Peter Petroff June 1936
Source: Labour, June 1936, p. 251;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
All the world over the Labour Movement has always been fighting for peace between nations. Its energies have been directed towards the elimination of the causes of war.
Now the peace movement has taken deep roots amongst all classes of the population. The experiences of the last war and the recognition that a new world war might mean the destruction of European civilisation; that air bombs and poison gas would wipe out whole cities, that germs would spread cholera over large areas, that millions of killed, maimed and blinded men, women and children would be the outcome – this recognition makes the peoples of Europe, where they have a voice, clamour for peace.
However, the preaching of peace does not necessarily further the cause of peace. Not everyone who says, Lord, Lord, goes to heaven. Pacifists and Socialists who have been opposing sanctions or who were clamouring for “equality” for Nazi Germany, demanding Colonial peoples to be handed over to the tender mercy of Hitler or Mussolini have done more harm to the cause of Peace than any fire-eating jingoes.
We are living in a very complex world full of rapid changes. Unfortunately, people are slow to learn and slow to forget, Some people learn slogans by heart, but before they have succeeded in memorising them the slogans are out of date – they then keep on repeating these. Like Ivan, the fool in Tolstoi’s story, his mother teaches him how to express condolence when he sees a funeral – he meets a wedding and repeats his funeral slogan.
During the last war the slogan “the enemy stands in your own country” was correct from the point of view of the international working class. Before some people had understood it, the war was over. Now, when Fascism has come as a new factor into world politics when conditions have radically changed and the enemy of peace stands in the Fascist countries, these good people are enthusiastically repeating our old slogan, now obsolete, as the latest truth.
When Germany was a free Republic seeking peace, cultural advancement and social progress we demanded equality of status for the German people. Now, when Germany is ruled by Nazi gangsters, when every concession to these gangsters actually means a blow to the German people some “Socialist” wiseacres repeat the obsolete slogan “equality” oblivious of the fact that Nazi Germany is not Republican Germany.
Socialist foreign policy cannot be based on mere pacifism nor capitulate before a ruthless dictator’s threats of war. Socialists have to face realities and act in accordance with the interests of the working-class.
Marx and Engels did not always take up a “pacifist” point of view – during the Crimean war they were in favour of a defeat of Tsarist Russia. History proved them right; the defeat of Tsarism in the Crimean War paved the way for the liberation of the peasantry from serfdom precisely as the defeat of Prussia in 1806 had led to the abolition of serfdom in that country. One of the points in the foreign policy of the First International, in which the British Trade Unions played a great part, was the liberation of Poland. For Tsarist-Russia was then the “international gendarme,” the “public enemy No. 1,” to use a modern phrase.
Now Fascism that has barbarised half of Europe has set up up the Moloch of War as an idol to be worshipped by the young wer-wolves it breeds. Obviously to destroy the Moloch of War Fascism has to be outlawed, isolated, brought to its knees.
Yet Mussolini is allowed to carry on a ruthless war with poison gas, incendiary bombs, and all the horrors of modern “civilisation” against an unarmed people, and to humiliate the League Nations; now – drunk from blood – he is threatening Britain and imposing his will on Austria, Hitler was permitted to use the resources of Germany and other countries in order to build up an enormous war machine, and to remilitarise the Rhineland; now he is threatening Europe with a war of destruction.
The French and British Governments who, in 1933, concluded with the two Fascist desperadoes the Four-Power-Pact. Those French Socialists who then declared they would “shake the bloody hand of Mussolini in the cause of peace?” Those who concluded or supported the Anglo-Nazi Naval Pact? The Russian Government that in proven friendship with Fascist Italy is supplying Mussolini with oil and trading with Hitler on a Large scale? The Laval Government that acted as Mussolini’s catspaw in the League of Nations?
British bankers who are supplying Hitler with credits? Those newspapers and politicians (pacifist and non-pacifist), who, during the last three years, have been carrying on campaign for the re-armament of Nazi Germany and for a free hand for Mussolini, opposing sanctions and measures of defence by democratic countries? Those who demanded in the House of Commons “Trust Hitler? or “take Hitler’s proposal at their face value?” All these apostles of peace have to shoulder their share of responsibility for the present situation!
It is a dangerous illusion to expect the League of Nations which condones Mussolini’s barbarities in Abyssinia will be position to protect the Soviet Union and France against Hitler’s barbarities. “Peace is indivisible?”
But it is an equally dangerous illusion to expect salvation from an all-embracing League of Nations including Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and the Black Dragon of Japan.
The League of Nations can be effective as an international super-structure of democratic states. It must he supported by the free will of self-governing nations. Based upon rotten Fascist dictatorships it would be impotent and soon degenerate into a caricature.
International agreements such as limitation of armaments become futile unless their fulfilment is guaranteed through democratic control by representative bodies, public meetings and a free press in each of the member states.
The League of Nations would be infinitely stronger with Mussolini outside than with Hitler inside. It is essential to see things as they are: Europe is divided into two camps – peaceful democracies on the one side, Fascist dictatorships on the other. The Soviet Union which occupies a special position is a peace-loving country and thus sides with the democracies. Only by their combined weight can the peace-loving countries prevent the Fascist countries – who fortunately are bankrupt – from plunging Europe into war.
However, the world is drifting towards war. This can be prevented only by action. By pooling their forces the peace-loving countries can impose conditions on the aggressors and potential aggressors. This implies in the first place that Mussolini should be prevented from imposing her barbarous rule on Abyssinia and that Hitler should be prevented from fortifying the Rhine, and that democratic rule be restored in Austria.