Rajani Palme Dutt

British Policy and Nazi Germany

Source: From International Press Correspondence, Volume 15, no 23, 1 June 1935. Scanned, prepared and annotated for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

The British official reception of Hitler’s speech [1] shows that the National Government’s basic line of close collaboration with Nazi Germany still continues, despite the rising differences and points of antagonism in a number of spheres of policy.

Certainly, the rate of German arming, the potentialities of aggression in all directions, and in particular the menace in the naval sphere, in the colonial sphere, and in the air, have caused alarm in Britain. This alarm is expressed by a strong Conservative wing, led by Austen Chamberlain and Churchill. [2] These criticise the weakness of the National Government’s policy, point out that the National Government was by its own confession ‘completely misled’ (in Baldwin’s [3] phrase) as to the rate of German arming, and emphasise the necessity of intensified British arming. They issue warnings to Germany against aggression. Thus Austen Chamberlain’s declaration in the House of Commons debate on 2 May was loudly applauded:

If Germany will not join the family of nations, and if, instead of seeking to persuade, she seeks to extort or impose her will, then she will find this country in her path again [cheers] and with this country those great free Commonwealths which centre around it, and she will have met a force which will once again be her master. [Loud cheers.]

Similarly Churchill spoke of the necessity of cooperation with ‘France, Italy, and other powers’ for a collective system of defence:

There were friendly nations with whom we might concert our measures of defence... The policy of isolation was no longer open... We were bound to act in concert with France and Italy and other powers great and small that were anxious to preserve peace.

But it would be a very serious error to deduce from these speeches that British policy is ranged with France or Italy, still less with the Soviet Union, in opposition to the Nazi aggressive plans. On the contrary, these speeches are opposition speeches, critical of the government policy, and not official expressions. Not only that, but this opposition line in fact plays an indispensable role in the total of British policy, and the final degree of divergence is not so profound as might appear. For this opposition campaign of the Chamberlains and Churchills in practice serves two purposes, of the greatest importance for the total policy of British imperialism.

First, in the name of the Hitler menace, they emphasise the necessity of rapidly increasing British armaments. This suits perfectly the book of the National Government, which is very ready to encourage propaganda over the menace of Hitler’s armaments (although they have in fact helped to build up these armaments, and it is also obvious that Hitler has no desire to use these armaments in the near future against Britain), in order to accelerate British arming. The mass hatred of Hitler is thus exploited to increase the armed strength of the British government, which in practice acts as the ally of Hitler.

Second, the warnings to Germany are in effect warnings against Germany’s threatening to enter into British preserves, to attempt a naval programme incompatible with British naval supremacy, that is, beyond the minimum necessity for domination in the Baltic; to make colonial demands unsuitable to Britain; or to harbour aggressive designs in Western Europe or in South-Eastern Europe (to be curbed by the Western Air Pact and the Danubian Pact). These warnings fully agree with the policy of the National Government. Their practical effect is to force German expansionist aims to Eastern Europe.

In reality, British policy in relation to Nazi Germany bears a twofold character. On the one hand, Britain has consistently helped and continues to help German arming. The revelations of the Financial News articles on the ‘Finance of German Rearmament’ (quoted in the International Press Correspondence, no 21), the Bank of England’s credit policy to the Reichsbank, the answers of the President of the Board of Trade, Runciman, [4] on the export of aeroplane engines to Germany, all recently illustrate this process. Diplomatically, Britain has helped Germany to smash Versailles and to torpedo the Eastern Pact.

But at the same time British policy is no less concerned to check German expansion from threatening British interests. Germany must not threaten the peace of Western Europe. Germany must not seek again to become a world power on a naval and colonial basis. The war of 1914 settled that issue, which must not be reopened. But, given these limitations, Germany’s right to a dominant military position in Europe is freely recognised: ‘Germany simply must be given a position appropriate to a nation which is normally the most powerful single state in Europe.’ (Times editorial, 3 May 1935)

At the same time it is insisted in every governmental statement that, while Britain insists on the maintenance of peace in Western Europe, Britain has no direct concern or commitment with regard to what may happen in Eastern Europe.

What is the effect of this policy taken as a whole? It is perfectly clear that the net effect of this policy is to drive Germany to the line of Eastern expansion. This underlies all the twists and turns of British policy.

Hitler understood this very well in his speech, which, like many previous moves and declarations, bears every sign of having been concocted in consultation with Britain, and whose utterance was actually delayed several days in such a way as to be timed to fall on the eve of the British parliamentary debate.

The whole character of the speech was a direct appeal to British collaboration:

The German government willingly recognises the overwhelming vital importance of predominant sea protection for the British Empire, just as we are determined to do everything to protect our own continental existence and freedom.

The German government has the sincere desire to reach and maintain a relation to the British state and nation which will for ever prevent a repetition of the previous conflict between the two nations.

On the naval issue, on the colonial question, on the question of the Western frontiers, on the Western Air Pact, that is, on all the questions of special concern to Britain, the most solemn assurances are offered; and Locarno [5] – which is intended to be used as a counter-weapon to the Franco-Soviet Pact [6] – is underlined.

But in all the other directions the war aims are unconcealed. The ‘mania for collective cooperation, collective security, collective obligations, and so forth’ is denounced; ‘localised conflicts’ are advocated as the better method; the Franco-Soviet Pact is denounced; the projected Eastern Pact is denounced; there can be no question of promising non-aggression to Lithuania; the full hymn of hate is sung against the Soviet Union; it will be impossible ‘to prevent inter-state conflicts in the East; it is infinitely difficult in such a case to determine the guilty party’. The path to future war is thus openly indicated.

Did British expression for a moment show any opposition to this open declaration of war-intentions, or even repudiate such an extreme bellicose declaration in time of supposed peace from the leader of one state to another state? On the contrary, Baldwin, speaking officially for the British government, paid a tribute of welcome to the pronouncement and promised ‘the very closest attention in a spirit of sympathy’. The Times found it ‘reasonable and straightforward... the basis of a complete settlement’. The Daily Herald, [7] of course, was foremost in welcoming Hitler’s speech as ‘a good basis... it is now for Great Britain to reply in the same spirit’. The Daily Mail [8] found Hitler’s speech the height of European statesmanship:

His words will bring relief and hope... In any negotiations the British government should do all in its power to satisfy her legitimate aspirations, including the return of German colonies.

The Foreign Offices of Europe will have to accustom themselves to the fact that an immense German Bloc exists in the Central Europe of our age, and that it is not likely to be shaken by diplomatic or military action. This need not disturb British people. (Daily Mail, 22 May 1935)

It is worth noting that Rothermere, [9] the owner of The Daily Mail, who pleads for a strong Germany and a British-German alliance, simultaneously pleads for an unlimited increase of British armaments to meet the German menace. The double-fronted manoeuvre is too obvious.

The British – Nazi collaboration is still unbroken. This collaboration, if unbroken, contains the seeds of future war. The British role is of key importance in the present international situation. The strongest fight is necessary against the National Government’s pro-Hitler policy; for if this policy can be defeated, the Nazi war-plans will be cut off from support from any European power, and will become impossible of realisation. So long as the British – Nazi collaboration continues (with the Labour Party the strongest in its support) the danger is serious.


Notes are provided by the Marxist Internet Archive.

1. 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 (qv), to the Franco-Soviet pact of mutual assistance (qv), and to the League of Nations’ condemnation of Germany for its reintroduction of military conscription.

2. 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.

3. Stanley Baldwin (1867-1947) was a Conservative MP during 1908-37, Prime Minister during 1923-24, 1924-29, and, at the head of the National Government, 1935-37.

4. Walter Runciman, First Viscount Runciman of Doxford (1870-1949) was a Liberal MP during 1899-1900, 1902-18 and 1924-31 and a National Liberal MP during 1931-37, and President of the Board of Trade during 1931-37.

5. 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.

6. The Franco – Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance was concluded on 2 May 1935. It declared that the Soviet Union and France were bound to support one another were either to be subjected to an unprovoked attack by a third party. The text can be found at Franco-Soviet_Treaty_of_Mutual_Assistance.

7. The Daily Herald reflected the opinion of the leadership of the Labour Party, that is, a right-wing social-democratic standpoint.

8. The Daily Mail was – and remains to this day – an able mobiliser of petit-bourgeois, right-wing opinion. At this point, it was sympathetic to fascism, both at home and abroad.

9. Harold Sidney Harmsworth, First Viscount Rothermere (1868-1940) was the founder of several newspapers, including the Daily Mirror, and he took over the Daily Mail from his elder brother, Alfred Charles William Harmsworth, First Viscount Northcliffe (1865-1922), upon his death.