1960s >> 1961 >> no-685-september-1961

Editorial: Is it all a mistake?

There are some modern historians who take the point of view that the period between the first and the second world wars was one which saw a succession of diplomatic and military blunders. These blunders, they say, were the cause of the outbreak in 1939 — if the statesmen and the soldiers had somehow been more sensible, it could ail have been avoided. Germany could have been contained, there would have been no need for the Western powers to allow the Soviet Union to make the great inroads which she has now made into Europe and the post-1945 tensions would never have happened.

This is a convenient attitude to adopt, for it solves all our problems in retrospect. But it leaves several factors out of account. There may have been mistakes made, by both sides, in the ‘thirties. Equally, the statesmen’s decisions, in their context, may have been perfectly correct. Whatever the truth of it, there is something which stands above all others as the reason for the declaration of war. German capitalism was trying to elbow its way back into a position of strength and influence and was therefore a challenge to the other capitalist nations of Europe which none of them could ignore.

However clever, or inept, the governments may have been, it would have had no effect upon the threat from Germany. For that threat was the logical continuance of the competitive nature of capitalist society. No statesman—and no historian, for that matter —has ever been able to find a way around the problems which arise from that nature.

And what of the events since 1945? If, as our historians tell us, there were mistakes before 1939, did they teach anything to capitalism’s leaders? The many wars and international crises which we have passed through since then might suggest that they did not. For if 1939 was a blunder, how much greater would be those which have followed and which have nearly landed us into a nuclear war? Was it a mistake to divide Korea? To allow the Russians to take the small Baltic States? Did the politicians err when they divided Germany and Berlin? Now, both sides are declaring that they would go to war again over the division of Germany. Is that another mistake they are making?

No, the “ great blunder” theory does not fill the bill. Whatever the incidentals which aggravate a tense international dispute, they do not explain the dispute itself. To do that we must explain the basis of capitalist society, its commercial rivalries, its anomalies, its inhumanities. That is the task of workers throughout the world. So long as they blame their leaders’ mistakes for the problems of capitalism, they will be content to try to put things right merely by changing the headers, or by something else equally futile.

Which means that they will not consider Socialism as the only way out of their nightmare. And that is the biggest mistake of all.