Peter Petroff, Labour, September 1939

The September Crises 1938-1939

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

The Trades Union Congress this year will assemble again under thick war clouds, with the danger of another betrayal of democracy looming in the shadow.

Last September, the rape of Abyssinia and of Austria by the gangster states was already a fact boding evil for the future. But Spanish democracy was still waging a heroic struggle against the invading Fascist hordes. Czecho Slovakia was still a democratic island in the gloomy death-brooding swamp of Fascism. Albania and Memel were not yet overrun.

The Czecho Slovakian Republic with its almost impregnable strategic frontiers, its splendid well-equipped army, huge arsenals and armament works seemed well prepared to stand as a firm rock against the muddy flood of Fascism. The sympathies of organised Labour throughout Europe went out to her. France and Russia were solemnly pledged to support their ally against Fascist aggression.

However, the notorious Runciman mission was already at work. Sly snares were laid by international capital to turn a nation of men “into a nation of cowards.” The process of demoralisation, of breaking up the democratic Republic from within had begun. While Russia was snubbed and pushed aside, allied France and democratic Britain tore vital foundation stones out of the building of the Czecho Slovak Republic. Finally it was the ultimatum of the British and French Governments delivered during the sinister night of Munich that left the unhappy Republic prostrate before the Nazi invader.

This year a new “September-crisis” centres round Danzig, With Czecho-Slovakia dismembered and devoured, Poland and Hungary, Roumania and Yugo-Slavia are the immediate objects of Nazi aggression.

But Europe to-day presents a different picture. Millions of men stand by, arms in hand; lines of fortifications are fully manned. Armament works are working to capacity. Large scale manoeuvres are held to test possible weak spots. The sky resounds with the roaring of bomber and fighter planes. The British and French navies in close co-operation, a more formidable force than Neptune ever carried before, are guarding the seven seas.

The growing determination to put a stop to Fascist aggression is riveting an increasing number of nations into a “Peace Front.” A British and French guarantee protects Poland, Roumania Greece and Turkey.

Suddenly an obscure Swiss professor of Nazi sympathies, who as League High Commissioner in Danzig had failed to play any part whatsoever – had shown no desire of protecting the Danzig constitution or Danzig citizens, nor raised his voice against the malicious default on the League’s sterling loans to Danzig – blows himself up like the frog in the fable into a personage of international consequence. Herr Burckhardt’s mysterious visit to Hitler gave rise to a not less mysterious “compromise plan” for Danzig that fell upon Europe like a thunderbolt from the blue.

This plan of gradual absorption of Danzig by the Reich, depriving Poland of its free outlet to the sea is a striking parallel to the various plans concocted last year by the Runciman mission. While Herr Burckhardt sent a report to the British Foreign Office, the Polish Government was “left in the dark on the purpose of Professor Burckhardt’s visit to Germany and the nature of any conversations he had there.” (Daily Telegraph, 16th August).

Simultaneously through three different agencies – Count Ciano’s organ, Telegrafo, the Frankfurter Zeitung, the American anti-Socialist, Hamilton Fish – a repetition of the sordid Four-Power-Conference of Munich is advocated with the authority of Hitler and the special blessing of the Pope. In this manner it is hoped to torpedo the political and military negotiations in Moscow.

It is now proved beyond any doubt that in the days of Munich, Nazi Germany was not in a position to go to war. Her precarious economic position and the discontent of the people were paralysing her. Even from a purely military point of view Germany would have been unable to break Czecho-Slovak resistance and to face the possibility of involving Czecho-Slovakia’s allies.

As to Italian assistance – Italy’s intervention on Germany’s side might be a welcome strategic asset to France as was made abundantly clear in the organ of the French general staff, La France Militaire. The penetration of the French army into Northern Italy, where its electric power is generated and its industry concentrated, would have paralysed Italy and given the Italian people a chance of shaking off the yoke of Fascism.

If Hitler’s bluff had been called and he had been sent home empty-handed the Nazi regime in Germany might have collapsed. The danger of European war would have been averted for a long time to come.

However, this would have meant the end of the armaments race. Hundreds of millions of pounds now spent on means of destruction could have been made available for social services. The material and cultural standard of life of the people could be raised. All this, coinciding with the regaining of political liberty by millions of people in middle, Southern and Eastern Europe would have opened the way to a reconstruction of society on Socialist lines.

Such a prospect was not to the liking of the profiteers and oppressors, of the feudal aristocracy and the vested interests of capitalism. Thus they backed the policy of “appeasement” that saved the Nazi regime, intensified the armament race, and inevitably led to a new series of crises. A year after Munich we stand again at the same cross-roads.

Having overstrained their economic resources in their war preparations, the Fascist countries find their economic basis shaken, their financial resources exhausted, their population worn out with fatigue and starvation. Their military power that had reached its zenith long ago is on the decline.

The great Democracies on the other hand are only just beginning to put real energy into the armament race that was forced upon them. Easily they overtake the weary, slaves of Fascism. The Peace Front is extending its basis and drawing closer together. Its pooled economic, financial and military forces will present an overwhelming power capable of smashing any attempt at aggression.

Recognising their position to be untenable the gangster states are launching the plan of a “thirty-days truce,” and of another “Four-Power-Conference” on Munich lines, “to settle outstanding problems.”

Such a precious plan involving the demobilisation of the Democracies and a blow to all hopes of an understanding with the Soviet Union would no doubt perfectly suit the gangster states. It might permit them to swallow another country or two without encountering resistance.

The Labour Movement wishes to rebuild society on a sound basis, it therefore shuns war and destruction.

However, all the experiences with the Fascist states have proved that no agreement or settlement is possible with these states; that every concession made to them serves only as a stepping stone for new and more impudent demands.

No gift of a milliard pounds can “buy” peace and disarmament of Nazi Germany. No control of armaments or of expenditure is possible in a totalitarian state. Where there is no Parliament, no independent press, no freedom of speech, there can be no such control.

But the Labour Movement cannot without losing its soul reconcile itself to the continued existence of slavery in large parts of Europe. It cannot admit that the oppression of Spain, the rape of Czecho-Slovakia, Austria, Memel, Abyssinia, Albania are to continue unchallenged.

It cannot permit the indefinite continuation of the constant menace of war and the ever-growing burden of armaments.

The Labour Movement has long recognised that the road of appeasement is the road to destruction – a road leading to an abyss whence the world may be hurled into war.

The aggressors must be restrained. They must be taught that, after all, aggression does not pay. That aggression will lead to the destruction of those responsible.

By demanding economic and financial measures against the Fascist states, and by a civilising campaign attacking the Fascist regime in the rear, Labour should take the offensive to force the robbers to disgorge their prey.