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The New International, June 1944

Notes of the Month

The Atlantic Charter Abandoned


From The New International, Vol. X No. 6, June 1944, pp. 164–165.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


First, there was Mr. Churchill’s statement that he had not become the King’s First Minister to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire; and, further, that so far as Britain’s colonies and possessions were concerned, the Atlantic Charter did not apply to them. The same Mr. Churchill who, together with Roosevelt, swore that “they respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them”? One and the same.

Then, the repeated declarations by Mr. Churchill and other signatories of the Charter that its provisions do not apply to Germany, either. The Prime Minister noted, in his May 24, 1944, speech, that “the Atlantic Charter in no way binds us about the future of Germany. It has no quality of a bargain or a contract with our enemy ... I have repeatedly said that unconditional surrender gives the enemy no rights.” Here, too, it turns out that it is the same Mr. Churchill who swore, with hand on heart, that he would “respect the right of all peoples” to sovereignty and self-government, and that he would “endeavor ... to further the enjoyment by all states, great or small, victor or vanquished, of access, on equal terms, to the trade and to the raw materials of the world which are needed for their economic prosperity.” On May 24, 1944? Of course not – on August 14, 1941, when he was exceedingly anxious to be a monk!

Then, the clearly indicated intention of the Roosevelt government to take control of every possible Pacific island after the war, with no more concern over the desire for sovereignty of its inhabitants than was displayed by the Japanese when they took control of them.

Then, the cold announcements from Moscow that its seizures and annexations of territories in Eastern Europe do not conflict with the provisions of the Charter, whose signers, Stalin prominently among them, proclaimed that “their countries seek no aggrandizement, territorial or other,” and that even if they do conflict, “this does not mean that the document is above criticism.” When may it be criticized? In 1941? No, in 1944. Paris was worth a mass; Stalin has found that Poland was worth an Atlantic Charter.

The Atlantic Charter has served its usefulness, so far as its authors and endorsers are concerned. The war, as Mr. Churchill has just pointed out, is becoming “less ideological.” Translated, this means that as Mr. Churchill sees victory nearer, he no longer finds it necessary to appeal hypocritically to the idealism of the peoples, to promise that their aspirations will.

be satisfied. The real booty of the war lies within grasp. Time to take leave of this “ideological” nonsense and get down to the practical business of dividing it up among the victors.

“Interests” Versus “Moral Principles”

“It is doubtless true, as Mr. Eden said, that Britain has not conceded an exclusive sphere of influence to Russia in eastern Europe,” writes the excellent London correspondent of the New York Times (May 28, 1944), Mr. Raymond Daniell, “but if the keystone of British foreign policy in Europe after the war is based on wholehearted collaboration with the Soviets it is certainly impolitic to allow high moral principles to come into conflict with Soviet interests there ... Therefore Britain looks to the continuation of her close association with the United States and Russia after the war. Somehow Russian necessities must be reconciled with the high promises held out in the Atlantic Charter and the next few months will produce some highly interesting acrobatics in that respect.”

A priceless formula, and it deserves repetition: It is certainly impolitic to allow high moral principles to come into conflict with imperialist interests – be it Russia’s in Eastern Europe, England’s in Asia, or America’s in Africa. But what about the Charter, which embodied all these “high moral principles”?

“... The Atlantic Charter,” writes Mr. Emery Reves, the author of A Democratic Manifesto, in a most interesting article printed in the New York Times Magazine (April 23, 1944), “in which so many people placed their hopes for a better world, has not given the hoped-for results. It has failed to become the unifying force of the freedom-loving nations.”

And, further:

In the past few months we have been told that the Atlantic Charter does not apply to India, that it does not apply to Germany, nor to Poland, nor to the Baltic countries, nor to the Pacific – a strange remedy that cannot be given to the sick and may be enjoyed only by the healthy ...

The Charter opened by solemnly declaring that our countries seek no aggrandizement, territorial or other. The wisdom and realism of this pledge was immediately challenged. Why should we not seek aggrandizement if victorious? Does anyone believe that Russia will not incorporate the Baltic countries, the Polish Ukraine, White Ruthenia and Bukovina? Does anyone believe that the United States will not annex islands and bases in the Pacific which hitherto were Japanese territory? Such changes are natural and inevitable, so why lay ourselves open to criticism and the accusation of isolating pledges which no one asked us to give?

It is refreshing to turn from imperialist hypocrisy to imperialist candor. Everything he says above is sheer pleasure to read – and to quote – except his last phrase. It is not true

that “no one asked us to give” pledges. The truth is that from the very beginning of the war, the millions of people who were dragooned or tricked into it have been insistently demanding from their leaders a statement of war aims, and pledges, that would commit them against the hideous imperialist policy of Germany and Japan, who “annex” and “incorporate” and “seek aggrandizement” – all without bothering to ask the opinion of the people who inhabit the countries annexed and incorporated. The truth is that these leaders did state their aims and make their pledges, in the Atlantic Charter, which they swore upon their honor and by their God to adhere to. That was when the devil was sick. Now,

Mr. Reves, who differs from the big spokesmen of imperialism only in bluntness, finds that there is nothing hideous about this imperialist policy, except the fact that it was pursued by Germany, Italy and Japan; whereas, when we pursue exactly the same course, it becomes ... “natural and inevitable.”

Mr. Reves is worth returning to, for he has other, and even more interesting, things to say. But before we do so, let us see what is being planned for Europe by the Allies, not in accordance with the “high moral principles” and the “high promises held out by the Atlantic Charter,” but in accordance with their “interests.”

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