1940s >> 1945 >> no-485-january-1945

War and Civil War — Who Are the Friends of Democracy?

Collaborationist chickens are coming home to roost and some of those who for five years have worshipped Winston Churchill and preached the doctrine of collaborating with democratic capitalism against Nazi capitalism are in a dilemma. In the British House of Commons on December 8th, 1944, when Churchill demanded a vote of confidence for the Government’s policy of using British troops to support the Greek Government against rival armed bodies, he got his vote (279—30), but though the Labour Party strength is 170, only 23 voted for the Government. More than 80 were present in the House at the time, and of these 35 abstained and 24 voted against (Daily Express, December 9th). Gallacher, Communist, also voted against. Churchill roundly declared the Government’s intention to go on with its policy, and the dilemma of the Labour and Communist parties is whether they shall continue to support the Government on the old plea that it is “for democracy and against Nazism,’’ or oppose it because it is backing dictatorship in Greece and supporting reaction generally in the liberated countries. They are bewildered and cannot understand the seeming inconsistency of the Government’s policy, the gulf between its professions and its actions. There is at bottom no inconsistency. The prime purpose of the ruling class in capitalism everywhere is to preserve the private property system. When democracy seems to be the way to preserve it, then democracy is the slogan; but if and when dictatorship seems to be required, then they are for dictatorship. It is the fate of the capitalist class that they have to handle an insoluble contradiction. They have a common interest in preserving the private property system and the exploitation of the propertyless working class, but also they have sectional rivalries which make individual capitalists and national groups come into violent conflict with each other. Compete they must, even to the point of “total war,” but they must also see that war does not endanger the capitalist system itself. They all talk about the complete unity of the population inside their respective countries, but they know that the class struggle is a reality, and they fear the possibility of the discontented propertyless class gaining control of effective armed force and thus endangering the system itself. Hence the unanimity with which the ruling class everywhere hastens, when war is ending, to disarm those whom it has been forced to arm for the purpose of war. After the last war “allied” and “enemy” powers co-operated to try to suppress the potentially dangerous uprisings in Russia. Germany and elsewhere, and it was noteworthy that the “disarmament” of the defeated powers stopped short at the point of allowing them sufficient arms to suppress their own insurgent workers.

 

This time, even before the war is over, strenuous efforts are being made everywhere in the liberated countries to disarm the guerrilla troops who have been fighting against the occupying German army. During recent months the British Press has carried headlines which tell their own story: —

 

“De Gaulle crushes Militia revolt.” (Daily Express, October 31st.)
“Police shoot in Brussels.” (Sunday Express, November 26th.)
“Strike Plot crushed in Belgium.” (Daily Telegraph, November 29th.)
“More Fighting in Athens.” (Times, December 5th.)
“Spitfires blitz Athens Troops.’’ (Daily Express, December 7th.)

It is in Greece that the issue came to open war, with British troops, tanks and aircraft being used to crush and disarm the guerrillas who sought to overthrow the British-protected Papandreou Government. Mr. A. ,T. Cummings (News-Chronicle, December 8th) wrote as follows:—

 

  My postbag includes impassioned letters from the parents and wives of officers and men in Greece who are horrified at the thought that their men are to be killed in fighting, not the enemy, but an allied and friendly people, who not many days ago were decking them with garlands. For, make no mistake about it, our soldiers are now fighting the Greek people. It is a barefaced lie to pretend either that they are fighting “a gang of Communist revolutionaries” or that they are “preventing civil war ” between two equally matched factions. The so-culled opposition, now being attacked by Spitfires, is a cross-section of the whole community, and represents nearly the whole community. . . . Papandreou’s Government now includes only individuals or minor groups.

Mr. Cummings adds that:—

 

  Recent events in Greece, Belgium and Italy certainly give colour to a deep and widespread suspicion that British official policy is designed to stabilise dead or discredited monarchial systems in Europe and to strangle, if it can, the new spirit of radical democracy which is the only hope of a new and suffering generation.

He sadly admits that he is beginning to have doubts about his hero Winston Churchill.

 

A typical cynical comment on the Greek civil war comes from the New York Times, which supports the British policy :

  Now that the enemy is driven away, not only is there no further need for these underground armies, but the existence of private armies on Nazi storm-troop model becomes a menace to the restoration of orderly government. (Quoted in Evening Standard, December 6th. Our italics.)

The heroic underground fighters of yesterday are to-day likened to Nazi storm-troopers!

 

The rival Allied powers criticise each other for their respective policies in different countries, but they all betray the same opportunist outlook, being willing to further their strategic, trading and investment interests by supporting any likely group, however reactionary. The U.S. Government, which supported Petain and Darlan in France, and whose General Eisenhower gave the orders that Allied troops be used to save the Belgian Government, yet denounces Britain’s support of reactionaries in Italy, Greece and Argentina. Russia, supporting so-called left-wingers in Poland, was nevertheless the first Allied Government to give recognition to the reactionary Badoglio Government in Italy (Times, March 15th, 1944), and it was reported two weeks later that the Italian Communists, doubtless in consultation with the Russian Government, called off their demand for the abdication of Victor Emmanuel. In a later crisis the Communist Party of Italy entered the Bonomi Government and recognised the authority of Prince Umberto as Lieutenant of the Realm, while the “Socialists” stood outside because, they are opposed to the House of Savoy (Observer, December 10th).

 

In Greece the Communists now denounce King Nicholas and his reactionary supporters and Nicholas opposes the Communists, but not so long ago the Russian Government gratefully received and replied to a congratulatory message from Nicholas on the 25th anniversary of the Red Army, and Soviet War News (February 26th, 1943) thought it of sufficient importance to publish the message and reply.
Likewise in Rumania and Bulgaria, “the Communists have so far agreed either to serve under King Michael or, as in Bulgaria, which now has a Communist Regent, to preserve dynastic institutions, for the defence of which many a moderate Liberal would hardly lift a finger (Observer, November 12th). When Russian troops entered Rumania, Russia gave a pledge not to change “the existing social system of Rumania” (Soviet War News, April 4th, 1944), in spite of all its past denunciation of that social system. Of course, at any moment new Communist tactics may be decided on.

 

One of the tragedies of the present situation is that self-styled “Socialists” are to be found taking leading parts on both sides in these struggles. “Socialist” Russia opposes the Polish Government in London, and the latter has as its Prime Minister “Socialist” Arciszewski: which recalls the Polish-Russian war of 1920, when he led a Polish workers’ contingent against the Red Army and “the red flag fluttered over the trenches on both sides.” In the Greek struggle “Socialists” back the guerrillas against the Government, while the Prime Minister, who uses British forces to crush them, declares “I am a democrat and a Socialist and the enemy is Fascism” (Daily Telegraph, December 8th). In Finland, too, “Socialists” backed the Government in alliance with the German Nazis against “Socialist” Russia in order to preserve Finnish independence and democracy. In the British House of Commons the “Socialist” Labour Party evenly divides itself for Churchill’s Government and against it.

 

What is more material than abstract theories of democracy in Greece is the fact that much of the Greek National Debt is held by bondholders in London. Reynold’s News (December 10th) points out that interest payments had been suspended under the Republican Government, and it was only when the present King of Greece returned in 1935 and established a dictatorship that interest payments were resumed. British bondholders have therefore a vested interest in the present “Socialist” led Greek Government.

 

Thus is the name of Socialism defamed, and thus does the reformist-communist policy of supporting capitalist governments work itself out to its ultimate futility.

 

One of the causes behind all these movements of discontent is, of course, the poverty and misery to which the workers are reduced under capitalism everywhere. As the correspondent of the Observer in Paris stated : —

  There are two main elements of potential trouble. One is political. The other is economic. The latter is the underlying cause. Tremendous inequalities of wealth and poverty exist in France to-day. The most lavish luxury continues side by side with pitiful poverty. (Observer, October 8th.)

This is, however, by no means the only factor in the various opposition movements sweeping the liberated countries. As always where working-class blind discontent exists, capitalist groups in opposition to the ruling group seek to use that discontent to raise themselves to power for purposes of their own; not to mention the foreign powers which, openly or secretly, intervene to promote their own strategic or economic interests.

 

But, however divided by sectional rivalries, and no matter what professions are made of sympathy with democracy and with the workers’ claims, no capitalist group will willingly give up the means of production and distribution or relax its hold on the machinery of government by which private ownership is maintained.

 

Reluctantly they will make small concessions to allay extreme discontent, hut they will not abolish working class poverty. They cannot even abolish their own international rivalries leading to war. No one should be misled by their fine words and airy phrases about democracy and idealistic solutions. Whether they nakedly expose their own profit-seeking interests or whether for reasons of tactics and expediency they mask them in phrases about democracy and international friendship, it is the same cynical capitalist interest that guides them. This was neatly put by an American newspaper in its comments on the abortive Allied conference on civil air power at Chicago. Britain advocated international regulation, while U.S.A. (which will start with a big preponderance of aircraft, and therefore prefers competition) opposed international regulation. The New York Post explained why the approach was different:—

 

  From a purely cynical viewpoint, what have been termed British idealism and America’s realism may be attributed in large measure to the fact that, as things now stand, America is way out in front of Britain in the fields of air transport development and potential transoceanic flying. If the positions of the two nations in this respect were reversed, we doubtless would find Britain much more “realistically” inclined all of a sudden and the U.S. more “idealistic.” (Daily Express, October 20th.)

The answer to capitalist intrigue and power-politics is not to be found in supporting one capitalist group against another or in attempted armed revolt to establish another government in power. Even if revolt succeeded, no system but capitalism is practicable while the majority do not want Socialism. The task before us is still that of winning over the working class to Socialism as a necessary step to using the vote to gain control of the machinery of government for the purpose of introducing Socialism.

 

Edgar Hardcastle