June 19, 2017

1939. The Kremlin's Gambit on Hitler

Germany and Russia Criticize West for Continuing War
"Wonder How Long the Honeymoon Will Last?" An anonymous cartoon mocks the non-aggression pact signed by Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939 (Alamy/Pictorial Press Ltd)

OCTOBER 1939

These articles are part of a series of posts on how newspapers covered the rise of fascism. On October 6, 1939, at the conclusion of the invasion of Poland, Adolf Hitler delivered a speech at the Reichstag in Berlin in which he proclaimed his country's peaceful intent and blamed Poland for the war, calling the country a "pet lapdog of the Western democracies." He lashed out at France and Britain for continuing to fight during the period known as the Phoney War.

Hitler also used the opportunity to praise the Soviet Union and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Despite his years of anti-Russian vitriol, Hitler blamed the "Western democracies" for the tensions and argued that, despite their political differences, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union could live in friendship. With characteristic sanctimony, he said:
In my speech at Danzig I already declared that Russia was organized on principles which differ from those held in Germany. However, since it became clear that Stalin found nothing in the Russian-Soviet principles which should prevent him from cultivating friendly relations with States of a different political creed, National Socialist Germany sees no reason why she should adopt another criterion. The Soviet Union is the Soviet Union, National Socialist Germany is National Socialist Germany.

.  .  .

For many years imaginary aims were attributed to Germany's foreign policy which at best might be taken to have arisen in the mind of a schoolboy. At a moment when Germany is struggling to consolidate her own living space, which only consists of a few hundred thousand square kilometers, insolent journalists in countries which rule over 40,000,000 square kilometers state Germany is aspiring to world domination!

.  .  .

Why should this war in the West be fought? For restoration of Poland? Poland of the Versailles Treaty will never rise again. This is guaranteed by two of the largest States in the world. Final re-organization of this territory and the question of re-establishment of the Polish State are problems which will not be solved by a war in the West but exclusively by Russia on the one hand and Germany on the other.

.  .  .

If Europe is really sincere in her desire for peace, then the States in Europe ought to be grateful that Russia and Germany are prepared to transform this hotbed into a zone of peaceful development and that these two countries will assume the responsibility and bear the burdens inevitably involved.
Hitler complained that foreign journalists were misrepresenting him and his regime:
Any attempt to criticize, judge or reject my actions from the rostrum of international presumption has no foundation before history and personally leaves me stone-cold. I was called to my post by the confidence vested in me by the German people, whose attitude toward me is only strengthened by any such attempt at criticism or interference from abroad.
The Soviet government-sponsored newspaper Izvestia responded favorably, criticizing the West for rejecting Hitler's entreaties for peace. It published an editorial, featured below, in which the paper blamed the West for the war and echoed Hitler's statements about Poland. In seeking to justify the Soviet invasion, the paper derided Poland as an "artificially created patchwork State based on arbitrariness and oppression of all nations inhabiting it, including Polish people as well." This brief period of good feeling was most apparent on September 22, 1939, when the two governments staged a military parade in Brest-Litovsk.

Moscow's motivations were complex. Leon Trotsky, whose own editorial from October 1939 is also featured below, argued that Stalin feared the internal instability war would bring. Trotsky wrote that Moscow felt it would be a mistake to join the Allies at that time because Britain and France would be unable to win the war without American involvement—something which Trotsky believed was inevitable. It would therefore be more opportune to stave off war with Germany. He wrote:
The German-Soviet pact will have, under these conditions, two consequences. It will greatly extend the duration of the war and bring closer the moment of intervention by the United States. By itself, this intervention is absolutely inevitable . . . some people on the American continent expect to conceal themselves behind a paper screen of isolation from purely "European" insanity. Their hopes are in vain. It is a question of the struggle for world domination, and America will not be able to stand aside.

.  .  .

In reality there is no government in Europe or the whole world which at the present moment would fear the revolution more than the privileged caste ruling the Soviet Union. The Kremlin does not consider itself stable, and revolutions are contagious. Precisely because the Kremlin fears revolution, it fears the war that leads to revolution. To make the Kremlin change its policy there remains only one way, but a sure one. It is necessary to give Herr Hitler such a decisive blow that Mr. Stalin will cease to fear him. In this sense, it is possible to say that the most important key to the Kremlin's policy is now in Washington.
The New York Times printed a translation of the Izvestia editorial on October 10, 1939:
Soviet Editorial on Hitler Peace

MOSCOW, Oct. 9An editorial in today's Izvestia, government newspaper organ, giving the first authoritative outline of Russian views on Chancellor Hitler's peace bid, follows:

PEACE OR WAR?

Nobody can now dispute that the war in Poland ended several weeks ago. The Polish Army has been interned or taken prisoner. After complete bankruptcy the Polish Government fled beyond Polish borders. There is no social force in the Poland of the gentry excepting upper groups of landed gentry and bourgeoisie which would desire to preserve the artificially created patchwork State based on arbitrariness and oppression of all nations inhabiting it, including Polish people as well.

The Governments of the Soviet Union and Germany set themselves the task of establishing peace and order on the territory of former Poland and of assuring the peoples inhabiting this territory a peaceful existence, confirming their national peculiarities.

The unparalleled rapidity of the disintegration of the Polish state organism, which is irrefutable proof of its lack of vital power, removes the causes for continuation of the war in Western Europe as well.

War a "Senseless Slaughter"

Even the blind can now see that the Polish State cannot be restored in its former shape and on its former territory. Still, the war of Great Britain and France against Germany is waged under the slogan of restoration of Poland. Therefore continuation of the war cannot be justified by anything and constitutes senseless slaughter. Termination of the war would meet the interests of peoples and countries.

Hitler's proposals may be accepted, declined or corrected in one way or another. But one cannot help admitting that in any case they can serve as a real and practical basis for negotiations for an earlier conclusion of peace.

In view of this one might assume that the governments of Great Britain and France, which in their declarations emphasize their desire for peace, would treat the possibility of an early termination of the war in an earnest and business-like way.

However, so far comments of the British and French press on Hitler's declaration do not testify to this. Most newspapers demand that Hitler's peace proposals receive no consideration and that the war be continued until the aims which Great Britain and France set themselves while entering the war are fully accomplished.

It is symptomatic that the demand for restoration of Poland, which formerly figured as a principal demand, in recent articles by British and French journalists is modestly retired to the background.

A Struggle Against Ideology

"Annihilation of Hitlerism" is now proclaimed as the principal demand. The fight against Hitlerian ideology: thus British and French politicians now describe their aims in the present war.

The gist of utterances by most newspapers is that the "Hitlerian spirit" is proclaimed the chief and only source of danger of war not only in Europe but in the whole world. Thus the struggle against the ideology of Hitlerism is being put forward as a fundamental and even the only aim of the present war. These utterances undoubtedly reflect also the viewpoint of governmental circles of Great Britain and France.

Can one accept these arguments? Every one is entitled to express his attitude toward one or another ideology, defend it or reject it. But extermination of a people for the reason that some one does not like certain views and an ideology is senseless and absurd cruelty. It throws us back to the dark material epoch of devastating religious wars for extermination of heretics and dissentients.

History, however, has shown that such ideological and religious campaigns resulted only in the annihilation of whole generations and the cultural degradation of nations. One cannot destroy an ideology by fire and sword.

One may respect or hate Hitlerism, just as any other system of political views. This is a matter of taste. But to undertake war for "annihilation of Hitlerism" means to commit criminal folly in politics.

Material Aims "Camouflaged"

Until lately the ruling classes of Great Britain and France had never displayed too great a readiness to shed blood or, which is the main thing, to bear expense for any ideological purpose. Facts known from these States show that the opposite is the case. Declarations on lofty principles and ideas usually serve to camouflage mundane and material aspirations.

Naturally the question suggests itself also, in a given case, whether the slogan of a struggle against the "Hitlerian spirit" does not camouflage different aims suggested by the aspirations of ruling circles in Great Britain and France for consolidation of their world domination.

Noteworthy in this connection is an article by Bernard Shaw, published in the magazine New Statesman and Nation:

"The war in Poland is over," writes Shaw. "As Poland's cause is lost, we have no further excuse for continuing the war. Whereupon we threw off the mask of knight errantry and avowed flatly that we did not care about Poland and were out on old balance-of-power lines to disable Germany, which we now called abolishing Hitlerism.

"If we won it would be Versailles over again, only worse, with another war even less than twenty years off. Apologies for war won't do, however thickly we butter them with bunk and balderdash about liberty and democracy, and everything we have just abolished at home. Our business now is to make peace with Hitler and with all the world instead of making more mischief and ruining our people in the process."

Allied Empires Cited

One must admit that Bernard Shaw is right in many respects. Judging by all the facts, ruling circles in Great Britain and France are very little concerned about the fate of Poland or the liberation of the German people from the Hitlerian regime.

These States have concentrated in their hands the bulk of colonial possessions. The British Empire owns colonies with a population of 450,000,000. France also possesses a vast colonial empire with a population of 65,000,000.

Obviously an endeavor to hold these gigantic possessions against German claims, to preserve undivided dominion over them, assuring uncontrolled exploitation of hundreds of millions of colonial slaves, is a more valid motive of interest of the governments of Great Britain and France in the war against Germany.

To attempt to ignore Germany's peace proposals means to assume responsibility for further unleashing of war and consequently to assume responsibility for the colossal sacrifices and devastation connected with war.

Peace or war? That is the question. Champions of the slogan, "War to a victorious end," are in favor of further unleashing of war—in favor of war and against peace. But for whose benefit is this war waged for domination of the world? In any case, not for the benefit of the working class. The working class can only suffer in such a war.
Days earlier, the Times published the aforementioned article by Trotsky, who at that point was living in exile in Mexico. From The New York Times, October 4, 1939:
TROTSKY SAYS U.S. WILL JOIN CONFLICT
⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯
Asserts Only Washington Can Get Russia to Shift From Supporting Germany
⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯
SEES STALIN FEARING NAZI
⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯⎯
Soviet Regime Is Held to Be in Danger of Fall If Revolts Result From War 

By LEON TROTSKY

MEXICO CITY, Oct. 3 — The policy of the Soviet Union, full of surprises even for interested observers, flows in reality from the Kremlin's traditional estimation of international relations, which could be formulated approximately in the following manner:

Since a long time ago the economic importance not only of France, but of Britain, has ceased to correspond to the dimensions of their colonial possessions. A new war must overthrow those empires. Not by accident, they say in the Kremlin, the smart opportunist, Mohandas K. Gandhi, already has raised a demand for the independence of India.

This is only the beginning. To tie one's fate to the fate of Britain and France, if the United States does not stand behind them, means to doom one's self beforehand.

The "operations" on the Western Front during the first month of war only strengthened Moscow in its estimation. France and Britain do not decide to violate the neutrality of Belgium and Switzerland—their violation is absolutely inevitable in case the real war develops—nor do they attack seriously the German Westwall. Apparently, they do not want to wage a war at all, not having in advance the guarantee that the United States will not acquiesce in their defeat.

Moscow thinks, consequently, that the actual confused and indecisive manner of acting of France and Great Britain is a kind of military strike "against the United States," but not a war against Germany.

In these conditions, the August pact of Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler was supplemented inevitably by the September agreement. The real meaning of the algebraic formulas of the new diplomatic instrument will be determined during the next week.

Stalin Seeks to Avoid War

It is very improbable that Moscow will now intervene on Herr Hitler's side against the colonial empires. Mr. Stalin entered the extremely unpopular bloc with Hitler only to save the Kremlin from the risks and disturbances of a war. After that, he found himself involved in a small war in order to justify his bloc with Herr Hitler. In the crevices of a great war, Moscow will try, also, to attain some further new conquests in the Baltic Sea and in the Balkans.

It is necessary, however, to view these provincial conquests in the perspective of the World War. If Mr. Stalin wants to retain the new provinces, then, sooner or later, he will be forced to stake the existence of his power. All his policy is directed toward the postponement of this moment.

But, if it is difficult to expect the direct military cooperation of Moscow with Berlin on the Western Front, it would be sheer light-mindedness to underestimate the economic support that the Soviet, with the help of German technology, particularly in the means of transportation, can render the German Army. The importance of the Anglo-French blockade will certainly not be annihilated, but considerably weakened.

The German-Soviet pact will have, under these conditions, two consequences. It will greatly extend the duration of the war and bring closer the moment of intervention by the United States. By itself, this intervention is absolutely inevitable.

London wanted to think, in spite of the evidence, that Herr Hitler's ambitions did not transcend the Danubian plain and expected to keep Britain aside. In a similar manner, some people on the American continent expect to conceal themselves behind a paper screen of isolation from purely "European" insanity. Their hopes are in vain. It is a question of the struggle for world domination, and America will not be able to stand aside.

The intervention of the United States, which would be capable of changing the orientation not only of Moscow but also of Rome, is, however, a song of the future. The empiricists of the Kremlin stand with both feet on the basis of the present. They do not believe in the victory of Britain and France, and consequently they stick to Germany.

Not Soviet Plot for Revolution

In order to understand the Soviet policy in all its unexpected turns it is necessary to reject, above all, the absurd idea that Mr. Stalin wants to foment world revolution by means of war. If the Kremlin strove to this end, how could it sacrifice its influence over the international working class for the sake of occupying some border territories?

The fate of the revolution will not be decided in Galicia, nor in Estonia, nor in Latvia, nor in Bessarabia. It will be decided in Germany, but there Mr. Stalin supports Herr Hitler. It will be decided in France and in Britain, but there Mr. Stalin gave a mortal blow to the Communist parties. Since the September pact the Communist party of the United States has not long to live. Poland will survive; the Communist International never.

In reality there is no government in Europe or the whole world which at the present moment would fear the revolution more than the privileged caste ruling the Soviet Union. The Kremlin does not consider itself stable, and revolutions are contagious. Precisely because the Kremlin fears revolution, it fears the war that leads to revolution. To make the Kremlin change its policy there remains only one way, but a sure one. It is necessary to give Herr Hitler such a decisive blow that Mr. Stalin will cease to fear him. In this sense, it is possible to say that the most important key to the Kremlin's policy is now in Washington.