From Workers’ International News, Vol.3 No.4, April 1940, pp.8-10.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The dramatic series of events that heralded the commencement of a new phase in the war – the swift dynamic seizure of Denmark and of key points in Norway – has been accompanied by the usual crop of wild rumours out of which the truth will only slowly emerge. The character of Allied countermeasures suggest that the northern thrust is taken to be largely a feint; designed to create a diversion in preparation for another blow, the main blow, aimed in another quarter. Whether German imperialism seeks to convert the North Sea into a testing ground for theories of air-power versus sea-power, or whether the move is a mere part of a larger strategic plan, it carries the stamp of desperation. The Russo-Finnish peace and the new series of economic blows dealt by the Allies provide the background for this new chapter in the war.
In the flood of oratory that has accompanied the termination of hostilities in Finland, congratulating and condoling with the “heroic Finnish nation” and hinting at a future reckoning, there have escaped certain hints that give a clue to the curiously indecisive and temporising attitude of the Allies towards the invasion of Finland and to their future plans.
Stalin has achieved a costly triumph. It cannot be denied that the immediate object of the war, the securing of strategic advantages in the defence of Soviet territory has been attained and from the military point of visit the Leningrad region has been rendered less vulnerable to attacks from the capitalist powers. Since in spite of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, Germany potentially the most dangerous foe, the victory was gained as much at Germany’s expense as at Finland’s.
But the costs of this victory have yet to be computed. If, as the Finnish government claims, 200,000 Soviet soldiers have been slaughtered, the expense sheet makes tragic enough reading, but to this must be added the even more important losses, the shattering blows that have been dealt at the sympathy held by the toiling masses of the world for the Soviet Union. It is only because these sympathies have been trampled upon by Stalinism that it has been possible for the world bourgeoisie to profit by the universal working class revulsion towards the Kremlin by initiating campaigns ostensibly aimed against the “Communists,” in reality aimed against the workers. In France the death penalty has been imposed for “subversive propaganda,” in Belgium, arrests have been made and new legislation initiated, in the United States new drives are being planned by the reactionaries, all in the name of the struggle against Stalin’s agents.
In the House of Commons, on March 19, Mr Chamberlain revealed the extent to which the British Government was preparing to exploit the situation in a similar manner. Apart from armaments sent, an expeditionary force of 100,000 men “heavily armed and equipped” was to have been dispatched and would no doubt have been sent if the Scandinavian countries had consented to this plan which involved the certainty of German intervention. Mr. Hore Belisha made it clear that the Russian onslaught could have been broken solely by attack from the air. Never have there been such targets.
But obviously Government was interested, not in breaking the Russian onslaught but in opening up a new front on Scandinavian territory: The terrified neutrals clung like drowning men to the last remaining straws of neutrality refused their consent, refused voluntarily to transform their territory into the battlefield of giants. And so Stalinism was permitted to get away with it, in spite of the outcry of that section of the British bourgeoisie for whom Mr Hore Belisha was the mouthpiece.
The conclusion of peace between Russia and Finland clinched two important questions. In the first place the acquisition of key strategic points in the northern defences of the Soviet Union places such formidable barriers in the path of any attack by Germany that the possibility of diverting German expansionism towards the Soviet Union is decisively ruled out, and with it the last chance of any peace by compromise at the expense of Russia. The war in the west becomes a death struggle, which aims at the total defeat and the hacking to pieces of the territory of the foe. In the second place the deadly fear of the Kremlin for its partner in the Hitler-Stalin pact has been somewhat allayed so that the Stalin bureaucracy can now with more confidence drop back into comparative isolation again. With Russia neutralised and with Nazidom committed to a war of annihilation, the British bourgeoisie has now chosen to settle down to a war which is in the military sense defensive but in the field of economy, fiercely offensive.
Thus it is left to the “initiative” of Germany to invade and overrun neutrals for what is gained by such initiative by the element of surprise is, a thousand times compensated for in the moral losses sustained in the field of propaganda. The task of organising United States intervention in the war on the side, of the Allies after the presidential elections is thereby rendered somewhat easier. The initiative in beginning the bombing of the great cities from the air is similarly left to Germany, and for similar reasons.
But in the arena of world trade, these conditions are reversed. It was the sharply dwindling volume of world trade that brought the imperialists to grips. This is strikingly revealed in the report of the Chamber of Shipping for 1939, published last month, which showed that as a result of the restriction of world trade, the average tramp freight rates for the first eight, months of 1939 was 91.3 as against 131.5 in 1937. This glimpse alone at the world slump is sufficient to show the driving force behind both the dynamic moves of German imperialism and the resistance of its rivals. The outbreak of war brought into operation more far-reaching and more destructive measures of competition for world-trade The invasion of neutrals by means of capital, the conclusion of trade deals dictated with the help of artillery, in these fields the Allied gangsters have the whip hind over the German gangsters, so that in spite of the internal instability of France, the initiative is entirely in their hands.
A series of trade agreements were successfully negotiated by Britain with Norway, Holland, Spain, Greece, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium and Turkey and the remaining links of the iron chain round Germany are being forged in the impending agreements with Switzerland, Yugoslavia, Rumania and the Soviet. The entire exportable surplus, of Norway’s current catch of whale oil has been, according to Chamberlain, purchased by the Allies, who have also made purchases of minerals in South Eastern Europe on a large scale.
These moves have posed squarely before German imperialism the necessity for action. In order to make room for increased trade with Denmark, preparations were made in Britain to end rationing of those products which Denmark is able to supply. The dynamic, move by German imperialism in occupying Denmark and carrying the war far into the North was the military reaction against the tightening economic noose. The answer to the economic pressure applied in the Balkans has yet to be given, but ripples of apprehension are passing through south eastern Europe, reflected in accelerated military preparations, while Italian interests, deeply involved in the Balkan situation, have compelled Italy and with her, Hungary, to take measures to face up to a possible extension of the war to this area.
As new fronts are opened, swift and spectacular military moves take place, but they culminate very soon in the mutual digging in of the contending armies, the prolonged deadlock of trench warfare, costly in lives taken by gunshot and disease, but inconclusive. And the slow economic strangulation goes on, reducing whole continents to famine and disintegrating technical organisation of modern civilisation.
As the field of military operations expands in Europe, a new focus of tension is developing in the Far East following the abrogation of the United States-Japanese Trade Treaty. The cutting off of German trade from South America and the preoccupation of Britain and France with their economic drive in Europe has opened the door, not only for the United States but for Japan as well. The trade treaty concluded between Argentina, and Japan was a direct blow at the United States which is outbidden in a field marked off as Americans empire. Now, that British preoccupation has directed an attitude of conciliation towards Japanese encroachment in China, Japan grows correspondingly bolder. In this situation are the beginnings of imperialist war in the Pacific.
The peace in Finland terminated the first phase of the war of deadlock. New offensives open and more nations are sucked into the whirlpool of war. But the deadlock re-establishes itself on the higher level and the process goes on until all humanity is deluged with blood. The ruling capitalists have no way out; they are committed now, more than ever, to the total war of mutual extermination.
Confronted with the necessity of paying this price in blood and suffering for the privilege of permitting imperialism to sit at the driving wheel, the toiling masses will be compelled in sheer self-preservation, to intervene, to take over the wheel, to turn society away from the capitalist path of annihilation and on the road of socialism.
Last updated on 23.11.2005