Peter Petroff June 1939

Collective Security or Intrigues

Source: Labour, June 1939, p. 30-33;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

The state of tension in Europe may at any moment culminate in a new crisis. People are anxiously asking will it be over Danzig? Morocco? Gibraltar? Jibuti? Greece?

The idea that peace can be safeguarded only through the rapid erection of a strong barrier against aggression is generally recognised. Yet the statesmen cannot find the road which the peoples see so clearly.

“Where there is a will there is a way,” says the proverb. And where there is no will there seems to be no way.

The statesmen of the Democracies, who have exhibited an almost inexhaustible stock of patience and goodwill in their dealings with the overbearing Fascist dictators, show an astonishing lack of those qualities in their negotiations with the peace-loving nations for the establishment of an anti-aggression front.

It is obvious that no effective system of collective security can be established in Europe without the co-operation of the Soviet Union.

This has been recognised “in principle” by the British Government negotiations have been started long ago, but they are moving round and round like the ropemakers wheel leading nowhere.

Russia’s suggestion of a Conference was turned down; her proposal for a defensive military alliance of Britain, France and the Soviet Union coupled with guarantees for the smaller states in East and West was also rejected.

So far the only alternative proposed by the British Government seems to be that the Soviet Union should pledge herself to give “such assistance as may be required” to her western neighbours guaranteed by Britain. In other words, the Soviet Union was asked, in case of Fascist aggression, to limit her activities to whatever role those small states may see fit to assign to her, and to supply Poland and Roumania (hitherto united in an anti-Russian alliance!) with arms and munitions that might at any time be turned against her.

It is hard to imagine that any statesman could seriously expect a Great Power to accept such humiliating conditions.

The Prime Minister’s statement in the House of Commons on May 3 that “H.M. Government would be ready to consider proposals for an exchange of reciprocal assurances with the German Government,” and the pressure on Poland exercised by influential circles in favour of concessions to Hitler in the Danzig question could certainly not be expected to help the growth of Russian confidence in Mr. Chamberlain’s change of policy.

How is this reluctance of the “National” Government to enter into an alliance with Russia to be explained? It was certainly not Russia who failed in her obligations towards Czecho Slovakia in the sordid days of Munich. The Franco-Russian Pact that was then to be torpedoed has since been resurrected – why should it be so difficult to extend it so as to include Britain?

Is this reluctance due to fear of displeasing the Black Dragon of Japan, or to anxiety lest Mussolini’s frown and Hitler’s outcry of “encirclement” might arouse the pro-German Cliveden set and those influential pro-Fascist groups of international finance that are running more than one government in Europe?

Or is it due to the influence of the Vatican, now feverishly working or a second Munich, eager to sell Catholic Poland to Wotan’s Germany and to give to Fascist Italy with a blessing what Mussolini cannot take by force from France?

It is true, the Soviet Union is also a totalitarian One-Party-State. In its undemocratic methods of internal administration and in the tendencies revealed by its recent labour legislation it shows a disquieting resemblance to the two Fascist dictatorships. But of course, it is not those features that deter British statesmen from friendship with Soviet-Russia.

In spite of all similarity of method Russian totalitarianism differs from Fascism entirely in its outlook and objects. The Soviet State is based on the great achievements of the Russian Revolution: nationalisation of industry, the collectivisation of agriculture, the cultural uplifting of the people. In this State where the old aristocracy, landlords and capitalists have been swept away by the revolution like drones in a beehive in autumn, there remains little chance for profit-making for the sharks of international capital. The intensive rearmament of this vast country was achieved without paying due tribute to the international armament ring.

And though this economic system of the Soviet Union; differing as it does from the private capitalism of the rest of the world, is the true cause of Russia’s trustworthiness as a bulwark of peace, it is precisely this system, developed in the victorious Revolution, that causes the hostility of capitalist rulers of the Democracies striving “to prevent Fascist aggression.”

It is these forces of international reaction working behind the scenes that are paralysing all efforts to establish an effective system of collective security.

It is these forces that make it possible for the two Fascist gangster states, bankrupt and rotten through and through as they are, to keep Europe in constant tension and to menace the peace of world, though it is known that they are unable to carry on a major war.

In the struggle against the threat of Nazi world domination the interests of European Democracy and of the British Empire coincide. It was this imperialist interest that actuated Mr. Chamberlain in giving guarantees to Poland, Roumania and Greece. And it was the democratic interest that made the peoples of Europe hail his decision.

But all these commitments involve great liabilities; by co-operation with the Soviet Union and Turkey these guarantees can be made more effective and the liabilities easier to bear.

An Anglo-Franco-Soviet Agreement of mutual assistance would provide a new, sound, basis for collective security and could be extended to all democratic and peace-loving nations of Europe.

The dismissal of the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, M. Litvinov in the middle of the Anglo-Russian negotiations has caused a stir in Europe, arousing joy in Berlin and fears in London and Paris. It was taken for granted that the dismissal of Litvinov signified a radical change in Soviet foreign policy.

However, this was entirely unwarranted and there is no evidence of a new orientation of Soviet policy.

Litvinov never had a policy of his own. Throughout his whole Party career he had been a faithful supporter of Lenin carrying out his instructions blindly. When he succeeded Tchitcherin, the Foreign Secretary of the revolutionary period, and became the Foreign Secretary of the Stalin regime, he was carrying out unflinchingly the foreign policy of Stalin’s Politbureau.

Whether the delay in the negotiations with Britain has torpedoed him, or whether his lack of firmness in these negotiations has aroused Stalin’s discontent is difficult to say. Anyhow, Litvinov’s position had been precarious for a long time, although he was elected a member of the Executive of the Communist Party at the Congress in March.

V. Molotov, the President of the Council of the People’s Commissars, who has now taken over Foreign Affairs, is also an old Bolshevik with some revolutionary traditions and consequently an Anti-Fascist. But he, too, will not indulge in a policy of his own. This “other end of Stalin’s telephone” (as I nicknamed him in Moscow, when he was secretary of the Executive Committee of the Communist Party) will meticulously carry out all the decisions of Stalin’s Politbureau of which he is a member.

Should the blunders of Western diplomacy force a change of its foreign policy on the Soviet Union this will certainly not be caused by the change in the Russian Foreign Office.

At all events, Russia has more vital interests in Eastern Europe than the two Western Democracies and she certainly commands sufficient military and economic strength to defend these. The passive role assigned to her by some foreign Mandarins and Church wardens may not always suit her. And a more active policy both in the Black Sea area and in the Baltic region may be expected.