Peter Petroff, Labour, January 1939
Source: Labour, January 1939, p. 9-11;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
The year 1938 has been a black year for humanity. A year ago, it is true, the symptoms of decay began to appear, but there was still hope that a League of democratic and peace-loving Nations might be galvanised into new life; that by the weight of their aggregate economic and military power it might save the world from barbarisation and catastrophe.
Economic recovery, social progress, cultural advance were the features noticeable in the Democracies – economic instability, social degradation and cultural decay were the attributes of the Fascist states. The superiority of the Democracies was evident to all peoples.
Inside various democratic countries, in spite of the irreconcilable class interests, there seemed to develop a unity of purpose as regards the defence of cultural values attained by mankind that was unique in modern times.
Had the statesmen of the Western Democracies deliberately set out to reverse that position and to create chaos in Europe they could not have succeeded in making a bigger muddle. “Peace,” “Appeasement,” was their battle-cry – what did they achieve?
Dictators now hold Austria, Czecho-Slovakia, the road to the Balkans, Danzig, large parts of Spain and – de jure though not de facto! Abyssinia. They hold the Balearic Islands, the Canary islands, Spanish Morocco.
Democracies hold – three scraps of paper signed by the bloody hands of the Dictators.
Peace? Can the Democracies now tear down part of their defensive lines and hang up the scraps of paper as a protecting talisman the breach?
Certainly not! Now at the end of the year we find Democracy on the run while the bullies of the rotten dictatorships are swinging the whip.
Never before have the Democracies been faced with such dangers; never, since 1914, has peace been in such jeopardy; never has there been such an urgent need for the Democracies to augment their defences, to call upon their peoples for greater exertions.
Yet the unity of purpose is gone, engulfed by acute class antagonism. Those who show such meekness and ardent pacifism when facing the dictators, have become bellicose in dealing with the workers of their own nation. They desire to throw the burden of defence and the consequences of their own policy on the shoulders of the workers, while the magnates of capital are pocketing the profits.
In the Fascist states, where everything is subordinated to the preparation of aggressive wars – the whole people regimented, the Social Services depleted, the standard of living and cultural level reduced – the over-militarisation defeats its own ends. For it reduces the efficiency of the war machine and arouses the hostility of the people.
When the industrial crisis was raging throughout the world, when factories and plant were standing idle, when machines rusting, when the wholesale destruction of “superfluous” foodstuffs was taking place while millions of people were starving, it became plain that capitalist development had led humanity to the brink of a precipice.
While in the United States great strides were made in the attempt to lead the people safely round the precipice by Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” in Germany Fascism was introduced by ruling classes as an alternative to social justice in order to turn the wheel of history back and to divert the trend towards Socialism. The black or brown-shirted Fascist hosts were to act as gendarmes to prevent progress within their countries. Hitler’s “anti-Communist Pact” and Mussolini’s “Four-Power Pact” are designed as an application of this idea in the international sphere.
We have now reached a stage when international capital is striving towards international Fascist reaction as an alternative to social progress and to an international advance towards Socialism.
Is there such an alternative ?
An analysis of the course of history throughout the ages teaches us that, when a phase of human development is drawing to a close when a system of society has reached a stage where a fundamental change becomes imperative – only two alternatives are open.
Either the change comes from within, by radical reforms or revolution, replacing the outlived retarding elements by new forces. In that case the line of progress continues unbroken, happiness is enhanced, productivity of labour and prosperity increased, humanity is lifted to a higher level. The Great French Revolution replacing feudalism by capitalism, the rotten aristocracy by the virile “tiers etat,” is an outstanding example of this upward development.
Or forces working within society for a radical change are too weak. Then a period of barbarisation, of economic and moral decay and degradation sets in, and war may destroy the old civilisation from without. A striking example of the latter development is that which we are witnessing to-day in Germany and Italy. It remains to be seen whether the oppressed progressive forces within the German and Italian peoples will be able to overthrow by revolution from within the forces of barbarisation in time to prevent the destruction of these countries by a war that might turn Germany, Italy and large parts of Europe into a desert.
Repeatedly in human history, when progress was forcibly prevented by internal reaction, a civilisation has been destroyed by wars, result being a migration of peoples. Centuries would pass before a new upward trend in human development became apparent elsewhere. Asia has of yore witnessed many such migrations of peoples holding up human progress for thousands of years.
This then is the alternative which the ruling classes of Europe may bring about in their frantic efforts to prevent the advance of the working class towards a new system of society.
The productive forces developed in capitalist society have outgrown the form of private ownership of the means of production. Fundamental changes are imperative.
The mission of upholding human culture and rebuilding society on a basis of social justice to-day rests with the Labour Movement.