Max Shachtman


In This Corner

The Diplomatic Double-Cross

(23 December 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 94, 23 December 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Although the second World War has been on for more than three months, it would be a mistake to suppose that the present division of the two camps and their supporters is so fixed that the line will not be crossed in either direction for the duration of the fighting. Quite the contrary. One of the reasons why large-scale hostilities have been so slow in developing between the two camps is that each of them is rather reluctant to engage the other decisively before having exhausted all possibilities of further alignment and realignment. Both sides are making desperate attempts to cajole or coerce into alliance those countries which have not yet definitely committed their sympathies and those which have committed them but not very firmly.

More plainly, at no time in modern history has the dirty diplomatic game of duplicity, of double and triple cross, been played so feverishly as today. At no time has trust of the peoples been so cynically abused, their ideals and aspirations so cunningly subverted, their lives so cold-bloodedly used as pawns, as at the present.

Take the single case of Stalin’s invasion of Finland.

The Italian fascists, for example, worked up a veritable passion over the war, organized semi-official pro-Finnish demonstrations, and even sent or promised to send a few airplanes to the Finns. Why? Because of their devotion to the sacred cause of national independence and the sovereign integrity of small nations? The sad ghosts of Ethiopia and Albania would laugh out of court anyone stupid or cynical enough to ascribe such lofty motives to Mussolini.

Despite his uneasy alliance with Hitler, Mussolini knows that the Nazis and, for that matter, Stalin, have a yellow eye on the Danubian and Balkan countries. His “gesture” to Finland is Mussolini’s way of telling Moscow and Berlin: “Keep your dirty pig’s snout out of my cabbage patch” (as Stalin would say). “Or else, please see to it that I get another patch, else I may yield to the ardent advance of my Anglo-French suitor.” At the same time, he is saying quite unsubtly to countries like Rumania, Yugoslavia, Greece and Turkey: “Resist the Germans; resist the Russians; you will find in me a real ally and protector. The help I merely promise to Finland will be very substantial in your case.”

Much the same practical objective is pursued by England and France. To be sure, one of the aims – by no means without importance – of the democratic demagogues is to exploit Stalin’s criminal invasion for the purpose of discrediting the name of communism in the eyes of the masses, who are rightly outraged by the latest abomination of the Kremlin gangsters. The demagogues of course know that Stalin and his acts have as little in common with communism, with revolutionary Marxism, as Hitler has with socialism, but this does not prevent them from making the most out of the situation for their own reactionary ends.

While England and France are just as little concerned with the right of self-determination as Italy (see India, Indo-China, etc.!), they are interested in blackmailing or blackjacking the Hitler-Stalin alliance into two parts. For a series of reasons that need not be dwelled upon here, they did not succeed in getting Hitler to play the role of “super-Wrangel”, of spearhead of the imperialist intervention into the Soviet Union – at least not at this stage. If they could isolate Hitler and make him their tool without the expense and risk of a world war, so much the better. Hence the alternate wooing and threatening of Hitler’s Moscow partner. An example of the wooing was what was tantamount to the British whitewash of Stalin’s invasion of Poland, much to the discomfiture and anger of the ludicrous remnants of the Polish “government” in France. An example of the threatening is the way England and France have “rallied” to Finland. While practically nothing is excluded from possibility in these hectic and changeful times, it is most unlikely at the present stage that the “democracies” will launch a war against Stalin.

The British promise of material aid to Finland, like the farcical expulsion of Russia from the League of Nations, has primarily different aims for the moment. The countries of Southeastern Europe are teetering uncertainly between the German and the Anglo-French camps. The miserable, reactionary bourgeoisie of these countries is saying to itself: If England and France do as little for us as they did for Poland or are doing for Finland, then we might as well go over as servants of Hitler before he crushes us completely and dismisses us even as servants. The “democratic” gestures of aid to the Finnish bourgeoisie are calculated to reassure the Balkan vassals of London and Paris, to encourage greater resistance to Hitler’s encroachments.

At the same time, Stalin is being warned: Don’t go much further; don’t tighten your alliance with Hitler. We are still capable of making it hot for you, if not today then tomorrow, unless you break with Berlin and join us, as we proposed last August.

The warning is not entirely purposeless. But Stalin will part with Hitler only when Hitler has ceased to be a menace to him. And Hitler will cease to be a menace only if the “democracies” reduce his military capacities by a series of successful battles.

Like Chamberlain, Roosevelt is not only warning Stalin to break with Hitler, but at least as important as that, he is warning him not to make an alliance with Japan for the subjugation of China, which would temporarily protect Stalin’s eastern flank and turn over most of China to the Japanese – to the exclusion of American imperialism. At the same time, Ambassador Drew tells Tokyo that Washington will not tolerate an alliance with Moscow at the expense of “China” (read: of U.S. imperialist interests in China).

As always in such cases, Finland is a mere pawn of all the imperialist bandits, and its cause a pious fraud on their lips. Not only its socialist interests but its democratic right to independence are defended in reality only by us revolutionary internationalists.

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