Walter Held

The End of Locarno

(June 1936)

Walter Held, The End of Locarno, New International, June 1936, pp.37-40.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The world economic conference in Genoa in 1922, the Soviet Union and Germany were equally outlaws. None of the victorious Allied countries was prepared to make concessions either to Bolshevism or to defeated Germany. Even though it was then more than natural, it required the greatest efforts on the part of the “Red Baron” von Maltzahn, attached to the German delegation, to convince the principal delegates, Wirth and Rathenau, of the need of a pact with the Russians. And it was only after every effort to arrive at an understanding with England, France and the U.S.A. had failed, that Rathenau and Wirth accepted Chicherin’s offer. The agreement which thereafter bore the name of Rapallo was later signed in that locality, neighboring on Genoa, which served as the quarters of the Soviet representative. To the victorious states, the Rapallo treaty came as a painful surprise, for it was not believed that the German bourgeoisie would have so much courage. Most horrified of all, however, was, without doubt, the German social democracy. Its Ebert, then president of the Reich, whose opinion nobody had bothered to inquire about before signing the treaty, declared: “I am through with Rathenau and his clique.” And the pusillanimous Rathenau, who still appears to be a personality amid the poverty of political talent in post-war Germany paid with his life for his signature to the Rapallo treaty.

The year 1923 opened the eyes of the Western powers and the U.S.A. to the dangers of continuing a policy of intransigence towards Germany. Came the American loans, and came the negotiations for a positive settlement of the political and economic relations between Germany and France, eagerly demanded by England, which set itself against too presumptuous a rule of France on the continent. Yet the German social democracy also sought with all its strength for a Franco-German agreement. The alliance with the Soviet Union, with which certain currents in German foreign policy (Brockdord-Rantzau, Maltzahn) and certain circles in the staff of the Reichswehr (Hammerstein) were flirting was an abomination to reformism. Too vigorously did the existence of the workers’ state remind it of its own treachery. The Franco-German negotiations were crowned in 1925 in the Locarno pact concluded between Briand and Stresemann [1], the pact in which Germany once more recognized as unassailable the Western frontier established by the Versailles Treaty and renounced any militarization and fortification of the Rhineland, and in which France pledged itself to the gradual clearing of the occupied region. And the year after the five Norwegian small-country philistines who hide behind the anonymity of the “Nobel Committee”, handed the Peace Prize founded by the deceased Swedish dynamite king to the “creators” of the Locarno pact, the same Stresemann who during the world war defended the political demands of the megalomaniacal Ludendorf and who, as late as 1918, still dreamed of the annexation of Belgium and the Baltic provinces, and the same Briand who, as a member of the French war cabinet, came out in favor of the annexation of the left bank of the Rhine.

Quite different from the Nobel Committee was the judgement of the Locarno pact made by the Soviet bureaucracy which had meanwhile saddled itself upon the workers’ state. It explained the pact as directed exclusively at the Soviet Union. And in the struggle against the Left Opposition, which was approaching its decisive moment, the Stalinist bureaucracy adduced the Locarno Pact as a weighty argument for an imminent danger of intervention with which it frightened the supporters of the Opposition and of the non-party masses in the Soviet Union. In reading into the Locarno pact an immediate danger of intervention, it erred no less than did the Nobel Prize distributors who saw in it a hope for a durable organization and stabilization of world peace. Every European power still bled from the wounds inflicted upon them by the world war, and none of them yet dared to think of a new campaign on a large scale. It is also likely that the Stalinist bureaucracy, unscrupulous in its choice of weapons, deliberately exaggerated the danger of intervention. In this manner, although the anti-war propaganda and demonstrations of the Comintern in these years lulled the masses to the real danger of a coming war, it did help the Stalinist bureaucracy to consolidate its position.

Yet a real fear of intervention did exist. Not least of all under its pressure, the first Five-Year Plan came into being, aimed primarily at the creation of a modern heavy and armaments industry for the Soviet Union. The prevention of intervention, however, became to an increasing extent the only task of the Comintern, degraded by the theory of socialism in a single country to a mere instrument of Soviet foreign policy His epigones learned from Lenin that it is the art of revolutionary politics to utilize the antagonisms between the imperialists. But whereas with Lenin the goal of promoting the revolution always stood behind this utilization of the antagonisms, with the epigones, this conception was replaced by the goal of merely preventing a war against the Soviet Union. One of the main goals of Soviet policy consisted, therefore, in thwarting, at any price, the Franco-German agreement in order thereby to secure the Western frontier of the Union. And this is the goal towards which the policy of the Comintern was directed, above all after its Sixth World Congress. The Stalinist bureaucracy rightly considered reformism the main prop of the Locarno policy, for the wretched remnants of the miserable Party Board of the German social democracy was still saying in its manifesto of March 7, 1935: “The German social democracy was, from the very outset, the pillar of the idea of the Franco-German agreement. It was the driving force of the foreign policy which led to the signing of Locarno.” This is precisely the fact upon which the struggle of the Comintern against the social democracy as the “main enemy” was erected; in it lies the explanation of the theory of social-Fascism. The policy of the German C.P. from 1929 to 1933 acquires meaning only when one keeps clearly in mind the goal of maintaining the Franco-German antagonism set by Soviet diplomacy while neglecting the goal of revolution in Germany. From the standpoint of defending the interests of the proletarian revolution, the theory of social-Fascism, the Red Trade Union Organization policy, the struggle against Versailles, Dawes and Young, the temporary alliances with the National-Socialists against the social democracy (“Red” referendum), the program of national and social emancipation, the rodomontades of Lieutenant Scheringer about the war of national liberation, etc., etc., appear to be the outgrowth of insanity. The policy of the C.P.G. was a malicious caricature of those ideas of the first post-war years which Lenin characterized as “ultra-Leftist infantile maladies” and which led to the founding of the Communist Labor Party of Germany. However, the C.L.P.G. could not be denied a certain revolutionary élan, even if it soon disappeared up the chimney. The bureaucratized C.P.G., on the other hand, lacked any revolutionary élan whatsoever, its leaders defended ultra-radicalism not out of conviction (Lenin’s work against the ultra-Leftists had not remained unknown to at least a number of them), but as obedient marionettes of the bureaucratic center in Moscow.

The C.P. of France functioned in this period as an auxiliary of the C.P.G. It too combatted the Versailles Treaty; it even arranged meetings against the Versailles Treaty with Thälmann as the speaker. Naturally, the struggle against Versailles in France has a more significantly revolutionary character than in Germany and is part of the elementary duties of French communism, for it is after all directed against the bourgeoisie at home. But all sense of proportion was lost in the Comintern campaign, the anti-Versailles struggle of the C.P.F. had no independent character, it was a lifeless attempt to co-ordinate the policy of the C.P.F. with that of the C.P.G., mere theatrics which nobody took seriously, least of all the “anti-Versailles warriors” à la Cachin.

After the C.P.G. had thus contributed to the best of its ability towards lifting Hitler nationalism into the saddle [2], Soviet diplomacy discovered that it had speculated falsely. Re-enforced German nationalism turned to a far lesser extent against France than against the Soviet Union. The foreign political goal of the Third Reich consists in being taken back into the graces of the Great Powers as a pioneer fighter against Bolshevism. Yet, France regards the military rebirth of German imperialism with distrust, and even though it has no great objections to a campaign against the U.S.S.R. as such, a German-Russian war nevertheless threatens France’s domination over the Little Entente. Soviet foreign policy consequently made a turn about of 180 degrees and thenceforth puts its hopes in France. The most important factor hindering a Soviet Russian-French alliance – the Comintern – had long ago become a mere trading commodity in the hands of the Bonapartist Soviet bureaucracy. To the extent that the negotiations with France for an alliance progressed, the now inopportune struggle against Versailles declined; Stalin and his foreign-political pen-holder, Radek, discovered in the status quo of Versailles and the League of Nations erected on it a “refuge of peace”. And in conclusion, the C.P.F. hoisted the tricolor and sang the Marseillaise.

What tremendous historical irony is contained in the fact that the Soviet Union and the Comintern sought to out-howl French imperialism at the time when Hitler trampled upon the “anti-Soviet pact” called the Locarno pact. Several scribes of the Comintern even shed touching tears over the destroyed work of peace of Briand and Stresemann. At the following international conferences, Litvinov appeared side by side with Titulescu as the vassal of France. Molotov again assured the correspondent of Le Temps, the organ of the Comité des Forges, that the Soviel Union would fulfill its contractual obligations towards France it the event of war; indeed, one cannot avoid the impression that the politicians of the Soviet Union are driving France to a belligerent offensive against Germany. When Trotsky, in 1931, excoriated the insane policy of the C.P.G. and revealed the inevitability of the decisive conflict between Fascism and the proletariat, he spoke, among other things, of the fact that – were matters to reach the point of open civil war in Germany and the outcome was uncertain – it would be the duty of the Red Army to stand by for the German revolutionists. Thereupon the journalistic crew of the Comintern raised a terrific cry: Trotsky is provoking a war of intervention and God knows what else. To be sure, comrade Trotsky asked for too much; the Bonapartized Red Army was no longer usable in the struggle for the interests of the German proletariat; but to defend the status quo of Versailles, the “communist” marshalls have no reservations whatsoever. Let us not be misunderstood. We Bolshevik-Leninists have never disputed the right of the Soviet state to conclude an alliance with one capitalist state against the threat of another. Our theses, which appear more than 2 years ago, fully acknowledge this right and comrade Trotsky has expressed the same ideas in numerous articles and brochures. What we guard against with all our strength, however, is that in these negotiations the interests of the international proletariat are unscrupulously traded off. Now, what should be said about the big-mouthed boasting recently contained in Pravda which assures us at every step that the Soviet Union is in a position to defend itself from any attack from the East or the West, by itself and without any assistance from without? What should be said when the foreign-political collaborator of l’Humanité, the organ of the C.P.F., babbles the same way? In l’Humanité of March 10, this adept of Stalin lets loose with the following:

“Has the question been asked, against whom is this threat [Hitler’s march into the Rhineland] aimed first of all? It is without doubt aimed at the U.S.S.R., but after all everybody knows that the U.S.S.R. is capable of defending itself without any assistance from without.”

Up to now, the foreign policy of the Soviet Union and the policy of civil peace of the French, Czechoslovakian and Rumanian Communist Parties which they have realized even before the outbreak of war, has been explained on the grounds that all this is occurring for the sake of preserving the U.S.S.R. Even though this could in no case be considered a justification of the policy of civil peace, it was nevertheless a half-way plausible explanation. But now we learn that it is not at all a question of the U.S.S.R.; it is capable – as Pravda and l’Humanité say, and they ought to know – of defending itself without any aid from abroad. Then it is not a question of the U.S.S.R.; what is it a question of? Molotov assures France of military support by the Red Army, and the French “communists” speak of France’s “just cause” (Cachin in l’Humanité, March 9). Is it, then, simply and clearly a question of French imperialism? The defense of thieving-oppressive French finance capital, its blood-sucking domination of North Africa, Indonesia, Syria, its indirectly exploitative rule of Czechoslovakia and Rumania – is all this a task of the world proletariat? In point of fact, M. Peri accomplishes even this cynicism. In the article of his which we have just quoted, he continues:

“Much more directly are the peoples of Central Europe and the Danube affected by the Hitler threat, peoples who are the confederates [‘associés’; M. Péri might better have written: ‘vassals’] of France, upon the collaboration with whose states France has founded its policy. These are the peoples who will offer the slightest resistance to the adventure of the Nazis. The question must therefore be answered: 1) whether France will permit these powers to be cut off; 2) whether France will permit the war to be launched in the East and Southeast of Europe, a war which will threaten the whole of Europe a few hours later. This plan threatens not only the security of individuals. It threatens the security of all, British security not excepted.”

Let us note in passing that the French Stalinists make it their business to worry not only about the security of their own imperialism, but of British as well. In any case, the Péri article which we have quoted presents a clear-cut picture of how the communo-imperialism of the Third International, even before the outbreak of the new war, puts in the shade anything that the social-imperialism of the Second International had to offer during the World War.

It is not astonishing that the standpoint of French imperialism finds numerous supporters also in the camp of the German emigration. Least astonishing of all is the so-called Party Board of the German social democracy. When the bloody terror set in in Germany in March 1933 and the foreign papers of the Second International wrote about it, the Honorable Wels withdrew, for this reason and upon Hitler’s order, from the Bureau of the Second International. Twice, on March 24 and on May 17, 1933, at the two last sessions of the Reichstag that Hitler permitted the social democracy to participate in, these honorable personages expressed their confidence in Hitler’s foreign policy. And only because Hitler simply refused to permit them to be for him, the Honorable Weis and the Honorable Hilferding now come forward in favor of the interests of the French bourgeoisie, just as they were for the German bourgeoisie from 1914 to 1933. That the C.P.G. emigrants are likewise for France, is founded in the logic of things. Just as the C.P.F. was yesterday an auxiliary of the policy of the C.P.G., the modest remnants of the C.P.G. are today an auxiliary of the C.P.F. The “pioneer fighters” against Versailles, Dawes and Young as the henchmen of Versailles – that is a rude, but by no means undeserved fate for the Piecks, Ulbrichts and comrades. As to the emigrated liberals à la Bernhard and Schwarzschild, things are even simpler. With them it is a question of: “Whose bread I eat – his song I sing.” As for the political dilletantes, the writers Heinrich Mann, Lion Feuchtwanger, etc., who have blundered into this company, one can only wish that they understand the memento left them by the suicide of Kurt Tucholsky. Let us record in passing that in addition – how should it be otherwise? – the Neue Front (organ of the S.A.P.) also makes its bows to the civil peace in France (March 15, 1936).

Fortunately, the civil peace is by no means unanimous. The seed of the Fourth International is already beginning to sprout powerful shoots. Hitler’s march into the Rhineland was its first general test. The French journals fighting under the banner of the Fourth International, Révolution and La Commune, and the organizations behind them (Jeunesse Socialiste Révolutionnaire, Groupe Bolchevik-Leniniste, Parti Communiste-Internationaliste), which we hope will soon merge into a united organization, continued their resolute struggle against French imperialism, for the liberation of the French proletariat and the colonial peoples oppressed by French imperialism. Only with them do we feel ourselves allied, but not with the miserable henchmen of the Comité des Forges, the Blums and Jouhauxes, the Cachins and Thorezes. [3]

It can easily be imagined that the social-imperialists and communo-imperialists will calumniate us, supporters of the Fourth International, as agents of Hitler. L’Humanité has sent up more than one trial ballon in this sense. To lie and calumniate a political opponent out of existence has long been a beloved weapon of all reactionary and oppressive parties. And the Comintern of the period of decline has done all that was humanly possible against the Bolshevik-Leninists in this respect. This does not prevent us from raising our voices, for we know from historical experience that the power of lie and calumny is a limited power, and that the knowledge of truth will prevail.

It is time we sharply criticized and combatted the “policy of national and social emancipation” of the C.P.G. We pointed out the main enemy of the German proletariat is not the victor states of Versailles but the German finance capitalists, the Rhenish-Westphalian big industrialists, the East Elbian Junkers. Back in 1931, comrade Trotsky warned: Hitler’s victory means war against U.S.S.R. The C.P.G. threw all these warnings to the wind and helped Hitler to power by its policy, capitulating to him cravenly and without struggle. And today the foreign apparatus the C.P.G. only stands in the way of the struggle to overturn German Fascism. Don’t these gentlemen really understand that their miserable capitulation to French imperialism must bring the German people to the point of rallying around Hitler, just as the wretched hypocrisy of English imperialism in the Italo-Ethiopian affair first made Mussolini’s raid popular among the Italian people?

Don’t we need what England needs? the embittered Italian asked himself. Don’t we need what France needs? asks the average German. France built the Maginot line and they want to prevent us from stationing troops in the Rhineland? Only that current can hope to win the blinded masses of all countries that takes a stand against the claims of all the imperialists to war and oppression. You will only burn your fingers with the cry of “Agents of Hitler”, Messrs. Communo-imperialist! In the last war, Rosmer and Monatte in France were calumniated as agents of the Hohenzollerns, Karl Liebknecht as an agent of the Czar and Lenin, again, as an agent of the Hohenzollerns. This did not prevent the masses, in the course of the war, from beginning to recognize everywhere their true friends. And if you come to us today with the calumny that we are working in Hitler’s service, we reply: We are neither Germany nor France, neither England nor the U.S.A., we are the international proletariat. For its historical interests, only the supporters of the Fourth International are fighting today. That is why the future belongs to it and to it alone.


Walter HELD
Paris, April 13, 1936




1. England, Belgium and Italy also signed the Locarno Pact; but for our purposes we may confine ourselves to the Franco-German question.

2. Dimitroff’s precursor in the general secretariat of the Comintern, Piatnitsky, went so far as to explain the victory of the Nazis by the fact that the C.P.G. was not sufficiently nationalistic and this idiocy is still current today, when the whole Comintern is already crawling on its belly before the victors of Versailles.

3. A group of radical French pacifists also took a position against their own imperialism. The journal Le Barrage published a manifesto which bore, among others, the signature of the confusionist and French, Marceau Pivert, but also those of such notable writers as Magdeleine Paz and Marcel Martinet. This manifesto says, among other things: “It is necessary that an air pact prevents any possibility of a sudden attack from the air until general disarmament prevents the possibility of any war. It is correct for a regime of equality with regard to the colonies and an equal distribution of raw materials to be realized ... It is also correct for the statute of the League of Nations to be separated from the Versailles Treaty,” etc., etc., in the same style. Although this language (on the French side) seems to be more worthy of respect than the chauvinism of l’Humanité, we cannot, nevertheless, emphasize sharply enough the abyss that separates us from pacifists of this stripe. Revolutionists trust as little in an air pact between imperialist robbers as they did in the recently broken Locarno pact. Nor do they look forward to the prevention of imperialist wars by general disarmament, but rather by the international victory of the armed proletariat over the imperialist robbers. They demand no repartition of the colonies, but the direct and immediate abolition of all colonial oppression. Germany’s economic difficulties do not lie in its lack of raw materials but in its capitalist management, and our concern is not with the reorganization of the League of Nations but with the creation of the united Socialist Soviet Republics of Europe and the whole world!


Last updated on 6.8.2004