Rajani Palme Dutt 1935

The British-German Alliance in the Open

Source: International Press Correspondence, Volume 15, no 27, 29 June 1935. Scanned, prepared and annotated for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

The Hoare – Ribbentrop Naval Agreement [1] has brought the British-German alliance into the open. The March German Military Law was still in form a unilateral action of Germany alone declaring its independence of the military clauses of Versailles; although the complicity of Britain was in fact demonstrated by the immediately following Simon’s [2] visit to Berlin, Britain had in form to unite with France and Italy at Stresa and Geneva in condemning any such unilateral violation and pledging common action to prevent any future similar action. But with the Naval Agreement Britain and Germany for the first time openly join hands, in defiance of the opposition of France, Italy and the United States, to smash Stresa and the plans of a collective European settlement, and to force up German armaments by British support in an exclusive agreement directly censured and disapproved by every other power. This is a big step towards an open alliance, and the subsequent Eden visits to Paris and Rome have only emphasised, rather than succeeded in masking, the significance of this alignment, which is enormously increasing the war menace of the present international situation.

At the outset it is important to note the peculiar character of this Naval Agreement, which was concluded with extreme speed from the opening of the negotiations on 3 June to its conclusion on 18 June, and was actually concluded immediately after the reception of the very sharp French Note of protest on 17 June.

In order to understand its significance it is necessary to recall two facts. First, when Simon reported to the House of Commons Hitler’s demand at the Berlin conversations for 35 per cent of the British naval strength, he stated as an obvious commonplace that such a demand was ‘inadmissible’. This was the universal tone in the British press; even the pro-Hitler Times explained in its issue of 18 April that ‘the one-third claim would eventually bring German naval strength close to the strength which Great Britain maintains in home waters’. Second, the announcement of German submarine building, made at the end of April, aroused a universal outcry of alarm and panic in the House of Commons and the press; it was declared ‘the gravest moment since 1909’, etc.

Yet, what does the Agreement, reached with such speed and without any preliminary discussion in Britain, show? First, the full 35 per cent is conceded not only for the British Navy, but is expanded to mean 35 per cent of the aggregate British Empire Navies. According to the previously announced Admiralty calculations, this means in fact parity with Britain in home waters. The ‘inadmissible’ demand is suddenly found admissible. Second, precisely on the question of submarines, described as the main danger to British interests, and on whose abolition for Germany Britain insisted at Versailles, a special exception is made to increase the immediate percentage to 45 per cent and to leave the German government power to increase it to 100 per cent.

How is such an Agreement explicable? On no ordinary traditional grounds of the ‘safeguarding of British interests and security’, etc., can it be explained. It is not a treaty of limitation, but for enormously building up the German navy, by something like 380,000 tons, probably with the aid of British finance and supplies. If the object were, as professed, British defence against an ultimate recurrence of the German naval menace, the submarine clause becomes inexplicable. A special exception for the restriction of submarines would have been comprehensible, but not a special exception for the expansion of submarines up to 100 per cent. The memory of the submarine blockade is one of the sharpest memories of the war in Britain, and it was regarded as one of the most important war aims in Britain to make impossible the rebuilding of the German submarine fleet. Yet here the Admiralty goes out of its way to agree to the special expansion of German submarines beyond all other naval units. Nor can it be argued that this had to be conceded as a necessity of German defence, since the Admiralty has invariably maintained the thesis that the submarine is only an ‘offensive’ and not a ‘defensive’ weapon.

These apparent contradictions of the Naval Agreement are only explicable on one hypothesis, and on one hypothesis alone – the existence of a virtual, even if not formal, British-German alliance, which rules out the possibility of the use of the new German Navy against Britain, or of its taking advantage of its parity in British home waters, and ensures its use only in directions acceptable to Britain, against a power regarded by Britain as a potential enemy. These conditions, without which it is inconceivable that Britain would have signed such an Agreement, are only fulfilled by the assumption that in the British view the German navy is regarded as intended primarily for use in the Baltic against the Soviet Union. The significance of the special clause for the expansion of the offensive submarine weapon becomes in this case at once obvious.

This significance of the Naval Agreement is in full accord with the whole present line of British foreign policy, reinforced by the recent reconstruction of the National Government as well as the reconstruction of the Foreign Office now taking place. The general character of the reconstruction of the National Government at the beginning of June was a reconstruction to the right, strengthening the pro-Hitler and anti-Soviet line. The proposal to make a broad reconstruction by the inclusion of Churchill and Austen Chamberlain, [3] the main protagonists of the pro-French and collective security line against the menace of German aggression, was rejected. The proposal to bring Eden [4] to the Foreign Office, energetically pressed for in quarters sympathetic to the line of collective security and friendly relations with the Soviet Union, was rejected. The appointment of Hoare [5] to the Foreign Office meant the appointment of an old and close collaborator of the Russian Whites and extreme pro-Hitler and anti-Soviet protagonist, as was equally recognised in the reception in the French and in the German press. This appointment of Hoare, fresh from the laurels of maintaining the iron hand in India, was not only a direct signal of British policy to the world; it was also the appointment of a ‘man of iron’, in place of the weak Simon, to smash the resistance of the pro-French traditions in the Foreign Office, embodied in the permanent secretary, Vansittart, [6] whose removal has immediately followed the appointment of Hoare.

The sequence of events since Stresa is significant. Immediately after Stresa came King George’s special telegram of congratulations to Hitler on 21 April. On 24 April came the decision to resume the British and German army exchange of officers. On 21 May the Hitler speech was received with acclamation in Britain. [7] On 3 June the Anglo-German naval conversations were opened. On 7 June came the National Government reconstruction, with the appointment of Hoare to the Foreign Office. On 10 June the Prince of Wales made his special appeal for the visit of the British ex-servicemen’s delegation to Germany. [8] On 18 June the British-German Naval Agreement was concluded, and the Stresa front was openly broken.

What is the consequence of the new agreement? First, it means at once an increase in the French naval programme. It will be remembered that the original Washington Naval Treaty fixed the French proportion at 35 per cent of British, in respect of capital ships. The new German navy will not be equal to the French, but in the North Sea it will be superior, owing to the division of the French ships in other seas. The virtual parity to the British fleet in home waters becomes superiority to the French. This will inevitably mean an increase in the French building programme. But this in turn will disturb the Washington proportions of the French fleet to the British and American, and will be replied to by corresponding increases in Britain and the United States. Thus the new Agreement opens a new naval armament race.

On the diplomatic side, the rupture of Stresa will have inevitable effects on French and Italian policy. ‘M Laval [9] considers that henceforth he will be free to break with the usual practice of acquainting in advance the British government with every important movement of French diplomacy.’ (Daily Telegraph, 20 June 1935) In particular, French policy moves to support of Italy against Britain on the question of Abyssinia. The smashing by Britain of the 3 February line of an integral settlement for Europe as a whole means at once the hastening of every separate move of war-preparation in accordance with the Anglo-German principle of ‘localised wars’.

Thus the situation is rendered increasingly serious by the most recent events. Japan goes forward with its war of conquest on North China, with a considerable degree of British complaisance, as indicated by Hoare’s answers in parliament and his highly congratulatory speech at a dinner to the Japanese ambassador immediately after the new aggression. The German armament and aggression plans in Europe go forward with open British support. The British government now feels sufficiently strong, in unison with the rapidly growing German military power, to take a more and more openly defiant line, and counts on forcing the acquiescence of France, utilising also the threat of Locarno [10] in order to paralyse the Franco-Soviet Pact, and thus to isolate the Soviet Union. The collaboration of British imperialism with the Hitler offensive has now come into the open in a more marked form than at any time previously, and it must be evident to the most sceptical that the main point of this collaboration is directed against the Soviet Union. It is necessary to intensify the fight against the war-plans of British imperialism and Nazi Germany, which have also the support of sections within French imperialism.


All notes have been provided by the MIA.

1. This was the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 18 June 1935, a bilateral agreement between the United Kingdom and German Reich regulating the size of the German Navy (Kriegsmarine) in relation to the Royal Navy, with the former’s total tonnage to be on a permanent basis 35 per cent of the total tonnage of the latter. The agreement allowed Germany to go beyond the naval restrictions decreed in the Versailles Treaty, and it was reached without any consulting with France and Italy.

2. John Allsebrook Simon, First Viscount Simon (1873-1954) was a National Liberal member of the various National Governments during the 1930s, serving as Foreign Secretary during 1931-35. He held a minor post in Churchill’s wartime government.

3. Winston Churchill (1874-1965) was at this point a Conservative MP, but not a member of the National Government. His attitude towards fascism was ambiguous; he openly admired Mussolini, but his wariness about the revival of German imperialism under Hitler led him to accuse the National Government of downplaying the threat that it presented to British imperial interests. Sir Joseph Austen Chamberlain (1863-1937), half-brother of Neville Chamberlain (British Prime Minister during 1937-40), was a Conservative MP but not a member of the National Government. Like Churchill, he was concerned about the threat posed by Nazi Germany to British imperial interests.

4. Robert Anthony Eden (1897-1977) was a Conservative MP during 1923-57, and Foreign Secretary during 1935-38, resigning in protest at the National Government’s attitude towards Nazi Germany. He was Foreign Secretary during 1940-45 and 1951-55, and Prime Minister during 1955-57, resigning in the aftermath of the Suez débâcle.

5. Samuel John Gurney Hoare, First Viscount Templewood (1880-1959) was a Conservative MP during 1910-44, and held ministerial posts in various Conservative and National Governments, including Foreign Secretary in the latter half of 1935, and Home Secretary during 1937-39.

6. Robert Gilbert Vansittart, First Baron Vansittart (1881-1957), a right-wing conservative, was Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs during 1930-38, and was virulently anti-German, rather than just anti-Nazi.

7. Hitler gave a major speech on foreign policy to the Reichstag on 21 May 1935. This was in response to a meeting of British, French and Italian leaders in Stresa on 11 April 1935 which upheld the Locarno agreement on West European borders, to the recently-signed Franco-Soviet pact of mutual assistance, and to the League of Nations’ condemnation of Germany for its reintroduction of military conscription.

8. The Royal British Legion sent a delegation to Germany in July 1935, which was manipulated by the Nazi government into a propaganda show of friendship for the Third Reich. Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David (1894-1972), great-grandson of Queen Victoria, became Prince of Wales in 1911, and King Edward VIII in January 1936. He abdicated in December 1936 officially because of his choice of wife, and was subsequently known as the Duke of Windsor. He was extremely right-wing in outlook, was very favourable towards Nazi Germany, and was widely rumoured to be the choice for a collaborationist head of state if Germany successfully invaded Britain; according to Albert Speer, Hitler regretted his abdication.

9. Pierre Laval (1883-1945) was a member of the Socialist Party up to the early 1920s, and then became an Independent; he was Prime Minister of France during 1931-32 and 1935-36, and was Foreign Minister during 1934-36, during which time he negotiated a Treaty of Mutual Assistance with the Soviet Union. He was Prime Minister twice under the collaborationist Vichy regime, and was subsequently tried and executed for treason.

10. A series of seven treaties were signed at Locarno in October 1925 in an attempt to reinforce the post-First World War settlement in Western and Central Europe and to normalise relations with Germany. It guaranteed Germany’s western frontiers, but allowed for negotiations in respect of its border with Poland.