Arthur Rosenberg

The Collapse of the League of Nations

(27 September 1923)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 62 [40], 27 September 1923, pp. 692–693.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2023). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

”If the League of Nations is not utilized in such a crisis as this, if the nations prefer to go to war rather than avail themselves of the services of the League of Nations, then the League of Nations will have to be dissolved, and Europe will return to the old state of affairs as before the war, with the old diplomatic manoeuvres of one power against the other. We shall have the old policy of international rivalry and competitive armaments again, one group of states will confront another, a fresh war will be prepared, and in the end there will be a general outbreak of war much worse than the last.”

The man who spoke these words on the crisis occasioned in the League of Nations by the occupation of Corfu is Lord Grey of unhappy 1914 memory. Since the great war commenced under the benediction of Grey, this worthy statesman has been working for the reconciliation of peoples and for love of peace, and at present is making himself interesting in England as the champion of the so-called League of Nations idea. The cry of alarm raised by him on the precarious position of the League of Nations was uttered at Falloden on September 7. If Lord Grey were right, then the Corfu affair and the attendant disgrace of the League of Nations would be the most important political event since 1919. For the premises spoken of by Grey have been fulfilled. Italy refused to allow the League of Nations to interfere in her quarrel with Greece. Mussolini relied on the guns of the Italian warships, and the roar of the guns at Corfu drowned the feeble protests of the international diplomatic assembly in Geneva. It would thus appear that Europe has thrown aside the instrument of peace, and now the horrors of pre-war times will return, competitive armaments and competitive struggles of the great powers all over the world, followed by the sure prospects of a second great war.

Although we do not overestimate the political wisdom of Lord Grey, of Lord Robert Cecil, and of the leading articles writers of the British press who wax eloquent over the League of Nations, still we cannot believe these gentlemen to be so stupid as to really believe all they have written and said of late on the League of Nations. For the conditions which Lord Grey claimed would imply the collapse of the League of Nations have already been fulfilled. Is there really no competition in armaments in Europe at the present time, or how shall we designate the condition in aeroplane building between France and England? What object is served by the gigantic military budgets of England, France, and Italy? Has Poland disarmed? Is the Little Entente disarming? Are there no rivalries in Europe today among the great groups of capitalists? Does there not exist a firm bloc of France and her vassals, ready to strike a blow at Soviet Russia or at anyone else, as soon as the Parisian banking magnates pass the word? Preparations for the next great war have been carried on energetically since 1919 in the general staffs of the capitalist great powers and in the conference rooms of the great trusts. The League of Nations has disturbed nobody engaged in this pursuit.

Is the moral bankruptcy of the League of Nations, as revealed within the last few days, then a perfectly unimportant event? Not exactly that! The League of Nations was incapable, right from the beginning, of deceiving the revolutionary working class, but it was a symbol for the terrified petty bourgeois souls of all countries, for those minds who seek any means of escape from the horrors of a second great war, but cannot persuade themselves to recognize that the sole way of escape leads through the extermination of capitalism. The big capitalists knew from the commencement how much the League of Nations was worth, but they know equally well that they require the delusions and easy credulity of the petty bourgeois soul if they are to wield power over the peoples. One of these delusions has now been dispelled, thanks to the events at Corfu and Geneva, end this is in itself a fact not without significance.

The lamentable history of the League of Nations will be remembered in connection with four geographical names: with Upper Silesia, the Saar district, Vilna, and Corfu. The four questions bound up with these places may be divided into two pairs: in Upper Silesia and the Saar district, the League of Nations was active and energetic, Vilna rendered it ridiculous, and at Corfu it perished miserably. It will be recollected that the verdict of the League of Nations decided the division of Upper Silesia, thus deciding the fate of one of the most important industrial districts of Central Europe. The verdict was immediately put into execution, backed up as it was by French bayonets. The League of Nations rules with equal power in the Saar district, where it realized a dictatorship of the sword of unheard of severity, in the name of world peace and justice, and where in the name of the League of Nations, French gendarmes even imprisoned any person venturing to criticize the League of Nations. The League of Nations has been powerful up to now, for it has acted as the instrument of French imperialism; for since America disowned Wilson’s child, and English policy has been paralysed by the economic circumstances already discussed, France has incontestably held the leadership of the League of Nations. All the other elements hanging round the Geneva conferences, the European neutral and border state politicians, the representatives of Latin America and Eastern Asia, all these had no effect on the decisions.

The Vilna affair turned out very differently to the Upper Silesian: In October 1920, the Polish general Zeligovski occupied Vilna and thus anticipated the decision of the League of Nations regarding the fate of this town. At that time the Council of the League of Nations sent a serious warning to Warsaw, but the Polish politicians consigned the note from the League of Nations to the waste paper basket, and the League of Nations finally declared that Vilna belonged of right to Poland. This change is easily comprehensible; for French policy was on the side of Poland. In the Vilna conflict there was some success in at least keeping up appearances.

In the Graeco-Italian conflict, Mussolini was not even obliging enough to keep up appearances. Under other political conditions, and if the French troops had not been in occupation of the Ruhr area, the League of Nations would have perhaps defended itself energetically against Italy. For French interests would not have permitted the Little Entente to be threatened by Italian imperialism. And it is clear that the Italian blow dealt against Greece strikes the Little Entente at the same time. But during the Ruhr conflict, Poincaré cannot risk a conflict with Italy. Thus the most powerful force at present existing in the League of Nations is checkmated in the Graeco-Italian conflict. Mussolini would have had nothing to fear had the League of Nations dealt with the Albanian murder. The League of Nations would doubtless have taken sides with the stronger party in the quarrel between Greece and Italy, just as it did in the quarrel between Poland and Lithuania.

Why then did Mussolini so brutally provoke the League of Nations, if it could do him no harm? Why did he fling a hand-grenade at the unfortunate Geneva donkey, and rip the poor animal to pieces? The reason of Mussolini’s enmity against the League of Nations lies in the social character of the grouping of powers which he incorporates, while on the other hand the enthusiasm of Lord Grey and Lord Cecil for the League is explicable on the same grounds. Fascism, as a social phenomenon, represents among other things a revulsion on the part of the petty bourgeoisie against the democratic-pacifist swindle upon which it has been fed for years. Fascism cannot recognize the authority of the League of Nations, any more than it can recognize the authority of Parliament, for in doing so it would abandon its ideological foundation. The English press rightly emphasizes that Mussolini’s defeat in his conflict with the League of Nations would have signified a catastrophe for Italian Fascism.

Those who have been defeated in Geneva are the groups of European bourgeoisie who believed that they could not only lull to sleep the masses of the population with their pacifist formulas, but could also alleviate the acute conflicts of International capitalist crises by the same means. The sorrow expressed by such papers as the Manchester Guardian at the course taken by the Graeco-Italian conflict is sincere and comprehensible. But there was still something else which suffered defeat at Geneva, and that was international reformist socialism. Every time the gentlemen of the Second and Amsterdam Internationals found an opportunity to philosophize on the world’s situation, they consoled the masses of the workers seeking for a means of escape from the present chaos of capitalist antagonisms, by the hope of a “democratic development” of the League of Nations. This soap bubble has now burst. For when a member of the League of Nations bombards a city belonging to another member, in the midst of peace, and the League of Nations does not venture to interfere, then the League s hopelessly dead, though attempts may be made to galvanize the corpse for a time. The communists follow this drama without sorrow, but also without surprise, for we are aware that the futile measures which dying capitalism has recourse to in a last effort at self-preservation will all share this same fate.

Last updated on 1 May 2023