The German Drive Through Central Europe
The collapse of Germany at the end of the World War was completed by an economic blow delivered, with crushing vigour, by the Allied Powers at Versailles in 1919. Valuable sources of raw material, such as the Ruhr basin, Silesia and Alsace-Lorraine, were stripped away. Her erstwhile allies, Austria and Hungary, were reduced to unimportant geographical areas, and their territory made over to the new states of Czechoslovakia and Jugoslavia. The whole trend, therefore, of German policy has been to obtain a reversal of this crippling verdict. Hitler has merely given it fresh impetus and new direction.
One of the first tasks for the German ruling class under the Dictatorship was to find allies in a Europe of rapidly changing orientations. With this in view, a ten-year pact of non-aggression was concluded with Poland in 1934. The way then became clear for the “Drang nach Osten,” the much proclaimed “Drive to the East.” This is nothing more than an attempt to control important sources of raw materials, embodying ideologically the vision of a great Germanic Empire. So one of the first tasks was to wean Austria from French and Italian influence. The culmination of this process was on February 12th last, when Dr. Schuschnigg met Herr Hitler at Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s mountain home near the Austrian frontier. An ultimatum was presented to the Austrian Chancellor, while German troops were massed on the frontier.
On the morning of February 16th it was announced that pro-Germans had been appointed to key positions in the Austrian Government and police. At the same time, Austrian Nazis undergoing sentence were released from jail. Germany’s complete control of Austria was merely a matter of days.
As a bar to further progress stands the opposition of Czechoslovakia. Here the problem is different. With a population of 15 million and an area of 55,000 square miles it was formed at the end of the Great War out of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. The districts of Bohemia and Moravia in the north-west were originally Austrian; while Slovakia and Ruthenia were Hungarian. There is also a small but important part of Upper Silesia ceded by Germany. Bohemia projects like a bastion into Germany. Mountain ranges form a strong natural barrier, broken by the valleys of the Eger, Elbe and Oder, which provide the only practical entrances into Czechoslovakia from Germany. On the south the “Moravian gateway” admits access from Austria.
If Germany, with the aid of Austria, were by a pincer-like military movement enabled to nip off this region, the remainder of Czechoslovakia, which is agricultural, but otherwise poor and resourceless, would be easily reduced. The Bohemian basin around Pilsen, Brno and Silesia is rich in coal and iron—commodities very necessary to German capitalists, whose present sources of supply are insufficient for their needs. Moreover, Bohemia and Moravia have great and profitable textile, boot, glass, steel and armament industries. In order to resist such an invasion from Germany the Czechoslovakian Government has created a large army and air force, well organised and equipped. In addition, the frontiers are strongly fortified and defended at assailable points. In return for a loan to build armaments, Rumania was asked to guarantee that the Czernowitz railway, from Russian Ukraine to Czechoslovakia, would be completed in order to ensure a ready transit of troops and goods in time of war.
German attempts to awaken pro-Nazi sympathies among the dissident minority have proved less fruitful than in Austria. The Sudeten Germans are a racial group chiefly clustered along the German frontier. The Government has repeatedly refused them minority rights, such as the Slovaks enjoy; and in spite of frequent appeals to the League of Nations they have received little satisfaction. The movement in 1933 was unified under Konrad Henlein into the Sudeten Deutsche Party, and possibly received financial support from Germany. But there are considerable differences of opinion within the minority and only a few demand complete alliance with the Third Reich. Moreover, attempts have been made by the Government in the scheme of frontier defence to stiffen the nationalist morale of these minorities.
Against this must be put the fact that Czechoslovakian frontiers are land-locked. Her outlets to the sea are the rivers Elbe and Oder, both through Germany. There are railway exits to Italian ports of Trieste and Fiume on the Adriatic, and to Danzig on the Baltic. There is only one other route to the sea, via the traffic-laden Danube through the plains of Hungary, Jugoslavia and Rumania. Moreover, the encirclement of Czechoslovakia by unfriendly powers is nearly complete. Hungary, on the south, hopes that the outcome of a successful war would be the return of the large estates handed over to Czechoslovakia in 1919. German diplomacy has the task of converting this “ unfriendliness ” into, at least, passive hostility. The circle is incomplete by the absence of Rumania. At this juncture, it is hardly likely that Germany will risk the hazards of war, which would certainly invite the opposition of France, Great Britain and the U.S.S.R. It is worth noticing in this connection that the fall of M. Goga’s Government in Rumania on February 10th, which undoubtedly had pro-German sympathies, was occasioned by pressure from Moscow, Prague and Paris.
It may be that fresh alignments of the capitalist powers of the world may alter this outlook, even in the near future. Nothing, however, is so likely as that eventually, when they are unable to prosecute the struggle for markets and cheap sources of essential supplies by diplomatic means, they will turn to war. To the working class of the countries concerned the conflict will be presented as one to preserve democracy and individual rights (Czechoslovakia claims to be the most democratic of the Central European countries); or to maintain the Germanic ideal against Bolshevism, World Jewry and “bastardised negroidisation.” This is the delicate language of “Mein Kampf.”
No Socialist could take exception to the struggle of the workers to preserve a democratic platform. On the other hand, we cannot support any movement which encourages workers to sacrifice themselves in defence of capitalist wealth. If working class history has any meaning for those who wage the struggle to-day, it is that the association of workers with capitalist movements has led only to their division and confusion. The clearest presentation of the class struggle leads to another conclusion; that every movement of the workers must be waged on the basis of unity with their fellows and of fundamental opposition to the capitalist class. If in Czechoslovakia, and other countries, where minority movements obscure the final issue, thousands of workers were fighting for Socialism, then the minority movements would collapse overnight. There is one thing the Czechoslovakian capitalists fear more than racial dissidence or German invasion; that is the growing understanding and rising power of the working class.
C. J. Kilner.