against the war and the Resistance movement, shows today, and will show even more in the revolutionary events to come, all its strength and all its value.
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