Jean van Heijenoort writing as Marc Loris

North Africa: A Lesson in Democracy

“North Africa: A lesson in Democracy” Fourth International, December 1942, pp.359-362, under the name “Marc Loris”, (3,566 words).

Basing themselves on an examination of the economic system and the social structure of the great modern nations, Marxists describe the present war as an imperialist war. Capitalist civilization has passed its apogee and the two great world wars represent imperialism’s desperate attempts to emerge from a situation which has no way out. The task of those who want to work for a higher development of humanity is not to collaborate in this hopeless and maniacal enterprise, but to open a way out by laying the foundations for a new social order.

This fundamental truth is obscured for a time by superficial considerations such as the “defense of the nation,” the “struggle for democracy,” the “struggle against the plutocracies,” etc. Among the masses, these are rather ill-defined feelings, but the government propagandas take them, pervert them and use them to cover up the real aims of the war.

However, the socialist explanation does not remain buried in the heads of a few revolutionists. In spite of all the artifices of propaganda, each important development of the war, whether on the military plane or on that of internal and external politics, confirms the socialist analysis.

The most recent of these developments is the invasion of North Africa. It is important because it is the first large-scale offensive action undertaken by the most powerful of the belligerents. Precisely because of this importance, the event cannot fail to help us see the real character of this war.

In breaking the news to the American public on November 7, Roosevelt announced that American forces had landed in Africa “in order to forestall an invasion of Africa by Germany and Italy.” Neither Roosevelt nor any other source has given any details about observed preparations of such an Axis invasion. Apparently even the conservative New York Times felt obliged to give the story the title “U. S. Meets ‘Threat’,” putting the word “threat” in quotation marks.

Roosevelt had to repeat the formula of Hitler, who likewise invaded Norway “in order to forestall an invasion by England.” This is an old stratagem of warfare. But what price, then, all those resounding denunciations of Nazi “treachery"?

Let us examine a little more closely the preparation of military operations in North Africa. The conciliatory attitude of the American government toward the Vichy clique was for a long time the object of criticism by liberals who were astonished by the “riddle of the State Department”. The day after the invasion of North Africa, Secretary Hull hurried to give the key to the mystery. Hull indicated the various objectives of the American policy toward Vichy, especially the purpose of maintaining diplomatic relations. The first purpose was:

“Opportunity for the Government of the United States to get from week to week highly important information virtually from the inside of Germany-controlled territory and from North Africa regarding Axis subversive activities, and other important phases of the international situation.”

And the last purpose was: “And last, but most important, to pave the way and prepare the background in the most effective manner possible for the planning and sending of the military expedition into the Western Mediterranean area, and to assist the movements supporting present British operations farther East.”

Thus Secretary Hull gleefully boasted that the American diplomatic representatives were in Vichy territory to conduct fifth-column work. It was also revealed in London that groups of spies in Morocco had for a long time been “in touch with the British at Gibraltar through United States officials in Africa.[1]

Of course, we would not dream of being indignant about all this. The means which Washington uses are imposed by the serious struggle which it wages against Berlin: the aim of this struggle is nothing less than the domination of world. But this is precisely why these means are exactly the same as those which Hitler uses. This very simple and very clear idea forces us to say: all “moral” considerations with which either of the two camps seeks to cover up its objectives are nothing but lies. The similarity of methods flows inevitably from the similarity of imperialist aims.

Immediately after the invasion of North Africa a State Department spokesman declared: “United States food shipments from time to time to the natives of French North Africa have given us an opportunity to put into that area, in addition to consuls and officials already there, twenty Americans expert in the French language and skilled in promoting goodwill toward the United States.”

For more than three years the American press and radio have thrown out pages and kilowatts of indignation about the methods of Nazi infiltration. This moral indignation must now look for other targets. If the Germans knew how to utilize “tourism,” the Americans were no less able in utilizing “philanthropy.” A little more cynicism on the one side, a little more hypocrisy on the other: this is the only difference between the “fascist methods” and the “democratic methods.”

A few days before the American debarkment in Africa, the New York Times still recalled the “infamous” character of the Kurusu mission, which covered up Japan’s plans for the attack in the Pacific. Henceforth the Times and its confreres will have to be more reserved in their moral indignation, lest they suggest an impertinent comparison with the recent feats of the American diplomatic service in North Africa.

Democratic Fascists or Fascist Democrats? When Secretary Hull finally revealed the secret of American policy toward Vichy, he emphasized that it was now evident that Washington had no inclination toward the Vichy clique and he took a rather disdainful attitude toward less intelligent Americans who had not been able to understand this from the beginning. The journalists present noted that:

“it was apparent that the Secretary took a keen pleasure in replying to the many critics of Administration policy in this field over the last two years.”

It was also disclosed by the State Department that:

“The relations with Vichy were not maintained because of any fondness for the Vichy leaders, and the United States throughout has made clear its contempt for the Frenchmen who were playing the German game.”

However, Mr. Hull’s “keen pleasure” in replying to the critics of the Administration had to be of short duration, for while Hull was speaking in Washington those who represented the United States in Algiers were showing anything but “contempt” for some of the Frenchmen who played the German game, namely Admiral Darlan and his clique. The “Vichy scandal” was succeeded by the “Darlan scandal, “ of incomparably greater scope.

Darlan, as the reader will recall, was the head of the French navy appointed by Daladier. At the time of the military debacle in June 1940, this “democrat” thought only of a deal with Hitler, rallied to Petain, subsequently became “Chief of Government” in Vichy and Petain’s “heir. “ In order to find more easily a common language with Hitler, he subjected France to a reign of terror. Now, this ex-democrat turned fascist has become an ex-fascist democrat and he works, we were assured November 18 by Major Akers, one of the American military chiefs of North Africa, to “free” France.

Although obliged to omit many instructive sidelights, we will try to follow this metamorphosis of Darlan from jailer into liberator. Truly, the story is fantastic for those who maintain illusions about bourgeois democracy. But facts are facts.

During the first few days, information was confused and scarce. Monday, November 9, the day following the debarkment, while the fight was going on at Oran and in Morocco, it was reported that an armistice had been signed in Algiers and “approved” by Darlan, who was in Algiers when the American troops arrived.

On Tuesday, November 10, it was reported by American sources that “Admiral Darlan, chief of Vichy’s armed forces, is now in Allied hands at Algiers, being entertained by one of our American generals in a style befitting his station.” In actual fact, on that very day the Berlin radio had already announced that “Darlan has given his allegiance to, the United Nations cause.” The official announcement by the American command in Africa did not come until four days later. On November 11, the German-controlled Vichy radio made known the text of an appeal by “prisoner” Darlan, saying: “I assume authority over North Africa in the name of the Marshal [Petain]. . . . Political and administrative organizations remain in force.” The American side did not confirm the news, which subsequently proved to be authentic.

On Friday, November 13, Darlan broadcast a new proclamation announcing that he was in command in North Africa, and ending: “All governors and residents must stay at their posts and continue their administration in conformity with existing laws as in the past ..... Long live the Marshal!” (Our italics.) This news again came from Vichy, without any American comment. In fact, questioned about Darlan on November 10, General Eisenhower, American commander in North Africa, “implied that political developments had no place at present in important military developments.” Berlin and Vichy, as we saw, were very well informed of each of Darlan’s moves and the secrecy kept by the American command worked only against providing information to the American people. We admit that the news about Darlan was rather hard to break!

On November 14 finally came the official announcement by the American command that Darlan and Eisenhower “would act in cooperation for the defense of North Africa.” It is not for nothing that the New York Times, which decidedly knows how to use quotation marks, called Eisenhower “Commander in Chief of the so-called ‘army of liberation’.” Meanwhile, Darlan was assuming more and more the functions of government. He had changed his master but not his methods: one of his aides declared that “he was ready to halt all demonstrations.”

On November 16 Darlan, it was reported, “instituted a legislative body to assist him.” Hurrah for democracy! It was also reported that Gaston Bergery, Ambassador of the Vichy government to Turkey, was rallying to Darlan, as were Flandin and Pucheu. Flandin is a reactionary politician who had been for a short time Petain’s Foreign Minister. Pucheu, as Darlan’s Minister of Interior, had arrested and imprisoned thousands of Frenchmen opposed to Nazism and had helped the Germans in preparing lists of those to face Nazi firing squads.

At this moment the scandal rose to proportions truly dangerous for the Anglo-American camp. The democratic myth, so necessary to the imperialists, was seriously discredited. Roosevelt had to intervene and on November 17 made a statement that changed nothing but consoled those who wished to be consoled. The gist of the statement was that the United States was making a “temporary arrangement” with Darlan. But the statement cautiously left doubt as to what “temporary” meant: whether only for the short time of actual fighting in North Africa or until the final conclusion of the world peace. In any case, the Darlan regime remains the lot of North Africa for an indefinite period.

Liberals everywhere, frightened by the abyss opened by the Darlan scandal, are snatching at Roosevelt’s declaration, thinking of only one thing: closing their eyes, for reality brings too many disagreeable surprises.

The final commentary on Roosevelt’s statement came in a dispatch from North Africa on November 18, announcing that “the local administration will, wherever possible, be entrusted to the same persons who handled it before the campaign.” Since the head of the central African administration is also the same as before, namely Darlan, everyone can see the great change brought about by the passage from the fascist to the democratic camp!

We must note again how the American military chiefs explain their deal with Darlan. On November 15, General Clark, Eisenhower’s second in command, expressed his “pleasure” in dealing with Darlan and “disclaimed any purpose to interfere in French affairs.” Eisenhower himself had previously declared, in order to explain his arrangement with Darlan, that “political developments had no place at present.” Keeping Darlan in office is explained as “abstention from politics,” and especially from interference in French affairs! What a refinement of hypocrisy!

A Bourgeoisie Without a Perspective The invasion of North Africa and the American policy led to a new political division of the French bourgeoisie. It had already been split into two factions, the collaborationists—themselves divided between Paris and Vichy—and the Gaullists. A third has now appeared, the Darlanists. The question of the perspectives of the French bourgeoisie has thus been raised once more. To attempt to analyze this question we must go back a few steps.

It is impossible to understand anything of the history of France during these last years without starting from the fundamental fact that in June 1936 the country was on the threshold of proletarian revolution. The revolutionary offensive was betrayed by the treacherous leaders of the workers (Jouhaux, Blum, Thorez) thanks to that instrument of perfidy, the Popular Front. But if the French bourgeoisie came out of that ordeal momentarily saved, it remained disabled, without perspective for the future, like a ship which has escaped the tempest but has lost its rudder.

Thus the French bourgeoisie entered a war in which it had nothing to gain and much to lose. The military debacle only increased its confusion. Terrorized by Hitler’s quick victory, it had to abandon its traditional attitude of opposition to Germany. The Vichy government pledged itself to “collaboration. “ On the whole, the bourgeoisie followed it, but without enthusiasm. On the one side, a minority wanted more active collaboration with Germany. On the other, a less noisy minority, soon growing large, had its eye on England and America. The majority thought only of existing from day to day, compromising itself as little as possible and saving whatever could be saved. Economically the majority of the bourgeoisie went to work for Germany; but the economic poverty and the uncertainty of a final military victory of Germany prevented the Petainists from opening a long perspective in this direction, of creating a consistent policy capable of uniting the entire class and opening up a future for it.

In such a situation of crisis and disintegration, with all its traditional values destroyed, when the class has no general unifying perspective but is adrift, momentary considerations come to the fore. Each individual interprets “national interest” in his own way and each change in the military situation brings with it somersaults from one camp to the other—"betrayals.” After the disappearance of the imperial dynasty of China in 1911, the Chinese generals became celebrated throughout the whole world for the ease with which they changed camps. Henceforth we will take the French generals, or rather the admirals, to illustrate this phenomenon.

Darlan’s “crisis of conscience” appears to have lasted less than twelve hours. Sunday, November 8, in the morning, he sent French soldiers and sailors to be killed by the Americans, and in the evening he had made an “arrangement” with the Americans as formerly he had “collaborated” with the Germans. Pro-German and pro-fascist at breakfast, he went to bed in the evening pro-American and democrat.

Three or four factions are now disputing the right to speak in the name of the “national interest.” But this is a dangerous game, for it clearly reveals to the French masses, to the deepest layers, the disintegration of the political consciousness of the French bourgeoisie, its inability to play a leading role, and thus prepares the consciousness of the masses for a total overthrow of capitalist society.

According to the standards of the bourgeois “democrats,” the regime in North Africa should have been a Gaullist government. Some time ago an amateur politician wrote of “The Free French clique of monarchist de Gaulle, whose odor is so foul that Washington fears to give it full recognition lest sympathy of the French people be further alienated from the Allied cause."[2] Everybody can now witness Washington’s care for decency and its respect for the feelings of the French people! In fact, at the present stage of the political consciousness of the French masses, a de Gaulle regime would answer the needs of bourgeois democracy much more than a Darlan regime. But the installation of a de Gaulle government could take place in North Africa only by a political struggle against the Vichy heads, coupled with military action. This might have been an invitation to insubordination of the French troops against their pro-fascist superiors. Even if this revolt had taken place in the name of patriotism and democracy, it would have created a dangerous precedent. Moreover, the militant patriotism of the de Gaulle movement would risk entering into conflict at one time or another with American interests while the cynical servility of Darlan had already proved its docility in the experience with the Nazis. The general conclusion is that democracy, even bourgeois, is the last thing that counts in imperialist “arrangements.”

Last but not least, we must not forget that all this happened, not in France but in North Africa, a colonial country where the French are a small minority among an Arab population of fifteen millions savagely exploited by French imperialism. The farthest thought from Roosevelt’s mind is the carrying of the “four freedoms” to the peoples of North Africa. A dispatch from Oran on November 15 tells us that the “French troops co-operating with the Americans raided a village near Oran today to take arms from the Arabs, who have been picking them up in the confusion around the recent battlefields. “ We can easily understand that the American command had nothing more urgent than to come to an understanding with the great imperialist pro-consuls it found there in office: Nogues, Esteva, Chatel. The deal with Darlan only crowned that operation. Moreover, it is possible that after Darlan will have given all he can give, the Americans will drop him. The liberals will write that at last democracy has triumphed. We need hardly add that even if Darlan goes, the whole French imperialist administration will remain in office.

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

A reformist trade unionist who has just escaped from France and arrived in London reported on November 19 that in a few days “President Roosevelt has lost about 75 per cent of his prestige with the French masses” as a result of his deal with Darlan, and that “the French people evinced consternation and indignation.” We can easily believe him.

Anglo-American imperialism is, in a sense, caught in its own trap. To cover up its war aims it presents itself as a champion of freedom against the Nazis. The Hitlerian crimes have given this claim a semblance of reality in the eyes of the masses. But sooner or later, since the war is not conducted for freedom but for domination, the democratic myth must crack and the masses will see the imperialist reality. The “liberator” comes to offer to the peoples their jailer of yesterday.

The real character of the war will thus be revealed little by little to the broad masses. Hopes change into consternation and indignation. The promises of either camp are shown to be lies. Everything will fall into place. As for us, we leave to others the task of being astonished and scandalized. Our only weapon against our powerfully armed adversaries is the truth. Our strength is that we base ourselves upon social reality. And so we can only congratulate ourselves when things appear in their true light.

The indignation against the “democracies” will inevitably turn against the movements which have tied their political fate to Anglo-American imperialism. These include all the pro-Ally. democratic groups, including the Stalinists. In each country of Europe, American collaboration with Darlan, whether it is of long or short duration, is a blow to all these tendencies and it greatly facilitates the work of the consistent revolutionists who have never taught the masses to look to one imperialist camp or the other for their salvation. The warnings of the revolutionists are confirmed. Their authority cannot fail to grow among the masses.

In spite of all the initial incidents, the two camps take more and more symmetrical positions on the historical scene. Darlan, utilized in turn by Hitler and by Roosevelt, symbolizes this symmetry. Hitler’s “new order” has already revealed its emptiness. Anglo-American “democracy” now begins to reveal its own falsity. On both sides of the scene the masks are falling off. This means we are approaching the final act, where a new figure enters the scene: the revolutionary proletariat.

[1] All quotations unless otherwise indicated are from dispatches in the New York Times.

[2] Henry Judd, The New International, August 1942.