From New International, Vol.4 No.10, October 1938, pp.291-292.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
IN THE GENERAL SHAMBLES of the Versailles System, it is not hard to recognize also the ruins of the doctrine of collective security. This is not a coincidence. The doctrine of collective security was elaborated by the same imperialist brigands who wrote the Versailles Treaty, and designed by them as one of the ideological props to uphold the status quo established by the Treaty. The two fall, quite naturally, together.
The adherence to the imperialist doctrine of collective security on the part of the reformists and Stalinists has been merely a symbol of their subordination in fact to imperialism itself. Acting as retainers of imperialism, they propagate its ideas in the working class. They have told us that collective security was the means whereby peace might be preserved. The imperialists themselves, more frank and less hypocritical, have added that it was the way in which the status quo of Versailles might be maintained.
To these contentions Marxists have from the beginning replied: first, that collective security will not and cannot preserve peace; but second, that even if it could preserve the peace of the Versailles status quo, that would not be to the least in the interest of the masses, but would simply mean the indefinite continuance in power of one group of imperialist exploiters. The critique of Marxism followed, of course, from our analysis of the internal conflicts of capitalism, which exclude any lengthy social and political stabilization. Driven by these conflicts, one or another of the great powers must try to break through the existing legality, and to accomplish by force a re-arrangement of the world’s resources and territories. And the critique likewise followed from the aim of the Marxists, which is not to submit to any imperialist status quo, but to smash the whole world imperialist system and to achieve a new social order.
Faced by the insurmountable needs of Italian, Japanese and German capitalism, collective security crumbled toward the rout marked by the liquidation of Czechoslovakia. French and British imperialism, confronted with the threat of the loss of part of their own fat possessions, coldly throw one dog after another to the wolves: Manchukuo, the Saar, Ethiopia, Spain, China, Czechoslovakia ...
But suppose they had not done so? Suppose they had “resisted the aggressor” (as they may, of course, yet do) ? What then ? Would that have proved the virtues of collective security, “which has never really been tried”? That would have meant, or rather would mean, the new inter-imperialist war. Italy, Japan and Germany have not undertaken their expansion programs as a sport, or because their rulers like headlines. It is a life or death question for them, as capitalist states in crisis, and consequently they can be driven back only by superior force, by war. But such a war, like the war of 1914-18, is only an imperialist struggle over the re-division of the world. The workers are the enemies equally of both sides in such a war.
Collective security, whether it works or does not work, is the implacable enemy of all the aims and the aspirations of the masses.
THE SAME COUNSELLORS who have ballyhooed the doctrine of collective security have told us that the great issue in the world is that between the democracies and the dictatorships, and have advised us to support the democracies against the dictatorships as the cure for all our troubles. What are they going to tell us now, with democratic Czechoslovakia handed over by democratic France and England to Hitler?
We have replied that the distinction between the democracies and the dictatorships is altogether secondary, that democratic government, such of it as remains, is on the whole the luxury of the relatively satisfied nations, dictatorship the expedient of the hungry nations or nations torn by internal crisis; and we have said that fundamental policies follow not from the form of government but from economic need and interest. The Soviet Union is a dictatorship, and we support and defend it; China and Loyalist Spain are in actuality military dictatorships, and we defend and support them against their enemies; Ethiopia was a feudal dictatorship, and we defended it against Italy. England, France, the United States and Czechoslovakia are democracies, and we oppose them as we oppose the imperialist fascist dictatorships.
Democratic France and England have somehow failed to understand that the great issue is “between democracy and dictatorship”. For some reason, they found no obstacle in their form of government to the sabotage of Loyalist Spain, which, in the beginning at least of the Civil War was an outstanding democracy. And, similarly, when the choice arose between the chance of an agreement with dictator Hitler and the preservation of democratic Czechoslovakia, they wasted no tears in selecting the former. Profits and colonies, after all, are more substantial stuff than governmental labels.
But the Czechoslovakian crisis affords additional comments on the hopes in democracies. Merely the threat of war provided Daladier with his pretext for smashing the Marseilles strike, abrogating the 40 hour week law, and suspending many of the democratic rights of free speech and assembly – faint foreshadowings only of the iron dictatorship which would be pressed down when the war itself begins. And Czechoslovakia, that democracy of democracies, over whom occurs all the democratic wailing, has seen fit to suppress altogether the right of assembly, to submit not merely the press but all private correspondence to censorship, to establish in short a martial law that can be distinguished with the greatest difficulty from the regime of fascism.
The reliance on democratic capitalism, the crux of the policies of reformism and Stalinism, is the most incalculable tragedy. We are now verifying the literal truth of the Marxist prediction that this strategy smooths the road for the advance of fascism, whether fascism comes from without or within.
The harsh and demonstrated truth is: democratic capitalism cannot stand against fascist capitalism. This does not mean that an Anglo-French coalition could not have defeated Nazi Germany two years ago, or could not do so today or tomorrow. In all probability Great Britain and France would have the military advantage. But the essential and dominant source of fascism is within each national capitalism, not external to it. In a war against Germany democracy would, as has already been proved, be immediately dropped, and a regime of totalitarian dictatorship instituted, in every warring power. The idea that such dictatorships would be dissolved at the conclusion of the war is completely illusory. Only two alternative outcomes are conceivable:
solution of the war through proletarian revolution, and the achievement of socialist democracy; or continuance of the war-dictatorship of capitalism for the “reconstruction period” – which, since nothing can any longer be reconstructed under capitalism, would last indefinitely.
Capitalist democracy cannot stand against fascism because, in the grinding world decline of capitalism, the bourgeoisie is faced with the choice of giving up what remains of democracy to save capitalism, or giving up capitalism to gain a new democracy. To give up capitalism would be to commit social suicide, and no class voluntarily commits suicide. Therefore, in the crisis which comes one after another to every capitalist nation, the bourgeoisie must go over to totalitarian dictatorship. And, since the bourgeoisie controls the state, it utilizes the democratic state apparatus itself, the democratic constitution, to make the ground ready for fascism.
To put faith, any faith whatever, in democratic capitalism as the means for defeating fascism is thus to guarantee unequivocally the triumph of fascism.
Has any lesson of history ever been so fully proved as this has been proved in the years from 1933 to today? How much more workers’ blood must be shed before we learn this lesson?
HITLER NOW DOMINATES Continental Europe as no figure has dominated it since Napoleon. The whole of Central Europe and the Balkans, the rich wheat fields, the full herds, the petroleum and coal and timber, now move within his orbit. What next?
It is still possible that England will fight Hitler, if not tomorrow then a year from now. It is possible because England may feel that the threat of a too powerful Germany to her imperial lines of communication, along which flow the billions of tribute from her colonies and dominions, is too dangerous. But it is unquestionably the case that England does not want to fight Hitler; if she fights, she wishes to fight in the East, to keep open the still hardly tapped fields of exploitation. Except to remove a threat, Great Britain has nothing to gain from war with Germany, everything to lose. Chamberlain knows the costs; he understands the meaning of the ferment in Palestine, India, Africa, and how that ferment would rise at the outbreak of war, he knows the slender ties holding the dominions to the mother country; and he doubtless also knows how the mood of the English workers would change after six months of modern war.
But the position of German finance-capitalism is still intolerable; it needs still more sources of raw material, markets for manufactured goods and capital outlets than Central Europe can provide. Chamberlain’s logical conclusion, therefore, if he decides he can risk not fighting, is to grant Hitler a free hand to the East, re-arranging Western Europe under the clamp of a Four Power agreement.
Most ominously of all, then, is the liquidation of Czechoslovakia a terrible symptom of the threat to the Soviet Union. The partitioning of the Soviet Union: the one perspective which alone can make the collective mouth of every section of international imperialism water. Already the first steps are taken: the meeting between Chamberlain and Hitler at Berchtesgaden is itself such a step; and the liquidation of Czechoslovakia automatically tears to pieces the Franco-Soviet Pact.
The policy of the Kremlin, based upon the dreams of agreement with the democratic powers, is shattered into a thousand fragments. The League? A joke, for children to laugh at, hardly enough alive to benefit even the Geneva hotel-keepers. The keystone of the entire Kremlin policy – the Franco-Soviet Pact, for the sake of which Stalin stopped the French revolution, sabotaged Spain, and handed Czechoslovakia to Hitler: dissolved by a three hour conversation in the Bavarian Alps.
How grimly the cold and remorseless Chamberlain underlined the isolation of the Kremlin: Stalin had to learn of the Berchtesgaden agreement from the news services.
DESPAIR IS AN EMOTION alien to revolutionary socialism. Defeats, too, must be utilized. From the analysis of defeats the working class learns the road to victory. Since our road alone leads from the gulf and can bring freedom, human decency and peace, we remain confident that mankind will follow it.
The liquidation of Czechoslovakia can be the beginning of a new era for the working class, as it is the end of the Versailles era for the imperialists. It can be such a beginning if the workers, summing up in their own minds the lessons of the twenty years, turn their eyes finally and resolutely from the will-o’-the-wisp of democratic capitalism, if they throw from their backs all those who lead them bound into the camp of the class enemy, and if, independently and with their own aims and their own leaders they close class ranks in their irresistible and world-overpowering strength. Against the united forces of the workers nothing on earth can stand. Hitler’s vast pedestal will crumble like sand; and Chamberlain will remain only as a bad memory to trouble the nightmares of old men.
It is true that such a perspective, the perspective of the socialist revolution, seems “utopian” and “unrealistic” to the philistines, and to many honest workers (whose ideas have unfortunately been derived from those same philistines) as well. Your solution, it is objected, may be very splendid, and very satisfactory to achieve, but no one is listening to you. The united front, the class struggle, the united socialist states of Europe, the international revolution, all such slogans will have to be put aside until some dim and rosy future. Now there is an “emergency”; we will have to take some necessary “temporary measures” to get out of the emergency – drop the class struggle for the time being in favor of the democratic front, support Benes and Chamberlain and Daladier and Roosevelt for just a few years, fight a short, noble war for England and France, so that Hitler can be put out of the way ... and then, maybe, later on we can come back to the subject of socialism.
We are not, alas, impressed. We have watched a quarter of a century’s experiments in these temporary measures, this realistic and practical kind of politics, and we observe where it has got us: Hitler, unemployment, and the new war on the immediate horizon. Our idea of the meaning of the program of the revolution is just the opposite of that of the philistines. Our understanding is that the great slogans and the mighty strategy of the revolution is designed, not for verbal admiration and practical suspension in every historical “emergency”, but precisely and above all for application and action in emergency and crisis. To state that the only way in which to defeat Hitler and Hitlerism is through the united front of all workers, through the class struggle for socialism and against the governments of all capitalist nations, with the concrete perspective summed up in the conception of the united socialist states of Europe and the world socialist revolution, this is not to shout empty abstractions, but to pose the only practical, the only actually realistic plan.
In the new war crisis, as in 1914, the choice is very strictly limited. You are for the war – that is, you support one or another of the imperialist camps, or you are against it, against it in its entirety. Can there, in the last analysis, be any doubt where the future lies? Does the path to socialism lead through the support of imperialism or in the struggle against it? The question is as simple and clear-cut as that.
As for us, we have chosen our side, and we will not change it.
Last updated on 6.8.2006