Armies of Liberation

“Our men marched singing with a smiling light in their eyes. They had done their job. They thought it was the war to end war. They had won, they thought, the greatest victory in the world.” (Sir Philip Gibbs on the Armistice, 1918. Evening Standard, September 6, 1944.)

“It is against Hitlerism we fight. And we have no quarrel save with those who would help to perpetuate its tyranny in Europe. Because this is the issue, it transcends national frontiers. It transcends nationality itself. . . . Thus the freedom-loving German Socialists make common cause with the British Trades Union Congress, whose president said yesterday that ‘We stand four-square until we have smashed Hitlerism forever and created a world of true brotherhood among the worker'” (Daily Hera Editorial, September 5, 1939.)

If the course of war is rarely predictable, the same is true about war’s aftermath. There are people who, forgetting what happened after 1918, went into the war in 1939 with a simple faith that the military defeat of Nazi Germany would solve all problems and liberate humanity from a prison of oppression into a world of universal peace, and harmony; they must already be wondering. The departure of the German armies from the occupied countries opens up a situation quite unlike the visions of the Daily Herald five years ago. The war, said the Herald, was not to be one for possessions but for spiritual values in keeping with true internationalism. Yet the coming end of hostilities in Europe finds most of the Powers staking out their claims for territories. Russia wants a large slice of Poland and offers in return that Poland shall have a large slice of Germany. This is 1918 again, but on a larger scale, for the Labour Party 25 years ago vigorously condemned the Treaty which gave Poland comparatively small areas in which the population was German or Russian. Russia, according to Negley Farson (who defends the claim), wants to keep the former Baltic Republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, though he makes no pretence that the population’s views will be considered : —

“In 1940, under strictly Soviet commissar-conducted plebiscites, Stalin made the people of all three little countries declare themselves members of constituent republics of the U.S.S.R. Not even the Russians will try to pretend there was any such thing as a choice or freedom about it.” Daily Mail, July 26, 1944.)

American spokesmen are busy laying claims to strategically situated territories in the West Indies and the Pacific. China is demanding territories all round the Pacific, hitherto conquered and held by Japan and the Western Powers. French political parties are contemplating an extension of France to the Rhine and beyond, and most of the smaller Powers that were early on the winning side are hoping to get something in the carve-up.

The Daily Express, in its editorial on September 18tn, 1944, candidly admits and encourages the Imperialist aims of U.S. A. and Britain.

“Here is a section of American opinion arguing in favour of United States Imperialism after this war. And here in this country concern and apprehension are sometimes expressed in high places on that account. Such fears are quite out of place. If British Imperialism is good for the British, then American Imperialism is good for the Americans. . . . The American Imperialists want a foothold in Dakar, and in the East and the Far East. They seek control of those islands in the Pacific which have been a source of menace and misery to them when held by the Japanese. Is that a good policy for the Americans ? Of course, it is. … Is it good for Britain too? Of course.”

It will be noticed that the Express here writes as if the world is going to be divided between American and British Imperialisms, saying nothing about the fact that other Powers (among them Russia) will also want a say.

It will be argued that these claims are justified on the ground that the Allied Powers will need to hold territories to bar any further attempt by German capitalism to gain military and economic control of Europe—but is this what the Daily Herald and its supporters envisaged by their talk in 1939 of “a world of true brotherhood among the workers?” Obviously the post-war world is going to be a world of capitalist competition, as it was before. Sir Stafford Cripps is so apprehensive about this that he warns us : “A return to open competition between the nations will inevitably lead to another and even more disastrous war” (Daily Express, September 18, 1944).

What of the promised re-establishment of democratic methods ? In some of the defeated countries this is likely, though experience after the last war shows that such re-establishment is no guarantee of permanence in a world of capitalist poverty and crisis. Moreover, one-party dictatorship is still the rule in Russia, and, according to the News-Chronicle correspondent recently in China, the present trend is towards totalitarianism in that country. He writes : —

“Already in China there is no freedom of the Press or of speech or assembly—no right to express any opinion that does not conform with the Government’s political line.” (News-Chronicle, May 2, 1944).

He pointed out that the Kuomintang Government (which he referred to as “Kuomintang Fascists”) has half a million of its best troops engaged, not in fighting the Japanese armies, but in blockading the Chinese Communist forces. He ended his article with the ominous words, “A Fascist China might in time be as dangerous as an Imperial Japan.”

Coming back to Europe and the populations liberated from Nazi occupation, no one need doubt the enthusiasm with which liberation has in the main been received, even though this is by no means universal. A correspondent with the advancing Allied armies in France records that in Alsace and Lorraine (territories annexed by Germany in 1871 and “liberated” in the first world war) the reception of the Allies was distinctly cold :—

“As you near Germany and touch the fringe of Alsace-Lorraine, you can sense the change in the attitude of a people that has lived so near to Germany as to be almost German in outlook and in blood. No longer, as we enter a village, do we get the vociferous welcome that cheered our progress to Paris. . . . The villagers look on you sourly; they are less ready to be helpful. Cases of sabotage which we never had in Normandy or on the way to Paris are now being reported.” (News-Chronicle, September 7, 1944.)

What sort of world is it into which the populations are liberated? Are they to open one prison door only to find they are faced with others? Since the world is still to be a world of capitalism, that is what is bound to happen. What is going to be the outcome when workers find that liberation and the end of the war merely means a return to the old chaotic conditions of pre-war capitalism, aggravated for at least some time by the problems of the switch-over to peace? Some will turn to Socialism, others will fall for new nostrums or return to old ones.

Mr. Alan Morehead, writing on his impressions of France and Belgium, says that from the standpoint of living conditions, life under German overlordship was not as bad as had been reported—”if you were willing to obey the Germans and keep out of their way, then you did not have a bad life—certainly a more comfortable one than in war-time England (Daily Express, September 10, 1944), The reason why the Germans were “hated passionately and viciously” was “because they took away the one thing the people finally cared about, their liberty.” When the Germans went, the population regained their right to take part in political activities, but as the war in Europe ends they will also suffer in the changeover which will affect workers in all countries, the change from capitalism working at full pressure for war and providing full employment to capitalism resuming its normal peace-time condition with unemployment again mounting in volume. This has already occurred in Italy. The Manchester Guardian writes : —

“The economic situation is admittedly disastrous, and it is claimed, it is to be hoped wrongly, that the Germans allowed the people more food than the Allies…. It is extremely short-sighted to allow the Italian people to fall into a mood of such misery and despair that they will blame us for their misfortunes, rather than the Fascist Government which led them to disaster. (Manchester Guardian, August 15, 1944.)

A Times correspondent in Rome writes in a similar strain : —

“The Allies cannot afford to have the population of a capital city on their lines of communication reduced to desperation. A hungry and idle people becomes an easy prey to any extremist political agitation which promises it a quick way out of its troubles.” (September 8, 1944.)

Part of the present difficulty in Italy may be due to military demands on transport, but even when these have ceased and everything is normal again, Italian workers, like other workers, are going to have to face the usual evil results of capitalism. The war has not removed these evils; they are as insoluble as they were before 1939 or before 1911, though this was not at all foreseen by leaders of the Labour Party when they went into the war. They did not envisage the war ending with a return to the conditions of 1939 but vainly imagined that capitalism would be on its last legs and Socialism almost here—just as they had in the world war of 1914-1918. Here is an extract from a speech by a Labour Party spokesman, Mr. Arthur Greenwood, M.P., at his Party’s Conference at Bournemouth in May, 1940. It makes curious reading now : —

“Because we have the courage of our convictions as a movement now, we shall have greater power when it is over than we have to-day. We shall have a trembling capitalist system which can never recover again. We shall have broken the back of the vested interests, and we can build a Socialist commonwealth which will be a powerful factor in the world.” (Daily Herald, May 14, 1940.)

It would be an insult to Mr. Greenwood’s intelligence to ask if he thinks that his prophecy has been fulfilled. Instead, we would like to ask whether he would risk prophesying what the state of Europe and the world, seething with nationalistic hatreds and torn by the rival claims of capitalist groups, will be like at the end of the next four years. Will it be Socialism triumphant, democracy safe, and “true brotherhood among the workers,” or will it be the same old capitalism? Austrian workers who declared (Manchester Guardian, July 33, 1944) “that they do not intend to work for Anglo-American capitalists but desire to collaborate with progressive elements in the Allied countries,” have the right view of the situation, but, contrary to Mr. Greenwood’s anticipation of a trembling and broken capitalist class, that class is in power and the world is still their world.

Not mere release from foreign rule or home-bred dictatorship, but only Socialism will ultimately unite the world’s workers and achieve their emancipation. The workers’ army of liberation is the international army of class-conscious, politically organised Socialists, bent on achieving the conquest of political power for the purpose of ending capitalism and inaugurating world-wide Socialist society.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, October 1944)

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