1930s >> 1936 >> no-380-april-1936

The War Situation: From the Rhine to Abyssinia

Keeping up with current affairs has become very largely a question of following the moves in the threatening conflict between the Powers. Hitler, unable to keep his pledges of prosperity for the German workers, shatters the superficial harmony of the concert of Europe with the diversion of sending troops into the Rhine provinces. At once the millions of half-starved wage- slaves of the European continent turn their eyes away from their own problems to gape in admiration or fear at this circus marvel. Hitler qualifies for the role of Europe’s bogeyman, following the footsteps of Napoleon, Metternich and Kaiser Wilhelm II. The world has indeed moved little since 1914. Busily preparing for war and manoeuvring for position, the politicians are conducting a long-distance mouth-and-pen duel about the sanctity of treaties. Hitler in the one gesture tears up Locarno, and promises solemnly to keep the next treaty. England, Belgium and France—who pledged themselves to disarm under the Versailles Treaty—indignantly condemn Germany for rearming. Guilty themselves of defaulting on their debts to America, they are horrified at the threat that action against Germany may be followed by default on Germany’s foreign debts. Turning from the capitalist Governments to the Labour Parties, there, too, little has altered. Immediately before 1914 and immediately after 1918 the Labour leaders and Labour Parties took solemn oaths against participation in war. How they broke their oaths in 1914 is a matter of common knowledge. How they propose to do it in a future war has not yet been fully realised. If will be by the slim device of distinguishing between a war waged by “Allied Governments” and a war waged by Allied Governments calling themselves all or part of the League of Nations. The Government’s “Statement Relating to Defence” recognises (as Mr. Lloyd George recognised in the last war) that rearmament “will require the most careful organisation and the willing co-operation both of the leaders of industry and of Trade Unions if our task is to be successfully accomplished.” The assistance asked for will, of course, be forthcoming.


The Government spokesmen in the House of Lords discussed the various problems arising, and Lord Strabolgi (formerly Commander Kenworthy), Labour Peer, hastens to assure the Government that they can count on Labour support in a future war.

  The governing majority of the Labour Party were prepared to support this country in a war for its defence if it was in harmony with our obligations under the Covenant of the League of Nations. Since 1914 there had been a tremendous change in the country.
They had now a great labour political movement. Unless they carried that labour political and industrial movement with them they could not get the united nation one would hope for in the case of some terrible emergency in the future. They would only get that if they tried to build up the system of collective security and if the defensive preparations were based on providing the means for this nation to play its part as one State-member of the League of Nations.—(Times, February 28th.)

The condition mentioned by Lord Strabolgi is that the Government shall try to build up the system of so-called collective security under the League of Nations. The Government, naturally, has no intention of declining a condition so innocuous. On March 13th we find Mr. Duff Cooper, M.P., Minister for War, relating in the House of Commons that


  So far as we can see into the future, if ever we are involved in a war again on the Continent, under whatever Government it may be, it will be a war according to the policy which now has the support of the vast majority of our people, a war on behalf of and in support of the principles of collective security, that is to say, it, will be a war fought with allies, and I hope many allies.—(Hansard, March 12th, col. 2356.)

There will be little point in saying at the outbreak of any future war that the Labour Parties have deserted their principles, for their principles now lead straight into wars labelled “League of Nations Wars.”


What the League did for Abyssinia.
However, the present diplomatic turmoil does not mean war. It may turn out to be the overture to a war in the not very distant future, but the curtain is hardly due to go up yet. Let us, then, turn from the war which isn’t yet to the war that is still in progress between Italy and Abyssinia. Everywhere, except in the “news” departments of the Daily Worker, Herald, and various other journals, the badly-armed Abyssinians have been unable to withstand the overwhelming armaments of the Italians. The Emperor of Abyssinia now speaks with bitterness about the League Powers for failing to give him any material help. The Times correspondent in Addis Ababa writes : —


  What he considers the disgraceful procrastination of the League in applying the only sanctions which could stop the war—which he has described in interviews with me as financial assistance to the victim of aggression and an embargo against the aggressor on all materials neccesary for war—combined with the fact that whenever the League looks like being effective some obstructive measure in the disguise of conciliation is regularly introduced, is beginning to alter His Majesty’s outlook. He is becoming slowly an Ethiopian of the old warlike type, eager to get into the fighting and either destroy the Italians or die like a Negus.—(Times, March 16th.)

The Emperor’s Committee in London appeals to England “Please stop the murder, massacre, and


slaughter of the innocent and defenceless people of Ethiopia by helping them to acquire proper means of defending themselves. . .” (Manchester Guardian, March 5th.)


As Socialists we are not concerned with whether Abyssinia should be exploited by the native ruling class or by the Italian capitalists; but we sympathise with the tribesmen hounded into war by the Negus and the Italian conscripts led to death by Mussolini’s Government. We would ask the well- meaning supporters of the League and of Sanctions, who, six months ago, helped to mislead the Abyssinians into relying on League and Labour Party help, what they have to say now? What have they done except prolong the useless slaughter? What, indeed, could they do, unless the British ruling class themselves took or threatened armed action, i.e., war against Italy? Giving new names to war has not altered the capitalist world. The capitalist class set the armed forces in motion only to defend capitalist interests. Those who ignore this fact and imagine that the League is above and beyond the motives of those who control it are misleading the workers and playing into the hands of capitalist war-makers.


P. S.