Peter Petroff, Labour, August 1939

Progress or Slavery

Source: Labour, August 1939, p. 11-14;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Europe is again in the throes of a severe crisis. International tension is becoming a permanent feature.

“Armed peace” is no longer merely a figurative expression, it has become stark reality.

International trade is dwindling. In 1938 it was down to little over 40 per cent. of its 1929 level.

While the productive capacity of the nations is rapidly expanding there is a tendency to reduce the production of “prosperity goods” to a second place as against the production of means of destruction.

Germany, that in 1938 spent 22 thousand million Reichsmarks, on armaments, experiences a severe shortage of machinery and spare parts for those industries working for export and the home market. Thus its normal trade is hampered by lack of high quality goods for export.

This is the reason why, for instance, Germanys export to the Soviet Union shrank from 354 million marks in 1929 to 32 millions in 1938, bringing her import from that country down from 425 millions to 47 million marks.

Thus the Nazi Government through its “armament complex” has reduced Germany, once a prosperous, honest, and hard working member of the comity of nations, to the position of a highwayman whose profession is robbery under arms.

Germany’s noisy claim to what amounts to a first option on the trade of her more defenceless neighbours has no better foundation than the medieval robber knight’s “claim” to part of the goods of merchants and peasants who passed his stronghold.

For, while Germany considers it her “natural right” to grab the agricultural produce and raw materials of Roumania, Hungary, Yugoslavia and other small Eastern and Southern European States, she finds herself less and less in a position to produce those manufactured goods which these countries require in exchange.

In a word, what the “appeasers” and pro-Nazis claim for Germany is the right to plunder!

The talk about the “justified” claims and grievances of Nazi Germany is preposterous. Much ink has been spent, many crocodile tears have been shed about the injustices of Versailles. But the much greater injustices which Germany, as a victor, inflicted on peaceful Soviet Russia in the peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk, and even after that peace had been concluded, are conveniently forgotten.

By that treaty, dictated to Russia in 1918 at the point of the bayonet, Germany tore away Russia’s western and south-western provinces, and attempted to set up the Ukraine as a puppet State under German tutelage.

When Russia had conceded all Germany’s atrocious demands, the Germany armies that had been sent to plunder the Ukraine marched further into Russian territory, occupied the Doniets coal fields, demanded the surrender of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, and wormed their way towards the oil fields of Baku. By a supplementary treaty imposed on prostrate Russia on August 27, 1918, Germany obtained from Russia milliards of roubles in gold and goods.

Versailles was the Nemesis for Brest-Litovsk. While ratifying this atrocious peace on behalf of the Soviet Republic, I had warned the Germans of what would happen.

The enslavement of Czecho-Slovakia, and further aggression in Europe may easily prove a similar boomerang to Germany, throwing her back to the status she had after the peace of Tilsit in 1807.

The need of stopping further Nazi aggression through an effective anti-aggression front is now generally recognised. Unfortunately, negotiations are still dragging on wearily, but a formal warning has been given to Germany by both Britain and France.

However, words do not impress the Fascist mind. Too many crimes of theirs have been condoned and well remunerated. Hardly has the stolen Czech gold been transferred, when Goering’s economic adviser Wohltat hurries do London to ask for more. Like the cat in Krylov’s fable, whom the cook, who has caught him stealing a roast chicken, merely gives a lecture, the Nazis listen to the angry scolding, but continue to devour the stolen grub.

While the League of Nations was going ahead with its work of stamping out the last remnants of slavery in remote corners of Africa, we find actual slavery introduced on a large scale in the heart of Europe. Tens of thousands of Czech citizens have been taken to” is spreading, a rising dark tide, over central Europe. And the re-introduction of actual slavery threatens all the achievements of a century of struggle by organised labour throughout the world.

The intolerable position created in Europe, Asia, and Africa by the acts and threats of the gangster States cannot continue for any length of time. It must lead either to explosion and catastrophe or to the destruction of liberty and human happiness in one country after another.

The prevention of further aggression is of course the only right policy at the moment, and millions of people in almost every country are clamouring for an anti-aggression pact. Such a policy would strike a severe blow at the heart, or rather at the central mechanism, of the gangster States. Their driving force is war fever. Like a steam-roller on steep, slippery ground they cannot stop. If their upward movement is held up they will slide down with increasing rapidity into the abyss.

However, so long as the magnates of international capital by economic concessions and financial aid are supplying fresh fuel to the steam-roller, and putting bricks behind its wheels to prevent it from sliding, armed peace is the best that can be attained.

The Labour Movement in its fight against slavery has to take the initiative in enforcing such economic and financial measures as will cut off the supply of fuel to the Fascist war machine and place the bricks in front of its wheels! The democracies must start an economic offensive.

But the forces of capitalist reaction find themselves in a dilemma.

In the Fascist countries, where every initiative is suppressed, every channel leading to reform stopped up, every safety valve closed, changes can be brought about only by a Revolution.

Not by a Communist revolution: the victims of Fascist dictatorship are not likely to have any longing for another form of totalitarian dictatorship. Socialism and Democracy are the aims that will inspire them with enthusiasm.

The prospect of Revolution in the Fascist countries frightens the capitalists. On the other hand, the Fascist watchdogs of capital have contracted hydrophobia and are apt to bite their masters. The ship of the totalitarian states is sailing straight for the rocks.

Generally, the armament race has created a peculiar problem. It has led to a rapid expansion of productive capacity – new works, new plant, new inventions, rationalisation – to an increase in the productivity of labour. The reversion from “war production” to Peace production “ at the end of the armament race may in a capitalist world create a problem of tremendous mass unemployment, as has been the case at the end of the last war.

The problem of reconstruction of Society on Socialist lines, that was so acute during the world economic crisis, 1930-1933 will then again arise with new force. Large scale public works and an all-round raising of the standard of living will be the only effective palliatives to deal with such a problem.