Written: March 1940
Source: Youth For Socialism, vol. 2 no. 6 (March 1940)
Transcription: Francesco 2008
Markup: Manuel 2008
With mingled dread and horror the masses of the people observe the ending of an exceptionally bitter winter and the coming of the thaw, for even worse lies in store for them. The war drags on; or rather the preparation for mass slaughter on both sides goes forward relentlessly and with gathering speed and momentum.
On February 24th Chamberlain and Hitler in their speeches both piously appeal to divine intervention as guarantees of victory for justice and right. Nevertheless Chamberlain not so piously echoes the Cromwellian advice “Trust in God but keep your powder dry” while Hitler zealously follows the doctrine of Bismarck: “God is always on the side of the big battalions,” in his explanation of Nazi diplomacy and military preparations.
In despair, Chamberlain, with one eye on the British people and the other on the lookout for a miracle which will save British capitalism from its impending doom again reverses the “war aims” of the British Government. Once again it is not the “German people” but “Nazism” which is the enemy. “We for our part should be ready to seek a settlement with any Government that had subscribed to these aims (independence of Poland and Czechoslovakia, etc.) and given proof—proof that can be relied upon—of its sincerity.” The campaign against the “Huns” has apparently not met with conspicuous success.
Hitler for his part, denying the charge by implication that Germany desires world domination states his humble aspirations:
“I make Germany’s claim modestly, I claim security for our living space—what has been economically developed by Germans in Central Europe. I also claim our German colonies, of which the plutocrats have robbed us.”
To judge from the fine words and noble sentiments which ooze from every sentence of their speeches, it is all just a tragic misunderstanding. But even while they were talking, the ignorant tribesmen of the North-West frontier of India were being taught by British capitalism with planes and machine guns exactly what she means by the rights of nations to live their own lives, while German imperialism, too, on the backs of the enslaved Poles and Czechs was enlightening Europe as to the real meaning of “Lebensraum.”
Reading these speeches the small neutrals can well shiver with apprehension as the giants look round for some battleground on which they can come to grips. The diplomatic tussles of the last few weeks have revealed in deeds the real desires of the participants in the war. Scandinavia has become one of the centres of the intrigues of London. Berlin and Paris.
For a long time now, Germany, for strategic reasons, in her desire to strike a blow against the Allies, has waged a cruel and merciless war on the shipping of Norway, Denmark and Sweden, in order to exert pressure on these little “neutrals” to force them to support Germany economically, and allow their waters to be an economic bridge between Germany and Russia, circumventing the control of the seas by the Allies.
This “brutal attitude” towards the “weak and defenceless” Northern states has sent the Allied press into paroxysms of rage and disgust which they contrast with the attitude of the “cowardly Nazi bully” towards those big and powerful neutrals who have the means to hit back: Japan, Italy, Russia and America, whose shipping and interests are treated with every consideration by the Germans.
Thus triumphantly was demonstrated the superiority of British and French democracy in its war methods and aims. But the last few weeks have laid bare the hypocrisy of the Allied camp as well. When they came into conflict with Japan over the arrest of German sailors in Japanese ships, despite the aggressive war of rape and brutality which Japan has been waging for three years against the Chinese people, we have the British bourgeoisie going on their hands and knees to conciliate and placate these inhuman “aggressors,” Says Chamberlain in a speech reported in the Times of February 1st
“…And indeed nothing would more distress us than that there should be in the minds of the Japanese people or the Japanese Government any idea that we had intentionally or deliberately exercised our belligerent rights as we see them with a want of courtesy or a want of consideration to the Japanese nation… The last thing that we want to do is to affront the self-respect of a friendly nation with whom we want to live in peace…”
With Italy so great has been their desire to exercise their belligerent rights with courtesy and consideration that this successful aggressor who grabbed Albania and Abyssinia not so very long ago is even allowed to break the Allied “blockade,” by importing coal from Germany by sea, without let or hindrance from the Allies. Italian fascism, whose methods internally and externally are indistinguishable from Nazism, is thus tenderly treated in order to win Italy over to the struggle against “aggression” and for the “ending of Nazism forever.”
The Nazis have always found reasons to justify their “aggression” on other nations by lying stories of “provocation” “intolerable oppression of Germans,” etc. A technique which Chamberlain now claims the “apprentice Stalin” has learned from his mentor Hitler. But in this line of business the German imperialists can teach nothing to their British counterparts. The capitalist hypocrites can always find plausible reasons for their trampling on the rights of other nations. Chamberlain after indignantly explaining the Nazis crimes against the neutrals, airily dismissed the “Altmark” affair as a “mere technical breach of neutrality.”
The Altmark incident was a gift from heaven to the Allies. If there had been no Altmark it would have been necessary to invent one. The justification in the eyes of the British people for the turning of Britain into a “technical” aggressor was accomplished by lies and exaggerations about the “Nazi Hell Ship,” “the dashing Nelson tradition,” “gallant rescue of 300 seamen,” etc.
The Altmark’s real significance does not lie in the rescue of the 300 sailors. For them the British imperialists would not stir a finger, for they will sacrifice any number of men in the interests of profit: But the incident was an ideal test for the reactions of the British people if and when Britain is compelled, for military and strategic reasons, to attack or coerce one of the small neutrals.
The experiment worked. The harrowing tales of the suffering of the seamen enabled the capitalists to gain the support of the British people in this minor deed of aggression. They can now go ahead with their blackmail and threatening of the small neutrals confident that they will be able to manufacture incidents and excuses to justify and mobilise British public opinion behind their acts. Already the Daily Express, least cautious of the yellow organs, has called for the British navy to operate in Norwegian territory against German ships using the shelter of the three-mile limit over which Norwegian sovereignty extends. They are blurting out crudely what Churchill threatened the neutrals with in veiled hints.
The Norwegians have offered to submit the dispute to arbitration. But the British imperialists who have always harped on Hitler’s refusal to submit his “disputed’ with his selected victims to “impartial judgment,” show a lack of enthusiasm in exactly the same way when their own interests are at stake and when they too can settle the issue by the pressure of the overwhelming military force at their disposal.
Hitler has utilised these incidents to further draw the German people behind him. Hitler shows the German workers how the British people have rallied behind Chamberlain and the hypocrisy of the British capitalists’ claim to be the champion of the small nations. In this, he has been assisted by the labour leaders in Britain.
Utilising the crimes of Stalin, the labour leaders have denounced the invasion of Finland in strident terms. “Poor little Finland,” “the ending of aggression,” the “rights of small nations to live their own lives,” these have been the axioms on which labour policy was allegedly based. They even came out for the ending of imperialism, including British—after the war was over of course.
Here in the Altmark affair was a magnificent opportunity to show their mettle. No excuse whatever can justify aggression, they have told us. Norway is no bigger than Finland and even more defenceless. Britain has flagrantly violated Norwegian neutrality. And the Labour leaders have shamelessly added their applause to that of the jingoes for the “daring deeds” of the British navy. Chamberlain may plead like the girl who had an illegitimate child, that it was “only a little one.” But what can the Labour leaders say? Hitler’s gangsterism cannot extenuate the Allied violations in any way. Why have they not protested in Parliament and exposed the aims and deeds of the National Government to the workers of Britain? They have betrayed the working class by supporting the war which is being fought for imperialist interests. Tomorrow they will support any aggression which the capitalists are compelled to launch as they have supported them over the Altmark. The propaganda machine of Goebbels explains to the German workers how the workers in Britain are supporting their capitalists and appeals to them to support “national unity.” And Morrison, Citrine and Attlee render him the best aid possible.
The Communist Party is no better. They use this incident to suggest a “peace” which can only mean victory for Hitler. This the workers quite rightly reject as no solution to the problem.
Meanwhile the preparations proceed apace: Victory for German imperialism or victory for British imperialism, neither can be in the interests of the workers of Britain, Germany or of the “small nations.” And neither can gain victory soon. The misery and the slaughter will proceed endlessly once the war really begins.
The solution rests in the power of the working class. The war can only be ended and a real peace obtained by the victory of the German and the British workers against their real enemy, German and British capitalism. The Socialist United States of Europe: that is our slogan. It is for this and not for the wars and the profiteering of capitalism that youth will make its sacrifice and lead the way.