Burnham Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

James Burnham

Political Refugees Face Hunger in All Europe

Regulations Deny Worker-Refugees Right to Work

(August 1938)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 33, 13 August 1938, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In spite of all that has been said and written during the past few years, I do not think that we in this country yet comprehend the condition of the political refugees in Europe. There has been nothing comparable to it in the whole history of mankind.

A friend of mine, recently returned from two years in Switzerland, last week described to me what was happening in that country. Since the 16th Century, Switzerland has had the glory of offering hospitality and freedom to untold thousands of religious and political exiles from all nations. Today, under the pressure of fear of Hitler and of its own internal reaction, that hospitality is drying up, and the freedom has already disappeared.

In Switzerland, as every European country, every inhabitant is required to have dozens of “permits” – Federal, Cantonal, District, Municipal residence permits; corresponding “work permits,” professional permits, etc., all in addition to the usual passports. But the refugees are more and more being refused any and all of these permits.

Deprived of work permits, they are forbidden by law to undertake any kind of remunerative employment. Deprived of residence permits, they are permanently subject to arrest and imprisonment, for no cause whatsoever, at the whim of any authority.

Forbidden to take jobs, thousands of the refugees can only wander the streets, or huddle in the cellar of a decaying slum, slowly starving to death. Seeing not the slightest way out, hundreds are driven to insanity or suicide.

In addition, tens of thousands of the refugees are deprived of citizenship before expulsion. Naturally, none of the pious “democracies” grant new citizenship, except in a very few instances. “Men without countries,” these refugees are in the most terrible sense outcasts on the face of the earth.

Though many of the refugees are professionals or intellectuals, the fate of the worker-refugees, above all of those who have been active in working-class politics, is the most appalling of all. The professionals are more likely to have relatives or connections of some sort, or to have retained some small percentage of former property, so that they can get at least bread. The workers have nothing, and no chance of getting anything. The big bourgeois and liberal relief organizations are not interested in them. They can, some of them, take a few scraps from the Stalinist table: at the price, it goes without saying, of one hundred percent allegiance to Stalinism, not seldom as unofficial agents for the G.P.U. For the non-Stalinists, that door is likewise shut.

These refugees include genuine heroes in the fight for socialism, authentic martyrs in the anti-fascist struggle. Their defense and aid is not at all a mere act of charity. It is part and parcel of the world-wide battle for freedom.

The work of the American Fund for Political Prisoners and Refugees, though modest in its beginnings, is a crucial sector of this battle. The American Fund duplicates none of the existing agencies. Every dollar given to it yields concrete results in the lives of the most desperately situated of the refugees. It deserves the support of every serious antifascist.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Contributions and statements of support should be sent to the American Fund for Political Prisoners and Refugees, Room 1609, 100 Fifth Ave., New York, N.Y.)

Burnham Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 12 September 2015