1940s >> 1941 >> no-443-july-1941

War Overtakes Russia

The failure of a policy

There is no such thing an ideal foreign policy. In international politics there is no policy which will suit all times and all circumstances. There is none which can be carried out to give a guarantee of enduring peace. This is true, though most people do not believe it. After every outbreak of war historians and others look back to this or that turning point, and say that if only a certain Government had acted differently, with more foresight, the war would not have happened. This kind of reasoning rests on assumptions that are not justified. It assumes that a Government is a free agent, able to follow any policy that the international situation may seem to call for. It ignores the forces behind the Government which determine the Government’s attitude and limit its freedom of action; the electorates that have to be considered, not to mention commercial, industrial and financial groups whose demands on foreign policy are coloured by their trading and other interests.

The view taken by the “wise-after-the-event” historians assumes, too, that if one Government gave a certain lead in international affairs other Governments would react in a simple practicable way, determined either by fear of opposing a strong group of Powers or by mutual desire to maintain world peace. The historians and many other people are obsessed with the idea that international rivalries and alliances are clashes of the personalities of “great man.” They forget that it is not abroad, at international conferences, but at home in their own immediate social environment, that statesmen learn their principles, motives and methods and form their opinions on what is desirable and what is practicable.

The history of the past twenty years is full of illustrations. One popular theory in Great Britain to-day is that if only Mr. Baldwin and his predecessors had built up great armaments to keep Germany down there would have been no war. This theory has for the moment displaced the opposite theory that if only the same gentlemen had relaxed the Versailles Treaty and been kind to Germany there would have universal disarmament. Both theories are fallacious, because they ignore many important factors. They ignore the war-weariness of the workers after the last war and their resulting pacifist tendencies. Faced with such an electorate, any Cabinet which had come out with a big programme of armaments ten or fifteen years ago would have been defeated at the polls. Mr. Baldwin’s defence of himself is on this point well founded. On the other hand they ignore the fact that capitalism forces all Governments to compete in the world market and to strive for aims which cannot be satisfied. In order to solve the insoluble problems of its own industries and financial organisations every Power, great or small, is demanding something which the other Powers cannot afford to yield. And the whole problem is complicated by the sectional interests within each country, each trying to influence foreign policy.

Those who talk as if the only problem of the British Government was to prevent the German capitalists from re-establishing German power, forget that in the nineteen-twenties the problem appeared to be that of preventing the French capitalists from dominating Europe and the Mediterranean. The policy of helping to re-establish Germany was at that time supported by British and American business interests, whose markets were in Germany or who suffered from French competition, by bankers who had loaned millions of pounds to Germany, as well as by the Labour Party, which feared French anti-democratic tendencies, and by Imperialists, who thought that French Imperialism had become more dangerous than German. Alongside all this is the fact that the propertied class in all countries fears “subversive” influences and leans towards other Governments which look like firm bulwarks for the defence of property; hence the readiness of influential circles in every country to do a deal with the Nazis. It is this welter of forces that explains the otherwise inexplicable weakness, idiocies, blindnesses and sudden reversals of foreign policies. 

Russia wanted a “Strong Germany”

The latest example of the impossibility of escaping these consequences of capitalism by cleverness and stratagem is given by Russia’s forced entry into the war. Why did the policy (or rather policies) of the Russian Government fail? Could this result have been avoided? Why did Germany swing from friendship to enmity with Russia and why did Russia drop Litvinoff for Molotov, only to find itself faced with the situation Molotov thought his policy had obviated?

Immediately the Russo-German Pact was signed it was pointed out in these columns (October, 1939) “it seems certain that now Russia and Germany are neighbours, both intent on dominating Eastern Europe and the Balkans, they will find each other dangerous friends, liable to turn into enemies at any moment.” Germany’s growing need of war materials and, no doubt, the assumption that a war against “Godless Bolshevism” might appeal to wide circles in Britain, the Dominions and U.S.A., has made this the suitable occasion in Nazi eyes.

The people most surprised by a natural outcome of events are the Communists.

The American and British Communist Parties, in the first of their statements “explaining” the position, gave an easy and fatuous answer to one question. They can see one of the factors at work but ignore all the others. The New Masses, an American Communist paper, issued just before the German attack said:-

            “A German-Soviet war is only conceivable if Germany first reached an understanding with Great Britain.” – (The Times, June 25th, 1941.)

The British Communist Party, in a manifesto issued on June 22nd, after the attack had begun, declared that it –

            “is the sequel of the secret moves which have been taking place behind the curtain of the Hess mission. We warn the people against the upper class reactionaries in Britain and the United States, who will seek by every means to reach an understanding with Hitler on the basis of the fight against the Soviet. Only the action of the people can prevent this. We can have no confidence in the present Government dominated by Tory friends of Fascism and coalition Labour leaders, who have already shown their stand by their consistent anti-Soviet slander campaigns.” – (Manchester Guardian, June 23rd.)

This was issued on the Sunday on which the German onslaught began. It therefore preceded the broadcast by Mr. Winston Churchill, in which full aid to Russia was promised by the British Government. Within a couple of days the Communist M.P., Mr. W. Gallacher, was voicing in the House of Commons his “agreeable surprise” at Mr. Churchill’s speech, and the latter gentleman, who presumably falls into the Communist Party’s category of “Tory friends of Fascism,” was being cheered in the streets of Moscow. Molotov, Russia’s foreign Commissar, in his speech on Sunday, June 22nd, was more honest than his Communist admirers. “With unusual candour,” says the Manchester Guardian (June 26th), “he declared his policy towards Germany to have proved a failure.” Let us, then, look at Molotov’s earlier speeches to see what his policy was, and whether, as the Communists claim, the Bolshevik Government has been able in international affairs to be wiser and more successful than other Governments. 

Molotov’s predecessor in office was Litvinov, whose policy, like that of Churchill and the British Labour Party, was to use the League of Nations as a means of organising common action by Powers which would together be strong enough to deter Germany. Litvinov failed and was sacked in order that Molotov might try his opposite theory, the theory of the group in Britain who favoured appeasement with Hitler and wanted a strong Germany. Mr. Churchill, it may be recalled, was demanding, in May 1939, “a full and solid alliance … with Russia without further delay” (Evening Standard, February 6th, 1941), and it was about that time, in 1939, Mr. Pollitt, on behalf of the Communist Party, was urging Churchill, Attlee and Sinclair to get together and form a government. Molotov took Litvinov’s place in May, 1939, and was responsible for the secret negotiations which resulted in the Russo-German Pact of August, 1939, a pact which the British Communist Party declared was a “victory for Peace and Socialism,” a “blow to Fascist war plans and the policy of Chamberlain” (Daily worker, August 23rd, 1939).

What, then, was the Molotov policy which led him to appear in smiling association with Goering and other Nazi leaders? It was, indeed, nothing other than the Chamberlain policy applied to the supposed needs of the Russian Government. It was the much denounced British Imperial policy of the balance power in Europe, the policy of siding with what appeared at the time to be the weaker of the group of European Powers to prevent the stronger group from achieving domination. It was Molotov, not Chamberlain, who declared: “We have always held that a strong Germany is an indispensable condition for durable peace in Europe” (Molotov’s speech to the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R., October 31st, 1939, published in English translation by Anglo-Russian News Bulletin, November, 1939, page 9). The calculation behind Molotov’s Pact was no doubt that Britain, France and Germany at war would weaken each other and thus (as the Communists claimed in the period of their early support for the war and their present return to support for the war) “Socialist” Russia would succeed in keeping out of “this war … between imperialist powers over profits, colonies and world domination” (Mr. Palme Dutt, “Why This War?” Communist Party, November, 1939, page 4).

Molotov, in the speech referred to above, also put forward the proposition, held by the British Labour Party at one time, and by the late Lord Rothermere and others, that the present war was caused by the Versailles Treaty, and could have been avoided if the Treaty had been different or had been modified.

Molotov said:-

“Relations between Germany and Western European bourgeois States have in the past two decades been determined primarily by Germany’s efforts to break the fetters of the Versailles Treaty, whose authors were Great Britain and France, with the active participation of the U.S.A. This it was, which in the long run, led to the present war in Europe.” – (Page 9.)

In the same speech Molotov said that his hopes of enduring peace between Germany and Russia rested on the belief that “the new Soviet-German relations are based on a firm foundation of mutual interest,” a phrase very similar to that used by the British Foreign Secretary, Mr. Eden, in his speech on June 24th, 1941, when he said that his hopes in 1935 of good relations between Britain and Russia were based on a joint declaration “that there was no conflict of interest between the two Governments on any of the main issues of international policy” (Evening News, June 24th, 1941).

It does not seem that the state capitalist Russia has been able to find anything better than the foreign policies of the older Powers. Even to details Molotov falls into line. In his October, 1939, speech he ridiculed the idea of a war for the destruction of Nazism and condemned the British and French Governments for proclaiming such a war. The British and French Governments, he said, “do not want war stopped and peace restored, but are seeking new excuses for continuing the war with Germany.” He continued:- 

            “But there is no justification for a war of this kind. One may accept or reject the ideology of Hitlerism as well as any other ideological system, that is a matter of political views. But everybody should understand that an ideology cannot be destroyed by force, that it cannot be eliminated by war. It is, therefore, not only senseless, but criminal, to wage such a war for the ‘destruction of Hitlerism’ camouflaged as a fight for ‘democracy’” – (Page 7.)

Now, in his speech on June 22nd, we find Molotov declaring “all the responsibility for this robber attack on the Soviet Union falls on German Fascist Leader. …This war has been forced on us … by a clique of bloodthirsty Fascist leaders who have oppressed the French, the Czechs, the Poles, the Serbs, the Norwegians, the Belgians, Denmark, Holland, Greece and other nations” (The Times, June 23rd, 1941).

It will be observed that Molotov here lays the whole responsibility on one man, “the German Fascist Leader.” In November, 1939, the British Communist, Mr. Palme Dutt, in his “Why This War?” was attacking the British Government for this very thing. “They call for the overthrow of Hitlerism,” he wrote, “they declare that the enemy is ‘one man’ – Hitler” (page 6).

The lesson of all this is that, while the forces driving to international conflict and war remain, there are no means of making the world safe for peace. Pacts and alliances, Leagues of Nations and World Courts, Federal Unions. An so on, may control minor disputes and delay the major ones, but they have not succeeded in the past twenty years and will not succeed in the future in preventing war. World peace, like the abolition of property, is something only to be achieved through Socialism.

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