1940s >> 1940 >> no-432-august-1940

The Shape of Things to Come—and The Forces That Will Shape Them

Those who seek to explain by reference to “ideologies” the swift movement of events in the world, the sudden collapse of impregnable positions, the seemingly inexplicable changes which show the grand old men of yesterday to be the dodderers of to-day, must be bewildered and confused by what is going on before their eyes. In a short period of time they have seen those exponents of supposedly irreconcilable doctrines—Stalin and Hitler—joined in a pact of friendship, while Catholic Italy and Catholic Spain fall more and more under the influence of Nazi Germany, erstwhile enemy of Catholicism. They have seen democratic France turn towards Dictatorship, and Conservatives proclaiming the need to back up “revolutionary” movements. The idealist who tries to discern the pattern in history, past and present, is prevented from doing so because he believes that ideas and beliefs have an independent origin and that one set of ideas will triumph over another if only the men who hold them have leaders of goodwill and integrity. The Socialist who looks to social relations and economic forces is better placed. Not, of course, that the Socialist can predict with certainty just how and when a conflict of forces will work out in the future, but at least he knows what is the nature of the forces on which the issue depends. Knowing, as Marx puts it, that “it is not men’s consciousness which determines their life,” but “their social life which determines their consciousness,” he also allows for the fact that at any given period of history the vital forces at work have to struggle with ideas which resulted from past conditions—”the tradition of all past generations weighs like an alp upon the brain of the living.”

The Weakness of France
Some of the explanations given of the French collapse are of the most superficial kind : Petain, we are told, was a “pessimist ” even in 1917, and Laval “a defeatist and potential traitor”; there were elements in France who were “vaguely anti-Parliamentarian and anti-democratic and equally vaguely pro-Fascist”; Daladier was “a civilian mediocrity,” and Gamelin “a military mediocrity”—and so on. These “explanations” cry aloud themselves to be explained. A little nearer the mark is the Economist’s French correspondent (July 20th, 1940), who says that he interviewed many French officers and “cannot recall one who was not a pessimist, not about the outcome of the war, but about the social and economic difficulties which would open up for France after the end of hostilities.” “It was not,” he says, “the mental attitude that wins wars.”

Some of the newspaper correspondents have, however, shown a more correct and robust grasp of realities in their judgment of the forces at work in France.

A Special Correspondent in France of the Daily Telegraph (June 25th, 1940) pointed out that Petain and Weygand were scared by reports (proved to be incorrect) that Communists had seized public buildings in Paris. This incident shows that preoccupation with maintaining France’s social tranquillity and repressing subversive movements weighed heavily with the two aged soldiers, and that they did not see the situation in its true perspective.”

Mr. Ward Price (Daily Mail, July 8th) mentions the “rich and influential Frenchmen” (including an unnamed “owner of iron ore mines in Lorraine”) who were behind Laval because they thought that “their personal interests would be benefited by co-operation with Germany, or, conversely, that war between the two countries would ruin them.” As long ago as 1931, in pre-Nazi days, Laval had proposed a Franco-German Committee of Economic Co-operation.

Another Daily Mail correspondent, Mr. Francis Tuohy, classifies the people behind French Fascism as “Catholics, Royalists, Officers, aristocracy, big business, police and functionaries, intellectuals and students, the propertied classes in general” (Daily Mail, July 22nd), and according to a French ex-editor, writing in the Manchester Guardian (July 22nd), one of the members of the Petain Cabinet is a Senator named Mireaux, editor of the Temps. “That paper,” he says, “is the organ of the Comité des Forges, the head of which is M. de Wendel, a great friend of M. Laval.” (The Comité des Forges is the organisation of French heavy industry.)

One last quotation on this aspect is from an editorial in the Manchester Guardian (July 12th) :

“That France needs reform is evident enough. In the last twenty years she has had forty-two Ministries. Only five Governments have kept themselves alive for twelve months. Such rapid changes give a mischievous instability to politics. In the background there lurks the power of what M. Herriot called “the 200 best families,” obstructing all social reform and threatening the Governments that did not obey them. It was, indeed, because the revolt against the sinister rule of the banks and big business was so certain at the end of the war, however the war ended, that many rich men were anxious to compound with Hitler ; they were more afraid of victory than of defeat. When defeat came they spoke like the rich friend of Cicero who wrote to him, ” Since the Republic is lost, let us at least keep our property!””

Forces for Change in Europe
The safeguarding of property interests is the dead hand of the past, but what of the more active forces pushing towards change and reorganisation in Europe? Can the men who appear as leaders hold developments in check, or failing that can they guide them into the channels they desire? Are they the creatures or the masters of the forces behind and below them ? We need to be cautious in forecasting events, but it seems a safe conclusion that the regime of Petain and that of his friend Franco are both doomed to fail. Petain’s Foreign Minister, Baudouin, can say (News Chronicle, July 18th) that “the world existing before May 10th is definitely buried,” and think that he is free to determine the destiny of France so that “new relations will be instituted between Capital and Labour and there will be new conceptions of life based on authority, order and obedience.” So also Franco’s brother-in-law and Foreign Minister, Serano Suner, can say (Daily Express, July 19th) that “freedom has been buried for ever in Spain,” but events will determine otherwise. Franco, only a brief while ago, was talking of a new stable order in Spain based on the peasants and national self-sufficiency just as Petain’s Government at the present time “apparently sees France’s role in the new Europe as primarily a peasant and handicraft country” (Daily Telegraph, July 23rd). But the clock of industrial and capitalist development cannot be turned back to medievalism. Franco and Petain both ignored or forgot that they live in a world which is subject to the intense and inescapable pressure of trade and competition ; on the one hand, and working-class resistance on the other. It is not to be forgotten that “a million Republicans are held in prison camps” in Franco’s Spain (W. Forrest, News Chronicle, July 18th). And it is from a Spanish newspaper correspondent in Vichy that the report came that Petain’s Government had to shift from Clermont-Ferrand to Vichy because of the violent and threatening attitude of the workers at the Michelin tyre factory in the former town (Daily Telegraph, July 19th).

Franco used to talk of being free from the pressure of capitalist forces, determined to build up Spain within her own border and on her own resources, but already he has been forced to change his tune to the more familar one of Spain’s “duty and mission” to command Gibraltar and go in for a policy of Empire building : “We have shed the blood of our dead, not in order to return to the decadent past but in order to build a nation and create an empire” (The Times, July 19th). “Expansion in Africa” is now the order of the day.

When considering the prospects of such dictatorships as those of Petain and Franco, it is worth noticing that the four dictatorships that succeeded in establishing themselves (Russia, Germany, Italy and Turkey), along with some differences had two things in common. In each case power was obtained by a new group, not a mere reshuffling of representatives of existing parties and interests, and in each case those who seized power contrived to do so by using (or exploiting) the more or less constitutional machinery without waging open civil war against the workers or other large representative section of the population. On one or the other of these counts both Franco and Petain fail to possess the qualities that make for comparative permanence (not, of course, that other dictatorships have real permanence either).

It is relevant at this point to consider the position of Russia, and the urge that drove the Stalin regime to enter into the pact with Hitler. The military consideration of not wanting to be isolated in face of Germany and Japan was one aspect, but observers have recently confirmed that behind that fear was the factor of internal economic difficulties. The Moscow correspondent of the American New Republic (quoted in Forward, July 20th) gives it as his judgment that slackening industrial development compelled the Russian Government to take the view that “in both technical organisation and labour, efficiency was advancing so slowly that it would be generations before these departments would compare with those of the modern industrial States.

“Stalin’s way out was an alliance with some big industrial country, in order (1) to ensure
Russia’s position of strength in the coming European war; (2) to supplement consumer’s goods industries until they would be able to stand on their own; (3) to supply the machine tools, optical apparatus, etc., which Russia is still forced to import.”

Mr. Louis Fischer, who was for 14 years a newspaper correspondent in Russia, says much the same in his “Stalin and Hitler” (Penguin Special, 6d., May, 1940). He attributes Russia’s industrial slowing down to several factors: “In part (it is) due to military preparations. But it is more adequately explained by the purges and several inherent Soviet economic weaknesses.” (P. 62.)

Here again, as in every other instance of international trends, it is idle to look wholly or mainly to abstract ideas and motives whether of rulers or ruled.

Before leaving the question of the forces making for change in Europe, it is interesting to view the spectacle of Conservatives being forced against every inclination to support movements that may help to undermine the German-Italian dictatorship systems. It is put most strikingly in the columns of the Daily Express. Below are two quotations from recent issues. The first is from an article by Mr. Geoffrey Cox, showing how Franco should be attacked at home if Spain goes to war on Germany’s side: —

“Seize the Canary Islands and other Spanish island possessions and set up there at once a Republican Government which we recognise.
But we can only do this if our appeal is a genuine Republican revolutionary appeal for straight-out revolution.
We must be prepared to co-operate with all the parties of the last Spanish Popular Front Government—Socialists and Communists and Anarchists, as well as Liberals and Radicals. We must get out of our minds all questions of whether these people are Red, or pink or white.
For no other appeal will rouse Spain now except the cry of the Republic.”—(Daily Express July 19th.)

The second quotation is from an editorial: —

“Our allies are ordinary people, not Fascist dictators. And since the ordinary people of Europe are now ruled by Fascists we must organise revolutions.
If (by some terrible folly) Britain were ever at war with Soviet Russia, we would work for a Right Wing revolution there. Since we are fighting Fascists, we must work for Left Wing revolutions in Europe. That is only common sense.
And so our Foreign Office and Ministry of Information should change their whole mentality.
Respectable ex-public school-boys and English gentlemen were admirably suited for conducting our relations with Right Wing politicians abroad. But they are the wrong people for carrying on underground intrigues, organising strikes, arranging sabotage and fomenting general discontent in Europe.”
— (Daily Express, July 23rd.)

In that quarter, at least, the dead hand of the past has been thrown off in so far as the winning of the war is concerned.


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