From New International, Vol.4 No.11, November 1938, pp.323-325.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The Fear of War of The Bourgeoisie is the Fear of Revolution – The Dilemma of Chamberlain and British Imperialism – Critical Days Ahead for France, and for Its Working Class – Germany’s Victory as a Springboard for Further Advances – The Disastrous Net Result of the Fifteen Years of Stalinist Realism – The Kremlin Sounds Out Hitler About a New Alliance
THE INTERPRETATION of history in terms of the moral character and ability of individuals – the “great man” or devil theory of history has seldom been seen at less advantage than in its attempted application to the Munich agreement. How absurdly fantastic it is, even on the face of it, to imagine that we can explain the agreement and its consequences on the grounds that Chamberlain and Daladier are “traitors”, Hitler a madman, and Mussolini a bombastic megalomaniac. Such explanations, of course, and the whole personalistic theory from which they spring, themselves serve a social funqtion. They act to turn eyes away from the true meaning of events and to fasten resentment and hopes not on the basic factor of the economic and political structure of society but on individual men – scapegoats or saviors. The Munich agreement was thus followed in the American press by a deluge of pictures, biographies, recollections and “psychological studies” of the four who met at Munich.
The actions of individual men do, it is true, have their relevant effect on history, in specific instances can even be the decisive factor. But outstandingly in the case of the Munich agreement, the four men who sat at the conference table had their significance not because of individual idiosyncracies, but because on that occasion they spoke and decided as the responsible and authentic representatives of their respective national states and of the English, French, German and Italian bourgeoisies whose states they are. To ask why the agreement was signed and what may be expected to follow from it, therefore, is not a problem in psychology, but an inquiry into the needs, interests and perspectives of the ruling class within the four nations.
The Munich agreement was signed, first of all, because the bourgeoisie, in each of the nations, fears the war. They fear the war irrespective of the military problem, irrespective of the probabilities of victory or defeat. There can be no doubt that this general fear was far more crucial in the minds of the British ruling class than the more technical fear of the possible temporary superiority of the German air force. The latter was much more than compensated by the enormous advantage in every kind of material resource possessed by an Anglo-French bloc certain of alliance with the Soviet Union and shortly with the United States. The fear was not of Hitler – in the long run, if the problem were merely a military one, Hitler would not have had a chance. The fear was pointed in another direction: at the masses, who did not want the war. The ruling classes remembered 1917.
They were afraid that, whatever degree of national unity might be achieved at the outset with the aid of the treachery of the official labor leadership, it could not last. With the experiences of the last war not altogether forgotten, and with the destructiveness of war ten times multiplied since then, the rulers feared that this time not three years but perhaps only a few months would pass before the masses turned against the war and against those whose war it was. This fear was not peculiar to the democracies, but was shared also by the ruling class in Germany, which has consistently acted as a brake on the more irresponsible impulses of Hitler. It was the fear of international finance-capital as a whole, and was finally expressed openly and publicly by the spokesman of the most powerful of all the sections of finance-capital: by Franklin Roosevelt, in his cable to Hitler. The war, Roosevelt warned his colleagues, was certain to overthrow the “social and economic structure” in at least several of the nations.
The bourgeoisies of the four nations were thus presented with a common problem: the preservation of their class domination. Faced with this, all else became secondary. The unbridgeable gulf between fascism and democracy was closed in the twinkling of a phrase. The war lords of Italy and Germany became overnight the princes of peace. The “sacredness of treaties” was seen to be no more than a verbalism. The League was a joke. The democratic rights of small nations dissolved into thin air. Solemn pacts went overboard without a ripple. For a brief historic moment, imperialist diplomacy could be seen in full nakedness, casting shams aside, a gang of cut-throats sitting down in shirt sleeves to draw up jointly a shameless, ruthless, bloody deal.
The fears were justified. This the great crowds showed who wept and shouted for peace in London and Berlin and Paris and Rome and Munich and Naples. Chamberlain and Daladier and Hitler and Mussolini knew how little those tears and shouts were for them, they knew their real meaning: that they expressed the mighty though hidden will of the masses against the war.
The Munich agreement was able, for the moment, to stop the war. But what did it solve? Did it bring to Europe a lasting peace and re-stabilizatizon ? There is no need for idle speculation in giving an answer. We can observe the replies of the participants in the agreement themselves.
CHAMBERLAIN TOOK ABOUT forty-eight hours to make clear just what kind of peace he believed Munich had guaranteed. It was, he explained to Parliament, a peace which would require the re-doubling and tripling of Great Britain’s already gigantic re-armament. Thousands of new and faster planes, thousands of new and deadlier anti-aircraft guns, hundreds of new warships. Already the preparations have begun for a disguised form of conscription.
Meanwhile England’s semi-formal censorship is tightened, and the restriction of civil rights gets under way. Information of “miltary-strategic importance” is withdrawn from the press at the suggestion of His Majesty’s Government; articles critical of “friendly powers” are politely and firmly pressed into the waste-basket. Just as Chamberlain’s peace is built from guns and airplanes, so does he plan to compose his democracy out of the elimination of democratic rights.
Regiment after regiment moves into Palestine, bombing, slaughtering, wiping out entire villages, to protect – the pipe line from Iraq and the route of the Suez Canal.
Probably more clearly than that of any other nation, the British ruling class knows that from its class point of view there can’t be and yet there must be war. There can’t be, for the English ruling class has everything to lose, nothing to gain, from the war: its top-heavy Empire would immediately begin falling apart like a jerry-built tenement, whatever victories the armies might be winning, the people at home would rise quickly indeed after the first series of air raids and casualty lists. Yet there must be war, for only by fighting can it keep its swollen possessions out of the insatiable hands of the impoverished nations or (with a glance over the shoulder) of the young American colossus overseas. It senses the blind alley into which it has entered; desperately and vainly it strives to gain time, hoping for a miracle, by buying off the potential immediate threatener, by trying to give him a sufficient outlet to the East and South. But, alas: at ‘the imperialist banquet-table there is not enough to go around. One or the other of the sets of guests must be shoved out of their seats.
THE PROBLEM FOR the French bourgeoisie is even sharper, more acute. Once the French bourgeoisie believed that through Versailles it had given itself a permanent strangle-hold on Europe. How voraciously it squeezed! French capital financed the huge Skoda monopoly in Czechoslovakia, Jugoslavia, Rumania, Poland, Hungary, Greece danced unhappily to the strings pulled by the Two Hundred Families, sending their heavy tribute to swell French coffers. Cynically the League was maintained as a pious front for Anglo-French imperialist domination, and the pact for the status quo was signed with the Kremlin. Now all is gone: the Continental hegemony, the French controlled Entente, the League, the Russian pact. The French ruling class sees itself thrust desperately into a corner, snarling to keep its remaining bones to gnaw on: its own continental borders, and its oppressed and terrorized possessions in Africa and Indo-China.
How has it come about? To the French ruling class, prevented by their class position from penetrating into the real causes of capitalist decay, an answer seems to be found when it looks across the Rhine. Germany is united; France a dangerous chaos of conflicting social groups. In Germany the workers turn out goods and above all munitions on a sixty and sixty-five hour week basis; in France the “social laws” keep the work week down to forty or forty-five hours. Seeing this, Daladier told the Chamber of Deputies: we must be united, and we must be in a position to “compete successfully” with others. Translated: we must suppress the possibilities for independent class action, and we must smash the social laws. He underlined his words by breaking up the Popular Front, and by demanding and getting the decree powers.
What this means is that the French bourgeoisie now sets its course directly toward fascism as the only solution which can prevent it from losing altogether even the bones that remain. Let there be no illusions. The French bourgeoisie must now resort, and in the shortest possible time, to fascism. To achieve iron national unity and to cancel out the social laws, it must crush the resistance of the working class; and this can be done only through fascism.
Terrible days are ahead for the French workers, have already begun – as in Germany, under the auspices not of the fascists but of the center: Daladier, who will quite probably be soon joined by Blum. Restrictions on assembly and on the revolutionary press, introduced during the war crisis, are continuing. The headquarters and leaders of militant working-class organizations are under constant police surveillance. Posters demand the outlawing of the Communist Party – not, of course, as a revolutionary organization, but as the agent of a foreign power whose friendship is no longer worthwhile. Daladier informs the workers in the munitions industries (and what industry cannot be classified under that head?) that attempts to enforce the forty-hour week will be considered crimes against the state, to be followed by instant dismissal and possible criminal prosecution.
The workers will fight back. But they will fight under the deadening handicap of infinite betrayal by their own parties, of the years of demoralization by the now dead Popular Frontism and the still living social-patriotism. Can they build their new party in time?
THERE WAS ONE small kernel of truth that rested, misused, in the interstices of the Popular Front ideology: the truth that fascism cannot be permanently bought off and “appeased”. Fascism arises, driven by the overpowering compulsion of the inner conflicts of the given national capitalism. But it does not in the least throw off that compulsion or solve the conflicts. It is their expression; indeed, more, it aggravates and irritates them, deepens and extends them. Its forced-draught economy and finance, its tense and burning demagogy, hover permanently at the verge of explosion. And so it will continue to be.
The successful taking over of Austria, a large enough morsel surely to last some years in the old non-fascist days, only compelled Hitler to move even faster toward Sudetenland. How could over-industrialized Austria bring meat or eggs or grain or oil or markets or chances for satisfactory investment? Nor does the Sudetenland, in spite of the great value to Germany of a number of its resources and plants, slake any of the major needs. And, as everyone knew, the Sudetens were only a small square in the picture.
Even before Munich, the next phase was unfolding. During the past two years, German trade has been overhauling France and England in one after the other of the nations in Europe’s East and South. Now Walther Funk, Reich Economics Minister, completes a triumphant tour of Germany’s new backyard. Trade agreements, loans whereby key raw materials will be exchanged for German manufactured goods, plans for capital expansion, all drop easily into Funk’s proffered hand. The nations, one by one, turn their political noses toward Berlin.
At the front of the pack cowers Czechoslovakia itself. Devotion to democracy meant naturally, for the Czech bourgeoisie, the chances for larger profits under the wing of England and France and through the super-exploitation of the national minorities. These chances gone through the withdrawal of their friends, who play for higher stakes, the Czech bourgeoisie crawls before Hitler to beg permission to retain a crust or two. Woe, then, to the Czech workers and peasants, who, on the advice of their reformist and Stalinist leaders, trusted their own bourgeoisie and its government to defend democracy! In record time, totalitarianism fastens its yoke upon them, while thousands of their best die starving in the open fields.
“Two young girls,” report the New York Times, “were found (near Pohrlicz) stricken with influenza today. They were without medical help, without beds and little water. Czech and German authorities forbid the taking of food or water to them.”
All this, however, is not enough. Volcanic German industry, as advanced as any in the world, not merely in technical proficiency but in monopoly development, strains intolerable against its barriers. The consolidation of the German-speaking territories provides only a strategic base for wider operations. The road opens toward outright colonies and protectorates. If they are not granted, they must be taken, either from those who have them, or by converting sections of the Soviet Union into the orbit of German imperialism.
THE COST OF STALINISM not simply to the workers of the world, but to the Soviet Union itself, becomes suddenly clearer after Munich. Munich, in its own way, drew up a balance-sheet. Fifteen years of socialism in one country, of Stalinist realism, of Stalinist maneuvers and counter-maneuvers, of Stalinist diplomacy, of the practical, wise and genial direction of the leader of the peoples, netted the Soviet Union: complete, utter and absolute isolation when the crisis came, the scorn, contempt and entire disregard of every other nation in the globe.
It is ridiculous to discuss “whether” Stalin’s policy has collapsed. It would be like arguing whether a man were dead when the stink of his corpse had driven every living creature except the worms and buzzards a mile away. Everyone knows it has collapsed, from Chamberlain and Daladier (and Duranty) down to the errand-boy at the corner grocery. And the whole house has fallen, every wing and room and corner. The Popular Front met its official demise with the vote in the French Chamber; the phrase “Popular Front” is no longer even referred to, and is nowhere more absent than from the Stalinist press itself. The Czechoslovak-Soviet treaty has been publicly put to rest, though the announcement was ludicrously superfluous. No one even bothers to comment on the burial of the Franco-Soviet Treaty. As for collective security, the four at Munich put that sufficiently out of the way. The Times openly jeered at the purge awaiting Litvinov.
What, then, will the Kremlin do? There are still some dreamers, apparently, who play with the idea that it will have “learned its lesson”, that now it will see the truth that only the workers of the world in struggle against their own capitalist states can defend the Soviet Union, and will make a new turn to the revolutionary left. These dreamers imagine, evidently, that fifteen years of history can be wiped out in fact as readily as it is in their own heads.
Stalin cannot make a revolutionary turn, if for no other reason, because the first victim of such a turn if actually made would be himself. The parties of the Comintern cannot make such a turn, if for no other reason, because they are no longer political parties in the genuine sense of the term: they are merely groups of agents of the foreign office and the GPU. If they now begin to appear occasionally to jerk to the left, as in voting against Daladier (and as will doubtless happen at other times in the period ahead in England and France, though not in he United States), this does not at all express a real political movement toward the left but the momentary exigency of the counterrevolutionary foreign office of the Kremlin. We do not interpret a momentary progressive vote by a stool-pigeon in a union as signifying that he is moving leftward; we know that it merely answers the orders of his employer.
The Kremlin has already made a preliminary sounding of what it is going to try to do, through its mouthpiece Duranty. In an article given to the world press, Duranty wrote in the most brutal prose that the era of “Litvinov diplomacy” was finished, and that Stalin must now come to an agreement with Hitler. In an unbelievably cynical sentence, omitted from the version published in New York City but included elsewhere, Duranty reminded his readers – and unquestionably above all it was intended for his Nazi readers – that more Jews had been killed in the last two years in the Soviet Union than in all the years of Hitler’s regime.
There can be nothing startling in such an attempted orientation. It is a perfectly consistent development of the Stalinist course; indeed, in 1933 the Kremlin also attempted but failed to secure a rapprochement with the then young Nazi regime. Stalin’s aim is to preserve “socialism in one country”; i.e., to maintain Russia’s territorial boundaries; i.e., to keep himself and his gang in power. To serve this aim it was proper to come to agreement with the class enemy as represented by the democratic imperialisms – this was the policy of the Popular Front. Then why not, when that fails, by agreement with the class enemy as represented by the fascist imperialisms? And, in point of fact, there is no fundamental difference between the two tactics.
To try is not, as the world goes, thereby to succeed. Hitler’s price will be high, very high. If not outright cessions of territory and mandates, then at the least a modification of the monopoly of foreign trade, to permit German goods and German capital to enter the Soviet market. This means: to reach agreement with Hitler Stalin must destroy the last remaining conquest of the October Revolution, the nationalized economy.
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