Peter Petroff, Labour, November 1938
Source: Labour, November 1938, p. 9-12;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
During the last six years mankind has witnessed two catastrophes of a nature and magnitude unparalleled in history.
In 1933, the German people surrendered without resistance their democratic institutions, culture and liberties.
As the walls of Jericho fell at the sound of the bugle, so the whole structure of German democracy tumbled down at the roaring of Nazi demagogues. The result was the establishment of a system of abject slavery.
Now the world looks aghast at a new catastrophe that befell European democracy.
Without firing a single shot, Hitler has inflicted a crushing on the great Western Democracies, Britain and France.
We had to witness the spectacle of a British Prime Minister flying o the bully of Berchtesgaden – and thence returning with an ultimatum.
When by severe pressure on their friend and ally, Britain and France had forced Czechoslovakia to accede to Hitler’s impudent demands, Mr. Chamberlain flew back to Godesberg.
However, like the fisher’s wife in the fairy tale, Hitler had meanwhile increased his demands and showed his dissatisfaction.
Promptly the Prime Ministers of the two mighty Democracies flew to Munich to the blustering bully meekly offering, over the head of Czechoslovakia, further sacrifices of Czech territory and property.
Scarcely had the House of Commons listened to the Prime numeration of the mitigations he and M. Daladier had obtained from Hitler at the Munich meeting, when the British and French ambassadors at Berlin agreed to concessions going even beyond Hitler’s Godesberg demands.
The result is: Dismemberment of Czechoslovakia; driving of 3,500,00 Sudeten Germans into slavery; smashing of the entire system of alliances on which France hitherto based her security; sterilisation of the Franco-Soviet pact; loss of prestige and humiliation of Britain and France.
And this result is cheered by crowds and hailed by 366 Members of the House of Commons. For, Mr. Chamberlain declared “I feel that by my action I did avert war.”
Curiously enough, the question whether Nazi Germany could really have risked a war seems to have been entirely lost sight of.
Hitler has never yet fought. Like every bully he owes all his successes to the lack of courage of his opponents.
All who have studied developments in Germany know that considerable sections of the German people are as hostile to their Nazi oppressors as were the population of Belgium in 1915 to the Prussian invaders.
Germany of 1938 certainly cannot be compared with Germany in 1914. In 1914, the German army was prepared to the last button. The hostile criticism of the Social-democratic Party with its strong press prevented corruption and mismanagement and this led to a rare standard of efficiency. The war machine could rely on powerful economic basis.
The present crisis found Nazi Germany in a state of financial bankruptcy and economic disruption. The total absence of public control and criticism has led to a state of all-round corruption. Lack of raw materials hampered industry already in peace time; forced labour and lack of food enhanced the general discontent.
How could Nazi Germany have faced a combination of Western Democracies and Soviet Russia! Obviously, joint measures of Britain, France and Russia, as demanded by the National Council of Labour, would have quickly reduced the arrogance of the Nazis and sent them howling back to their holes.
Had Czechoslovakia even alone stood up to the aggressor, it must be doubted whether Hitler would have dared to order invasion.
It is known that when the Nazi army invaded Austria meeting no resistance, the roads were blocked by broken lorries and tanks of the invading army. And now when the Sudeten areas lie open before the invaders, the German “military authorities are discovering serious flaws in their transport arrangements despite the thorough requisitioning of all types of private vehicles” and “the civilian population in many of the garrison towns in the Reich and in some of the occupied areas is experiencing food famine.” (Daily Telegraph, October 7, 1938).
What would have happened had the Nazi forces met with opposition from a a well-armed enemy!
At the time when a show of determination and unity of the three peace-loving Great Powers would have insured a lasting and honourable peace, a sinister campaign directed by powerful groups of international capital was launched to organise world reaction in a Four Power Pact and to represent the Soviet Union as unwilling or incapable to come to the rescue of Czechoslovakia.
Yet throughout the whole crisis the attitude of the Soviet government was perfectly clear: they remained loyal to their allies, repeatedly declared to the French and Czech governments their readiness to come to the assistance of Czechoslovakia, and a strong well-equipped Soviet force stood ready awaiting the word of command. The calling to the colours of this year’s recruits, which coincided with the crisis, aroused tremendous enthusiasm all over the country and the eager “young fighters against Fascism” were cheered by the people.
The Franco-Russian pact was a nightmare to the Nazis. They know what a war on two fronts means. They have not forgotten how Brusiloff’s general offensive saved the French at Verdun. How much more valuable than the ill-equipped, badly supplied Tsarist army is now the remarkably trained, well-equipped, enthusiastic Red Army as an ally against Fascist aggressors! For every trained German, Russia has five to six trained men, and her industrial development has provided an economic and basis equal to the task.
The production of Russia’s steel, iron and chemical industries has been multiplied since the war. Agriculture has been mechanised and hundreds of thousands of tractors and combines are being worked by an army of 900,000 skilled tractorists and combinists from the ranks of the peasantry – a reserve of tankists such as no other European country can boast of!
It is true the mad purges carried through by Stalin have injured the Red Army and paved the way for the “hard lying” during the crisis. But the German army too suffered “purges” on a large scale. While in Russia these purges meant the replacing of talented commanders by less capable ones, in Germany purges meant the replacing of an efficient and modern military system an antiquated and inefficient one. While in an anti-Fascist war the high morale of the Soviet troops is beyond doubt, the morale of the German army would quickly be shattered by the calling up of discontented reservists.
Having behind them the military and economic strength of the British Empire, the French Republic and the Soviet-Union as well as the goodwill of the United States, the representatives the two Democracies capitulated to the rotten Dictatorship.
I recollect in 1918, when I went to Berlin to ratify the beastly Peace Treaty of Brest-Litovsk imposed by Germany on Russia. The German armies were threatening Russia’s capitals, the Tsarist army had vanished into thin air, and the Red Army was still in its infancy. When I, before placing my signature against that of the Kaiser and Chancellor Hertling, put forward certain important demands embodied in a protocol, Herr Nadolny of the German Foreign Office dramatically declared: “Our armies can march up to the Ural mountains.” “If they only start,” I retorted “the German people will shoot them in the back.” This language the Germans understood. My protocol was signed.