Isaac Deutscher 1940

The Angels and the Devil

Source: Workers Fight, May 1940, signed Josef Bren. Workers Fight was the paper of the Revolutionary Workers League. Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

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The war of 1939-40 was proclaimed by the British and French Governments as a war for democracy and for the rights of small nations. The Guardian Angels of Morality and Justice from Downing Street and Quai d'Orsay could not stay aloof when so many small, innocent nations were swallowed up or raped by the Brown Devil of Europe. Even schoolchildren know that God Almighty created the angels in order to assign to them the task of fighting, defeating and humiliating the Devil. True to their nature, the angels once again undertook their predestined struggle. So this war is nothing less than a part of the eternal conflict between the forces of Good and Evil. This is the official, virtuous explanation of this most virtuous of all wars.

Fighting for the independence, security and inviolability of small nations, the Archangel Churchill one day laid minefields in the waters of a small peaceful country, Norway. That looked very much like a violation of a small country, which the angels were supposed to defend against any violation. This small country, therefore, protested to the angels and implored them not to use such devilish tricks any longer. The messengers of Heaven, however, were not to be disturbed by this. What could those mortal creatures of Norway understand of the real intentions of the celestial protectors of small nations? Indeed, they had been mortal creatures for so long that they did not even distinguish between the blessing of being violated by the angels and the misfortune of being raped by the Devil. At the sight of angels laying mines on their coast they wept mournfully and sobbed with grief. This did not move the angels; they were too busy preparing a trap for the Devil’s ships carrying iron cargoes from the North, and they continued with their job.

The Devil however did not sleep. He is just a poor Devil! His only virtues are satanic impudence and diabolic swiftness. When the angels in Downing Street and Quai d'Orsay were piously and joyfully singing their morning prayers and reporting to God of the trap they had prepared for the Master of Hell – the latter impetuously swooped down upon poor little Norway, spitting fire out of his tanks and aeroplanes. The confused chorus of angels stopped their pious singing and burst out with indignant cries, swearing and cursing, which sounded slightly less celestial and slightly more profane. Soon, however, they recovered from their first shock and became angels once again: ‘Didn’t we blame the Devil, because of his mean violence?’ they exclaimed piously. ‘Didn’t we wage this war against him to safeguard the rights and freedom of small nations? We pledged ourselves to poor little Norway: we shall save her from the Devil’s claws. We shall send our own ships, our planes, our tanks, and we shall revenge this crime committed by our enemy against a small nation, we, who are always the defender of weak and small nations.’

So now the angels and the Devil are spitting fire at each other, over innocent Norwegian heads.

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A sober mortal voice reminded the angels: ‘Were you not precisely the first to violate the neutrality of this small country, Norway, gentlemen angels? Are you not guilty to the same extent as the Devil? You angels and devils do not belong to the same imperialist gang of rapers, bandits and mass murderers?’

The angels grew indignant and lost their angelic temper: ‘Who dares to make a comparison between us and the Devil? We have violated the Norwegian waters justly, yet the Devil seized the Norwegian earth. This means a fundamental, principled difference. And then: a violation by democratic angels does not count as a violation at all. Who will venture to doubt it? Where does this seditious voice come from? Suppress it! Silence it! This must be the voice of Hell. They are the assistants of our enemy, of the Devil, who dares to speak thus.’

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Very, very long ago the angels forced under their rule a great country called India. They have done it, of course – as they do everything – not for any selfish purpose, because, as angels, as embodiments of pure virtue they cannot possibly be selfish. They have done it in order to protect, to civilise and to enlighten the Indian people; in order to make their angelic culture accessible to a few hundred millions of weak-minded, infirm, mortal beings. Infirm as they may be, the people of India, however, soon realised that they could do quite well without the protection of the angels. Many times, they have already asked the angels very politely to leave India and to fly back to their native angelic islands. They have done it very politely indeed, because they, the Indians, do not dare – as yet – to throw the celestial intruders out in a rude manner. But they declared with some determination that they will ignore them and that henceforth they will neither pay attention to their wishes nor will they carry out their orders. Mr Gandhi, the Indian ‘leader’, a shy man with some leaning to the angels, who likes to spin, to parade with a goat and to drink mild goat’s milk – invented a curious name for a campaign to invite the angels to leave: he called it a ‘campaign of civil disobedience’. Strange, is it not? Disobedience to... angels!

Unhappily, this disobedience of the great Indian nation was proclaimed precisely at the time when the angels engaged themselves in the war for the freedom of the small nations and sent their Navy and Air Force to strike at the Devil in Norway. They replied to India: ‘You want to get rid of us. Futile hopes. So far as we are concerned, we do not intend to move out or even to loosen our grip upon your country. Do you not see that we are engaged in a holy war for freedom just now? Do you not see that our hands are full of work to secure the rights and the inviolability of small nations? You are by no means a small nation. You are hundreds of millions. You are India and not Norway. And great nations need either rights or freedom.’

Do you want this incredible tale to be carried on? Well, read the great press, listen to the BBC speaker. They will go on telling you the story of the angels and the Devil.

What we want to ask is when at last will the credulity of the vast majority of the workers become exhausted? When at last will these poisoned tales invented by imperialist propagandists cease to find their way into the minds of the toiling masses?

When at last will the workers understand that the Devil and the angels alike, that Hitler and Chamberlain and Reynaud, have one war-aim only: the domination of their respective capitalist classes over markets and colonies. That this is not a war between democratic angels and fascist Devils, nor is it a war for the rights of small nations, but exclusively a war for profits, waged by trusts and cartels, at the expense of the workers of all countries. In this war – like in 1914-18 – small countries count only as pawns in the merciless, criminal game of big imperialist powers.

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The developments in Norway provided another proof for the correctness of this viewpoint.