Max Shachtman


In This Corner

Finland – And a Word
About Poland

(6 January 1940)

For a .doc formatted version of Part I click here.

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 1, 6 January 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The ruling class nowadays differs in many ways from the ruling classes centuries ago. In those days, wars of rapine and booty could be carried out, with all their attendant misery for the people, without the creation of great war-myths. Armies were more or less mercenary and the arming of the people for war was not required on anything like the scale demanded by war today.

Modern war requires at least the tacit support of millions. The powers that be would never dare to equip the masses with modern arms without that support. But how acquire it? The masses are suspicious enough as it is – and restless enough. They cannot very easily be gotten to serve as cannon fodder if they are told that the war is being fought for colonial empire or new sources of raw material or fields of investment of surplus capital. They have to be given a more idealistic aim: democracy, justice, freedom, defense of popular rights, struggle against despotism, and the like. Once the masses have been sufficiently confused and poisoned with lies, their masters feel less uneasy about providing them with arms which, as history has showed so often, have the ingenious faculty of shooting no matter what direction they are, pointed in ...

Even Hitler, who rules at home all the weapons of totalitarian terror finds himself obliged to drug his slaves with the propaganda that they are fighting, in the war, for the establishment of “socialism.” Stalin, arch-suppressor of revolution, finds it wise to tell the masses that they are fighting for the “liberation of the peoples.” In the “democracies,” war is being fought, of course, for the “preservation” of democracy and the “independence” of the small nations.

Right now, the war-mongers are having a poison-picnic with Finland. People are literally starving to death amid unprecedented wealth – in Cleveland and not only in Cleveland. That’s a bit of a scandal, you see, and it has to be covered up, especially in face of the fact that the rulers of the United States, who haven’t any money to spare for the prevention of starvation, have hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars for the building up of the biggest war machine this country has ever known. Placed starkly side by side, that wouldn’t look so good. The hue and cry over Finland helps to cover up both.

Starving or well-fed – what does it matter? cry the champagne-and-caviar-stuffed bankers and industrial magnates. The important thing is to prepare to defend ourselves, our women and children and our modest little homes in Newport and on Park Avenue. Look at poor little Finland! How democratic! How brave!

* * *

A Few Words on Poland

These remarks about the war-mongers and poor little Finland remind us about the chauvinistic campaign of the war-mongers about poor little Poland, only a few months ago. How they wailed and gnashed their teeth at seeing that tender little flower of democracy nipped in the bud! Now that the invasion of Poland is over, and they feel they have squeezed all they can out of it for their, war-mongering purposes, they are allowing a slim sliver of the truth about this “democracy” to pierce through the columns of their press.

N.Y. World-Telegram of December 22, 1939, commenting on an article on Poland by Max Nomad, who is one of the best-informed men in this country on the history and conditions of that country. Says Barnes who, be it noted, is himself a bourgeois democrat:

“The war in the name of civilization was undertaken in defense of the Polish government, which had an unsavory record, so far as democracy, social justice and minority rights are concerned. The Polish state gave evidence of the defects and vices of Germany and Russia without whatever virtues these larger totalitarian states may posses in the way of efficiency ...

“Democracy and party government were stifled (by the “Colonels”. – MS). The able military leadership of the pre-1918 days were excluded from the army and amateurs substituted. Marshal Smigly-Rydz, commander in chief of the army last autumn, was, like Hitler, a painter before he was elevated to a high military post. Anti-Semitism was revived and the Jewish population, much larger than that of Germany, was treated brutally.” (Which didn’t prevent the Jewish bourgeois and “socialist” press here from becoming wild-eyed Polish patriots during the invasion!)

“Worst of all was the increasing economic desperation of the worthy Polish masses. Many peasants could not even afford salt. They learned to split a single match into four usable parts. They literally had to replace worn-out steel axes by those fashioned out of stone – like the men of the cave period ...

“When their neighbor, Czechoslovakia, was butchered in 1938, the Polish leaders stood by, eager to snatch their slice of the booty.”

He Can Talk How

It is of course a little safer for Mr. Barnes to speak of Poland in this way toward the end of December than at the beginning of September. Then the war-mongering wave in this country over the question of poor little Poland was at its height, and truth was at a premium. The warmongers were able to increase considerably the poison-content in the mind of the masses.

They are doing the same now about Mannerheim’s Finland. The revolutionary Marxists, who were not Hitlerites when they denounced the war-mongers’ fraud about “poor little Poland” and “poor little (imperialist!) Czechoslovakia” before it, and are not Stalinists when we denounce the similar fraud about “poor little Finland” today, are not only the only ones who must tell the truth to the people, but the only ones who can afford to tell it. And not when it’s “all over” – but in good time.

Max Shachtman

Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 18 July 2018