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New International, October 1947


The 4th International and the Saar

(June 1934)

A Reply to Some Critics


From The New International, Vol. XIII No. 8, October 1947, pp. 251–253.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The following appeal to the people of the Saar was issued by the International Secretariat of the League of Communist-Internationalists (Bolshevik-Leninists) on the eve of the 1934 plebiscite to determine the national affiliation of the Saar. The Treaty of Versailles had placed the Saar under the jurisdiction of the League of Nations with the provision that a plebiscite be held at the end of twenty-five years to determine whether the territory would be joined to Germany, France, or remain under League control.

While the political control of the Saar was nominally exercised by the League of Nations, the real authority was wielded by the French government. The latter had been awarded the right to exploit the rich economic resources of the Saar as Indemnification for the war-time destruction of French industry. Rapacious French imperialism exercised this right to the hilt. It not only sought to wring each last sou from the territory. but waged a consistent and pernicious campaign to “Frenchify” the population. The aim of the latter activity was to achieve a pro-French majority that would facilitate the permanent incorporation of the Saar into France.

The French policy in the Saar brought a distinctly hostile response from its overwhelmingly German population. With the exception of a tiny group of propagandists In the pay of the French, all political tendencies among the German population of the Saar campaigned for the return of the Saar to Germany. This demand received equally vigorous support from the Communist Left and the Nationalist Right and was espoused by all parties in between, including the Social Democrats and the Catholic Center Party. Seldom had a population been so united In support of a national demand.

However, In 1933, a year before the plebiscite was to take place, the catastrophe of Hitler’s ascension to power took place. The emergence of a regime In Germany which condemned its political opponents to concentration camps required that the anti-Nazis In the Saar re-examine the slogan of “Back to Germany.” The international Trotskyist movement, under the guidance of Trotsky, was one of the first organisations to call upon the Saar proletariat to change the direction of Its struggle. Trotsky revealed in this situation, as in so many others, a complete freedom from the fetishism of outlived formulas so frequently encountered among Marxists. Trotsky discarded the traditional Marxist approach that called for support to the slogan of “Back to Germany!” on purely national grounds. Trotsky subordinated the national element in this situation to the demands of the class straggle and worked out the position in favor of status quo, i.e., continuation of League of Nations’ rule. Since the latter was but a thinly disguised form of French imperialist rule, Trotsky’s position, in effect, was to call upon the Saar population, nearly 100 per cent German, to vote to remain under French domination. The aim of this position, off course, was to vote for the slow poison of French bourgeois democratic rule as against the immediate bullet of the Nazi murderers. The following appeal is written from this point of view. The document has current Importance for two reasons. The first was highlighted by a recent polemical exchange between our periodical and one Ernest Germain, leading candidate for the mantel of theoretician of the Fourth International, on the subject of Trieste. In support of our position that the workers of Trieste should favor incorporation into Italy as against rule by Tito’s political police, we made reference to the example of Trotsky’s position on the Saar. As in the latter instance, the most important factor in Trieste was not the national composition of its population, but the opportunity to gain a breathing space for the proletarian under Italian bourgeois democracy, a breathing space in which the revolutionary forces could be reassembled and united with those of Italy in a struggle for a revolutionary solution. Germain’s reply to our reference to the Saar in this connection leaves little room for further polemical exchange since the theoretician of the Fourth revealed himself totally ignorant of the facts in the Saar dispute. We ask those readers interested in this polemic to read Germain’s remarks in the February 1947 issue of the Fourth International. Such a reading, in the light of the document we reprint below, will substantiate our charge that Germain launched a vicious reply to us on the issue of the Saar without first acquainting himself with the position held by the international Trotskyist movement at the time. That he may differ with Trotsky’s position of 1934 is, of course, his right. But the minimum conditions he must first fulfill is to acquaint himself with what he disagrees.

The document on the Saar has current importance for another season. World War II has changed both the map of Europe and its political relationships. All information from the Saar indicates that a powerful movement exists among the inhabitants for immediate affiliation to the French Republic. Some correspondents claim that this movement is supported by the overwhelming majority of the Saarlanders, including the Social Democratic party and the trade unions. This situation raises a new problem for the international Marxist movement. The document we reprint will also contribute to the discussion of this new Saar question. – E.E.

The date of the referendum is set. Everyone is now inexorably faced with the question of the decision. Only a few more months separate you from the fateful hour in which will be decided for some time to come whether you are to have at least a meager possibility of struggling against exploitation and. oppression or whether you are to be completely subjected to the bloody yoke of German fascism.

For the Status Quo!

When we, as Communists, call upon you today to vote for the status quo; when we call upon you today to come out fearlessly and unhesitatingly for this slogan, it is not because we regard the present situation in the Saar as ideal and final, but because we do not equivocate because we answer the question as it is posed in actuality and because it seems to us beyond any doubt that this referendum contains to some degree the possibility of protecting yourself against fascism, the worst scourge for all toilers and oppressed.

We are for the status quo; although we are far from considering your present masters, the League of Nations, as an instrument of peace but regard it as a tool of imperialist foreign policy. We are for the status quo purely for reasons of expediency because we consider it our duty to spare the people of the Saar all that they have seen for the last year on the other side of the border: unbridled terror, mass corruption, pogroms against the Jews, military drill, spiritual devastation, racial insanity, forced labor, ever increasing starvation and need, and danger of inflation.

The workers refuse with thanks the freedom which the lackeys of Thyssen and Roechling will give them.

Since the revolutionary possibilities have been lost for a long time through the utter failure of the Social Democratic party and the Communist party of Germany, it is absurd to advocate return to the Reich. We scorn the attitude of those cowards who join the “German front” through fear, that is, those who give themselves up to Hitler voluntarily and thus commit suicide because of fear of death.

The decision will not be reached on the day of the Referendum! We warn you beforehand of the following grave illusion. The decision will not be reached by the vote on the day of the referendum. The result of the referendum is entirely dependent upon how successful you will be beforehand in freeing your countryman from the spiritual and physical pressure which they experience at the hands of the Nazis.

Extra-Parliamentary Struggle for the Improvement of Living Conditions and Democratic Rights!

Only if the population of the Saar sees that the working class is ready and capable of breaking the Nazi terror in extra-parliamentary action, only if the proletariat of the Saar sees that the fighters for the status quo are at the same time fighters for the improvement of the living conditions of the toiling masses who are ruthlessly exploited by the present regime; only if you succeed in retaining, during extra-parliamentary actions in time of preparation, freedom of association, assembly and press, – only then will it be possible to secure a favorable outcome in the referendum.

No Effective Struggle without a United Front!

The prerequisite for carrying out all these actions with sufficient force is that all organizations which are for the maintenance of the status quo, for the defense against the Hitler terror, enter into a solid fighting front on the basis of a concrete program. Through the stupidity and the intrigues of the various bureaucrats an enormous amount of precious time has been lost. But the fighting alliance must finally come into existence under penalty of defeat. Do not tolerate for one minute longer the sabotage of the United Front. This sabotage is a direct service to Hitler!

Organize a Militia Against the Nazi Terror!

You must not content yourself with joint meetings, demonstrations and even strikes but must organize a militia which will take over the defense against terroristic acts of the Nazis. No one will help you if you do not help yourself. The “impartiality” of the police is already assured. The League of Nations will not help you if you do not help yourself.

In complete consonance with its whole past the social democracy has been consoling you with the League of Nations while it has at the same time sabotaged the united front. The League of Nations plays the same role in dampening the fighting spirit of the masses in the Saar that Hindenburg played m Germany. Place no trust in these illusions! Close ranks! Act on your own initiative!

The CPG under the influence of the laudatory speeches of Roechling, sowed the greatest confusion. At first they stood unconditionally for return to Germany, then they spouted hollow phrases about a Soviet Germany, and finally, in the last hour, came out for the status quo. The CPG had also completely sabotaged the establishment of a united front and thereby prepared for a defeat as in Germany. You are, therefore, faced with the task not only of building a united front but of creating a new revolutionary party under the banner of the Fourth International for the struggle against fascism.

United Front of all Anti-Fascists!

Both old parties have now finally taken the position of the status quo. There is not another minute to be lost. No excuses will avail now. Irrespective of how fundamentally irreconcilable reformism and communism are, these must immediately make an alliance for the status quo. Only thus can the hesitant ones outside of the working class be attracted to it. When they see that even the workers cannot establish a fighting united front, how can they decide to join the-struggle for defense?

Hitler Can and Must be Defeated!

In the coming months the eyes of all Europe will be riveted on the Saar region. Hitler can and must be defeated! Provided that the working class rallies to the struggle in the last hour and pursues correct tactics. No state, no treasury, only the workers can save the Saar!

For the first time in the Saar region – since national socialism has shown itself, no longer in theory and in criticism, but as an instrument of hunger and war preparations (of a war that is bound to hit the Saar territory especially hard) of murder and corruption, national socialism is put to a referendum which offers at least a trace of freedom. How great this freedom will be depends on the militancy the workers display before the referendum. This means:

Hitler must and can be defeated!

His defeat would be a triumph and a signal for anti-fascists of all countries! His victory would be a success for fascism in the whole world! A great task is entrusted to you, toilers of the Saar! Your efforts and your sacrifices will help not only yourself but millions of others!

We, therefore, call not only on all our sections but on the workers of all countries to follow the events in the Saar with the greatest attention and with the utmost solidarity and to support the Saar at the opportune moment by actions against Hitler’s fascism.

The task of defeating Hitler must be solved, it can be solved and it will be solved!

Hitler must and can be defeated!

Do not be frightened by the terrific array of influence, corruption, lies, threats, flattery of the brown bloodhounds. For them too it is a question of prestige. Do not let yourself be lulled to sleep by their monstrous lies and provocations! Do not let yourself be duped by forests of swastika banners. Many of those who live under the present regime will vote for the status quo – only under one condition: that you stand together, that you fight, that you, too, put into motion the power which you command! After the defeat no crawling will help against the bloody fate! It is better to perish in struggle than to be slaughtered without struggle; Vienna is better than Oranienburg! But you do not have to perish. You still have enough time to fight.

Do not forget: Hitler must and will be defeated!

When you have beaten Hitler you can set before yourself other tasks of the class struggle!

For the maintenance of the status quo! For the democratic rights of the working class!

For higher wages and better living conditions!

For the United Fighting Front of all labor organizations!

For the building of workers’ militia against fascist terror!

For socialism and the final victory of the proletariat!


of the League of Communist-Internationalists
Geneva, June 6, 1934

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