1930s >> 1939 >> no-423-november-1939

Editorial: The Definition of War Aims

The Prime Minister has been urged by the Labour Party and others to give a more precise definition of British war aims because so far his statements have been largely in the form of generalised pronouncements about destroying Hitlerism and redeeming Europe “from the perpetual and recurring fear of German aggression” (House of Commons, September 3rd and 20th). Already, however, the swift movement of events has shown one reason why the British Government maintains (as it also did in 1914) a cautious attitude lest it be committed to some course of action which would fail to fit in with changing situations. Had it announced, for example, that it would wage war against all aggressors the Russian entry into Poland and the Russian terms forced on the Baltic countries would have necessitated a declaration of war against Russia. Undoubtedly it is true, as Mr. Lloyd George maintains, that the Russo-German Pact and Russia’s subsequent expansion have created a different situation, but to that situation there are strongly divergent reactions observable in different quarters. Mr. Lloyd George and his supporters consider that an international conference now would be a very different proposition from Munich, and that Germany’s powers of aggressive action have now probably been curbed by Russia’s strengthened position.

Another group appear to hold the view that Russia’s dominance is at least as much of a menace as a help. They observe Russia pushing westwards in Europe and the Baltic, south-westwards into the Balkans, south towards the Persian Gulf, and east into China. The Daily Mail (October 19th, 1939) quotes “a high Finnish authority” as saying: —

Moscow realises . . . that Britain has huge interests in Scandinavia, with which Russia would have to count if she expanded farther west.

From Turkey (Daily Mail, October 24th) come reports of Russian pressure on Turkey for the handing over of territory which prior to 1920 was in Russian Armenia, the ultimate aim of this move being to secure “a warm seaport in the Persian Gulf.”

From Japanese sources (repudiated by the Communists) come statements about Russian troop concentrations in the Chinese provinces of Sinkiang, Inner Mongolia, and in North-Western China, and demands made on the Chinese Government directed towards increasing Russian influence in China (Daily Herald, October 21st).

It does not need stressing that Russian expansion in these various directions would present serious problems for British imperial and trading interests, in China, in India, the Persian Gulf and. the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as in Scandinavia.

The realisation of this (obviously a factor always in the mind of the Foreign Office) has induced a number of people to toy with the idea of “switching the war,” to use a phrase coined by one newspaper.

Thus on September 27th the Times published a letter suggesting that British propaganda should be concentrated on the effort to bring home to the German people the results of the Pact with Russia, then realising the situation, the German people would sweep away the Nazis, reconstitute Western Poland, “and seek an agreement with Britain, France, Italy and Spain for the defence of European civilisation.”

Other pointers in the same direction are Mr. Duff Cooper’s prediction of a military-monarchist revolt against Hitler; General Franco’s statement in an interview that, “Germany should be a sufficiently strong and solid barrier to oppose against Europe’s orientation towards the political and social aims of great and expanding Russia,” and that “it is essential to procure and make peace as soon as possible ” (Daily Telegraph, October 4th); Marshal Balbo’s revived campaign against Bolshevism in his Italian newspaper (News Chronicle, October 12th); and, of course, the French suppression of the Communist Party.

Another significant circumstance has been the obvious uneasiness in various quarters lest Germany should “go Bolshevik” and enter into close alliance with Russia. In the Times of September 30th a special correspondent points out that: —

The bloc between a Soviet Russia and a Nazi Germany, which is likely to represent a very uncertain alliance, seems less to be feared than a bloc between a Soviet Russia and a Soviet Germany, which would follow a Bolshevist revolution in the latter country.

“Herein,” lie says, “would seem to lie the greatest danger to the Western Powers,” the danger that Russia will seek to prolong the war between the Allies and Germany until Hitlerism collapses and is replaced by a Bolshevik Government.

Another influential group thinking on similar lines is to be found in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Herald for example (October 20th), in an article by the Editor, remarks on the danger that a prolonged war “would in effect gravely imperil the very ends at which we aim,” and draws the following distinction between Nazism and Bolshevism:—

“Our view is that Nazism, while likely under stress to become more and more like Bolshevism, can still, under favourable circumstances, remain European, Fascist, and even be leavened by the 50 million Catholics and the faithful Protestants of the Reich.”

(The above remarks are, it is true, made in parenthesis, but their significance in relation to the proclaimed purpose of resisting the Soviet menace is obvious.)

As against these views tending towards the idea of reaching a settlement with a non-Hitler German Government, is the attitude of the Evening Standard, which stresses the fact that Russian expansion in Poland has been achieved “without losing even the goodwill of Hitler’s deadly enemies ” (i.e., England and France) (Evening Standard, October 23rd). The Evening Standard strongly warns its readers against paying attention “to those who invite us to embroil ourselves with Russia because of their secret wish that we should withdraw from our battle with Nazism ” (Evening Standard, October 14th).

What will be the outcome of these divergent tendencies cannot be predicted with any precision because, among other reasons, military considerations, dictated by the war itself, and the need for allies even at a price, may over-ride non-military factors. It is, however, certain that the situation facing the British and French Governments is a complex one and, consequently, other developments are possible besides the simple pursuit of the war until victory is achieved.

It is equally certain that the achievement of the Premier’s aims of abolishing “Hitlerism” and stopping German aggression in Europe will leave the British Government with quite a lot of other problems vital to them awaiting solution, problems related to other Powers besides Germany.

And, above all, when those and other capitalist problems have been solved the lot of the workers in all countries will remain essentially what it was before 1914 and what it is to-day. The workers’ supreme task of abolishing capitalism (and with it war) will remain before them.