Peter Petroff, Labour, November 1939

Closing Hitler’s Road to the East

Source: Labour, November 1939, p. 156-160;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

That the Nazi regime in Germany earlier or later would engulf Europe in war was obvious, yet international capital continued supporting the Nazi State.

On the very eve of the war ships and war materials were sold to Germany and millions of Czech gold were handed over to the Nazi robbers.

The accumulated crimes of Nazidom have made it evident that the whole fabric of European civilisation is threatened.

The War has commenced.

France and Britain were compelled to meet the onslaught of Nazi barbarism. Like the Roman Wall and the Chinese Wall in ancient times the Maginot Line has been built to ward off barbarian hordes. Here the sons of Democracy stand on guard, while the British navy sweeps the bloodstained Swastika flag off the seas.

No great battles have as yet been fought on the Western front. The Nazi hordes stand undecided facing the wall of steel. Behind them the starving enslaved millions of the German people are being lashed on by the whips of the Gestapo to unceasing toil feeding the war machine.

The naval, military, economic and financial superiority of the Democracies is overwhelming. Terrible ordeals, days of darkness, may be in store for us, but the final victory of Democracy over Nazi barbarism is not in doubt.

Those forces of capitalism which supported Nazism in the past are beginning to fear the Nemesis. They are scared of the inevitable decisive victory of their own countries over the gangster-ridden German State. They fear that together with the Nazis the magnates of capital will be swept away and the gate will be thrown wide open to social progress.

Hence the curious support of any peace stunt from whatever quarters it may come. Hence the abominable intrigues for reinstating in Germany some degenerate Hohenzollern prince, destroying the Republican form of government that even Hitler dared not touch.

These sinister tendencies have been strengthened by the developments in the East of Europe.

Ever since the first Nazi successes in the policy of expansion Hitler looked upon Eastern and South-Eastern Europe as his exclusive domain. If the small Baltic States were from the outset regarded as Germany’s colonies, the Balkans and the States of Central and Eastern Europe were to become her dominions. Thus ensured of a ready supply of Polish flax and timber, Hungarian wheat and Rumanian oil, Hitler might see himself in his dreams well advanced on the road towards world domination. Side by side with the British Empire a new Nazi Empire would arise strong enough one day to challenge the West.

Encouraged by the support from the capitalist world that hailed Nazism as a bulwark against Bolshevism and Revolution, Hitler expected to find no serious resistance on his path. Munich confirmed him in his belief. When this calculation proved wrong Hitler rushed into the arms of his “arch enemy” Stalin.

If he could not dominate the East having the British Empire for his neighbour in the West, Hitler thought he might as well start by dominating the West accepting Stalin as his Eastern partner – for the time being.

Stalin, undeterred by considerations of principles, ideology, honour, seized his chance. Had he not acted successfully while his internal rivals Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev were flying in the clouds and making plans? Why not repeat the manoeuvre on larger scale! Like Hitler he did not believe that the Western Democracies would go to war on any provocation.

For a long time Stalin had been haunted by the nightmare of a simultaneous war of Germany and Japan against Russia with the open or veiled support of the Western capitalist powers. That ghost might now be laid.

Stalin was pleased to encourage Hitler. Ribbentrop was received with royal honours. Swastika flags were exhibited. The Horst Wessel song was entuned. The trade agreement was soon followed by a solemn Non-Aggression Pact. Hitler was as pleased as Punch.

While Hitler’s hordes were conquering Poland, Stalin – a recent convert to Pan-Slavism – sent the Red Army to liberate the Slav brethren. Eastern and Southern Poland was occupied. Hitler’s road to the Balkans, to the Ukraine and the Black Sea was closed.

When the Western Powers declared war on Germany, Stalin, convinced of Germany’s debacle, handed back to Hitler all Polish territories west of the Curzon line.

Goering’s peace offer to the Western Powers roused Stalin’s suspicions. He hurried to cash the bill. The Baltic States were to be the next dish in Stalin’s meal.

Hitler was eager to establish a strong basis in order to work for supremacy in the West. Was it Stalin who suggested to him that this might be attained by gathering in all Germans from the Baltic States and South-Eastern Europe settling them in a compact mass?

At all events this idea became Hitler’s latest obsession. If “lebensraum” in the East was closed to him by his newly-found friend, why not try to gain new living space in the Netherlands, in France and Spain? Anyhow his partner Stalin must be glad to see the Baltic barons evicted from a territory he considers Russia’s by right.

Estonia and Latvia, for over a century a part of the Russian Empire, are certainly not inhabited by Russians. Ethnologically they belong together with Finns, Hungarians and Turks to another race. But the Soviet Union includes many nationalities on a basis of equality.

Were it not for the pressure of the German army in 1918 and of the German irregulars (those notorious Baltikum Kæmpfer) who formed one of the roots of the Nazi organisations in Germany, these small peoples might have never seceded from Soviet Russia.

Anyhow their national independence led only to the establishment of semi-Fascist states. In spite of some agrarian reforms the Estonian and Lettish peasants were not fully liberated from the exploitation by the German “Baltic barons,” a caste of oppressors even worse than the Prussian junkers. It was from these Baltic barons that the Tsar’s government drew its most bloodthirsty and brutal tools such as von Wall, von Plehve, Stuermer, and General Rennenkampf. In 1905 Rennenkampf’s punitive expedition drove Lettish peasants by the hundreds into the deep forests, whence they were waging, as “forest brethren” a gallant guerilla war against the Baltic barons.

Geographically Estonia and Latvia are lying astride Russia’s lines of communication. Russia has developed those ports of Reval and Riga, Libau and Windau, Russian trade had made them prosperous. After the Revolution Russia was robbed of her natural outlet and the new states, being mere dependencies of Germany, were a constant threat to her safety. A state of affairs not likely to continue for ever! If Stalin has now seized the opportunity to rectify this anomaly there is no need to shed tears.

As to Lithuania, she has nothing to expect but presents. Vilna, robbed from her by Pilsudski’s flagrant act of aggression, has been restored to her by Russia. The Sowalki district and Memel may one day follow.

In quite a different position is Finland. By her high culture and democratic traditions, upheld under Tsarism though not always in her new state, she gravitates more to the Scandinavian countries. The Russian Revolution gave to Finland her liberty. Unfortunately she soon made herself a cat’s paw of Germany and of General von der Goltz. The Finnish White Terror under her General Mannerheim caused the death of thousands of Finnish workers and peasants. It was a bloody page in the history of the Finnish people.

At present Finland has regained her Democracy. However, her frontier with Russia shows traces of having been drawn by German bayonets and can hardly survive.

The Soviet Union has built a canal connecting the Baltic with the White Sea – a kind of Russian “Kiel Canal.” But the Ladoga Lake through which it passes is partly in Finnish hands. The proximity of the Finnish border to Leningrad as well as certain small islands near Kronstadt are another apple of discord. On all these points an amicable solution can surely be found.

All these developments in the East from the Balkans to the Baltic are certainly unpleasant to German Imperialism.

“Before, Hitler had all the luck in his aggression; since the Russian Treaty the luck has left him,” writes Scrutator in the Sunday Times. “When one thinks of the difficulties under which we might now be labouring but for Germany’s Russian Treaty, one cannot be too grateful to the political incompetence which has made us the present of so many blessings.”

However, there are the influential cliques of those who put capitalist class interests above their countries’ interests, who fear a decisive victory over Nazi Germany and therefore do not want any more blessings. These would like to switch over the war from the West to the East, leave the Nazis alone (or combine with them) and fight Russia.

These “fire-eaters who will charge like bulls at any red flag” as the Evening Standard describes them, are a danger to the Allied cause. Their intrigues are only likely to help in drawing the two dictators together.

* * *

The breakdown in the negotiations between the U.S.S.R. and Turkey is rather a disquieting factor.

It would seem that Stalin’s last-minute attempt to neutralise Turkey in the eventuality of Nazi aggression in the Balkans – through Hungary – was the price he had to pay to Hitler for a free hand in the Baltic.

This manoeuvre has failed. The Anglo-Franco-Turkish Treaty has been signed. Nazi aspirations have received a blow. The cheque by which Stalin paid his debts to Hitler could not be cashed.

But the Russian-Turkish friendship survives, leaving many road open to the future.

And Hitler’s road to the East remains barred.