Karl Radek

The Barrel Organ

(June 1935)

Source: From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 15 No. 23, 1 June 1935.
Scanned, prepared and annotated for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

Those who expected that Herr Hitler would condescend to answer, in his speech,[1] the questions put to him by a number of states, have been mistaken. On the other hand, those have proved right who were convinced that Herr Hitler would season his rather insipid speech with a large dose of anti-Soviet pepper.

Herr Hitler’s speech took over two hours to deliver, but it contained no answer to the question put by the British and French diplomatists as to the return of Germany to the League of Nations. What Herr Hitler said was that he was ready to return to the League if the League Covenant were detached from the Versailles Treaty,[2] if Germany were given colonies and if Germany were, in general, accorded complete equality of status. What this equality of status means was not said, thus permitting Herr Hitler to put forward new conditions at any time he pleases.

The question as to what attitude Germany would take in respect of a system of collective security was answered by Herr Hitler by a philosophical question: what is a collective system? When he rejected the Eastern pact of mutual assistance[3] he knew very well what a collective system of security was; he knew that it consists of certain well-defined obligations, accepted by a group of powers or by all powers, and entailing certain well-defined consequences in case of a breach. Now, however, Herr Hitler has forgotten the meaning of this word and he has also forgotten what interference with affairs of other countries means, although in his speech he told the world how the Soviet Union has always since the birth of Christ interfered with the affairs of the German state. All these things are, of course, merely cheap excuses which can deceive no one for, although Herr Hitler does not know what a collective system of security is, and although he sneers at the obligations based on such a system, he yet tells us which collective treaties he is prepared to accept and which he rejects.

He is quite prepared to abide by the Locarno Treaty[4] and even to strengthen it by a Western air pact, for such a pact would cover Germany from the west should it attack the east. But when it comes to effective treaties guaranteeing security in the East he cannot consider such a thing for a moment. Of course, Germany has no warlike intentions in the East, and Germany’s policy is in general a tissue of pacific intentions, but the East by its very structure must inevitably go through certain upheavals, and in this case the Nazi lamb might be drawn into the struggle with the bears and wolves of the East.

Very soon a conference on the Danubian problem will be held in Rome. What is the German attitude to this conference? Herr Hitler declares that in future Germany will not attend any conferences unless she has taken part in the preparation of the agenda. Herr Hitler professes not to know what interference with the affairs of Austria means. He is tormented by doubts whether, for instance, the organising of an armed rising in Vienna or the assassination of a Prime Minister in his office might be considered as interference.[5]

But if one comes out with such a very negative speech one must, of course, offer the aged aunts in the British House of Lords a sedative dose. So Herr Hitler very definitely declared that Germany had no intention of giving up any part of her armament programme, yet picked out from among the various proposals, made at various disarmament conferences by various people, certain suggestions purporting to be in the interests of peace. Thus Herr Hitler was quite ready to give up submarines if everybody else did so as well. Herr Hitler could easily give such an undertaking because he knew perfectly well that neither Japan, Italy nor France would give up submarines. Herr Hitler is prepared to shoot with guns of the smallest bore because this is certainly much more pleasant for the men killed by those guns. Herr Hitler is also prepared to admit that the best solution of the problem of aerial warfare would be the prohibition of gas and incendiary bombs. This excellent solution is generally recognised; a fact which did not in the least prevent Germany from creating a tremendous industry in preparation of a coming gas war.

No less clumsy than this parody of pacifism was Hitler’s attempt to set Great Britain and France against each other. He repeated over and over again that he honoured and loved France and was very grieved indeed at the lack of reciprocity. As to Great Britain, he declared that he had no intention of competing with Great Britain on the seas and that he has always been of opinion that Great Britain must not be disturbed in her job of ruling the waves. He only wanted a modest 35 per cent of the British navy, that is, just as much as Great Britain keeps in the home waters in peacetime. The question whether the aerodrome built on the isle of Sylt, in the North Sea, was to serve as a basis against Honolulu or against Great Britain was not mentioned by Herr Hitler, although the Danish press was full of detailed descriptions of the elaborate works built by Germany on this island and directed exclusively against Great Britain.

That in such a speech Herr Hitler was bound to make an attack on the Soviet Union we have already said. But reality surpassed our expectations... surpassed them in respect of emptiness, of lowness of level. Herr Hitler declared that the antagonisms between National Socialism and Bolshevism were insurmountable. If Herr Hitler had not enlightened us, the whole world would probably have been a prey to doubt as to whether there is any difference between the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is putting Socialism into practice, and the dictatorship of finance-capital, which attempts to save the rule of the iron and coal magnates by terrorist means. But the level of the proofs adduced by Herr Hitler are strongly reminiscent of the Munich beer-gardens. Only if one has emptied many glasses of beer can one regard the wedding of a Nazi potentate (expenses paid by the State Treasury) and the presentation of a house, a diamond tiara and a yacht to the bride as a sign of the growing wealth of the German people and regard the concentration camps in which the champions of the German masses are languishing as being the elimination of class antagonisms.

To give humour its due, Herr Hitler has put forward the following suggestions, half demands, half theses:

All attempts at easing the tension existing in international relationships will be sterile as long as no measures are taken against the poisoning of public opinion by irresponsible elements in the press, on the screen and on the stage.

However leniently one may regard these statements of Hitler, it should yet be said that such an attitude in a man responsible for the policy of the German government is the best means of worsening the relations between the Soviet Union and Germany. Herr Hitler certainly aimed at worsening these relations, but he was much mistaken as to the results he expected to derive. He did not succeed in making the Soviet Union appear as the author of the increasing menace of war. Only a few days ago Mr Eden,[6] Britain’s Lord Privy Seal, said quite frankly in his speech at Fulham[7] that he did not believe the German General Staff took these fairy tales of Hitler seriously, and on 16 May even The Times, the staunchest supporter of rapprochement between Great Britain and Germany, had to admit in an editorial:

That if any country in Europe has any grounds at all for fearing invasion, or the threat of invasion, it is Russia – and the territories that lie on the path between her and Germany. Passage after passage in Hitler’s famous work, Mein Kampf, makes no concealment of Germanic expansionist aims in that direction. The Führer’s book is still a kind of lay bible to young Germany; and it is an enemy to confidence in Eastern Europe.

The Times is mistaken if it thinks that Hitler’s book is a bible for the whole of young Germany. But The Times is quite right in saying that Hitler’s attitude is the source of the lack of confidence in peace in Eastern Europe. But Eastern Europe is linked up with Western Europe, and Herr Hitler could convince himself that this lack of a sense of security in Europe did not lead to a consolidation of the German position but induces the threatened nations to take measures for their own defence. Herr Hitler is profoundly shocked by these measures, but that will avail him little. His policy is the main reason for European armaments and the main reason for the war menace in Europe. The German nation is less in a position to bear these burdens than other nations. Only a few days ago the Vice-President of the Reich Bank wrote that Germany’s armaments will avail her little if her people break down under their burden. Herr Hitler has decided to go his own road, the road of preparation for war. On this road the German fascists will find only disaster. If it were only Herr Hitler’s party that is involved, we should survive the loss – but unfortunately it is the German nation which will have to pay for this policy, and we wish the German nation from the bottom of our hearts a better fate than that which the policy of German fascism is preparing for it.

* * *

Notes by the Marxist Internet Archive

1. Hitler gave a major speech on foreign policy to the Reichstag on 21 May 1935. This was in response to a meeting of British, French and Italian leaders in Stresa on 11 April 1935 which upheld the Locarno agreement on West European borders (q.v.), to the recently-signed Franco-Soviet pact of mutual assistance, and to the League of Nations’ condemnation of Germany for its reintroduction of military conscription.

2. The Covenant of the League of Nations was Part I of the Treaty of Versailles. The text of the treaty can be found via firstworldwar.com.

3. Talks commenced in late 1933, largely on Soviet initiative, aimed at an agreement that would help preserve peace in Europe, with the intention that Poland, the Soviet Union, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania would be parties to a treaty of regional mutual assistance. The Soviet pacts with France and Czechoslovakia resulted from these talks.

4. A series of seven treaties were signed at Locarno in October 1925 in an attempt to reinforce the post-First World War settlement in Western and Central Europe and to normalise relations with Germany. It guaranteed Germany’s western frontiers, but allowed for negotiations in respect of its border with Poland.

5. A reference to the assassination of Engelbert Dollfuss (1892–1934) by Austrian Nazis, whose party had been outlawed, along with those of the left, under his Austro-Fascist regime.

6. Robert Anthony Eden (1897–1977) was a Conservative MP during 1923–57, and Foreign Secretary during 1935–38, resigning in protest at the National Government’s attitude towards Nazi Germany. He was Foreign Secretary during 1940–45 and 1951–55, and Prime Minister during 1955–57, resigning in the aftermath of the Suez débâcle.

7. A district of South-West London.

Last updated on 26 July 2016