Peter Petroff, Labour, May 1939

The Road to War

Source: Labour, May 1939, p. 10-13;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Europe stands at the verge of the abyss. The danger of war is growing from hour to hour. Millions stand by, arms in hand. Feverish preparations are in progress everywhere. All human activity is overshadowed by the menace of war.

The peoples do not follow this path blindfolded. They are fully aware of the horrors war would bring over the lives of every man, woman or child. Everybody knows that European civilisation is at stake.

Just as the hospitable cottages of a peaceful village would quickly be turned into anxiously guarded fortresses when a couple: of armed madmen were known to be at large, so the peaceful nations of the world have been compelled to put bolts to their front doors and iron screens to their windows since Hitler, Mussolini and their puppet Franco began to run amok.

It should not be forgotten that before the outbreak of the Brown Plague in Germany, there existed no danger of war in Europe.

Since the capitalists of Germany have gone gangster, have barbarised their own state and combined forces with black Fascism of Italy, the peace of Europe is threatened.

The misfortune was that the democratic peoples did not realise for a long time the danger to their own lives and liberties emanating from the Fascist dictatorships. And the magnates capital hailed the Fascist dictatorships as a means of breaking the back of the working class, so they supported the dictatorships to the detriment of their own countries.

In 1933-1934 it would have been an easy matter for the League of Nations to lay down the law and establish conditions that would have brought the enslaved peoples of the gangster States back to civilisation – internally and externally.

But many of those who had acquiesced in the injustices done to the peaceful German Republic suddenly began to clamour for “equality of rights” for aggressive Nazi Germany. Peculiar pacifists were shedding tears over that poor unarmed country.

While the democratic Weimar Republic had been continually threatened with “sanctions,” the aggressive Nazi State was permitted to denounce clause after clause of the Versailles Treaty to re-arm by air, land and sea, to repudiate debts, fortify the Rhineland, barbarise the Saar, and to grow into a serious menace to peaceful neighbours.

The aggressors learned that aggression pays.

Mussolini’s aggression and rape of Abyssinia was not seriously contested by the League of Nations; soon the conquest was de jure recognised although not de facto attained.

In Spain, Franco’s insurrection against the lawful democratic government was cynically supported by Germany and Italy with the connivance of the “non-intervening” democratic powers. As a result a new Fascist autocracy was established threatening Gibraltar and the vulnerable Southern border of France.

At the very hour when German soldiery were invading Austria, the Nazi ambassador Ribbentrop was feasting with members the British Government in London.

Munich followed. Having been presented with part of Czecho Slovakia, Hitler soon took the rest.

Then the waves of popular indignation against Nazi aggression all over the world reached high water-mark.

The British Parliament was assured that the Government would now leave the submerged islet of “appeasement” and embark on the still seaworthy craft, “Collective Security.”

Mussolini’s crafty realism was not misled by any words spoke in Birmingham or Westminster.

Britain’s pact with Poland had taken the initiative from his axis partner. Mussolini thus found it incumbent upon himself to make a move.

His attempted bluff against France had not come off and he looked out for an easier victim.

He thought that an act of aggression against a friendly nation in the Adriatic would not be too risky. Naval units that happened to be on Easter visits to Italian ports would serve as useful hostages for British non-interference.

Mussolini did not deign to conceal his preparations. On Good Friday he struck. Albania’s call for help addressed to the British Government could not reach the shores of the Scottish fishpond in time. Though the Albanian Minister in London was in touch with his government to the last moment, poor Mr. Chamberlain was still in vain “awaiting a communication on recent events from the British Minister at Durazzo” when addressing Parliament on April 13.

Albania became an Italian colony. “I well believe that if our fleet had been concentrated in the Ionian Sea the Albanian adventure would never have been undertaken,” remarked Mr. Churchill in the debate.

The Munich Agreement had led to the destruction and enslavement of Czecho Slovakia. The Anglo-Italian Agreement involved the recognition of the non-existent conquest of Abyssinia; the condoning of the Fascist invasion of Spain; it has now led to the rape of Albania.

When Parliament rose for the Easter recess the impression had been created that the policy of “appeasement” was as dead as a doornail and that the Democracies were heading full steam onward towards collective security in order to stop aggression.

However, Mr. Chamberlain, seems to be in a mood to forgive his erring brother seventy times seven times.

Mussolini had solemnly disclaimed any desire to modify the status quo in the Mediterranean area – but he changed it by his annexation of Albania. Mussolini had solemnly promised that at the end of the Spanish Civil War all remaining Italian volunteers would forthwith leave Spanish. Territory – now he is sending more soldiers and more guns to Spain. Yet Mr. Chamberlain still clings to the Anglo-Italian Agreement!

Europe is now faced by a situation of imminent danger. Emboldened by the inaction of the Democracies the two gangster States and their new-born Spanish cub stand like bloodthirsty, tigers ready to jump on any prey that comes handy.

Consequently the British and French Governments were obliged to extend a guarantee, such as given to Poland, to Greece and Roumania in order to stave off further aggression.

But the Balkans and Poland’s Western frontier are not the only danger spots in Europe. Though the Civil War is over – or rather because it is over and Franco has been put in the saddle – Spain may yet become the cradle of the next European war.

However, war can be prevented! This can be achieved by the establishment of a virile system of collective security based upon the active co-operation of Britain, France and Soviet-Russia round which all democratic and peace-loving nations would group.

The pre-requisite for this is the re-establishment of confidence which was completely destroyed by “non-intervention,” by the betrayal of Munich, by the policy of “appeasement.”

This is a difficult task in view of the qualities and past policies of some of the governments concerned. The present Polish Government for instance with its anti-semitism, its Fascist leanings, its oppressive methods against the peasantry, surely does not by its own records command popular sympathies abroad – nor at home either. The fact that the Anglo-Polish Agreement stipulates that Poland’s friendship with Germany is not to be affected by that instrument, does not help overmuch in the re-establishment of confidence.

Nevertheless the stumbling block is not the Polish Government’s fear of Russia (partly offset by the attitude of the Polish people), nor the question of Bessarabia, nor differences between Balkan states.

It is the hostility of the pro-Fascist clique in the British and French capitalist class towards co-operation with Russia; it is the activity of certain influential reactionary circles who are still working for economic co-operation and dreaming of a Four-Power-Pact with the Fascist states that stand in the way.

Hitler and Mussolini greet the efforts to establish a Peace Bloc against aggression with a demagogic outcry of “encirclement.” That need deter no one. The Fascist aggressors ought to be “encircled” and put under some form of international quarantine. It is not true that Hitler or Mussolini have the willing support of their peoples in their adventures. If their aggression leads to encirclement,” the peoples will blame only their brutal “Fuehrers.”

The knowledge that the aggressive policy of the Fascists leads their countries into catastrophe will strengthen the opposition to the oppressive regime.

It is obvious that the state of tension and all-round mobilisation now prevailing throughout Europe cannot be maintained indefinitely. But it can be ended only in two ways: By sliding into the catastrophe of war, or by the breakdown of the Fascist régime in Germany and Italy.