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William Gorman

Books in Review


(June 1944)

From The New International, Vol. X No. 6, June 1944, pp. 190–192.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Lessons of My Life
by Lord Vansittart
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York 1943

There seems to be some confusion whether Vansittart is a Baron or merely a Right Honorable Lord. What is clear is that he is a one-time British diplomat, a dabbler in poetry and drama and the proprietor of a string of initialed titles: PC, GCB, GCMG, etc., in short, a member of the neither right nor honorable British ruling class.

As is now well known, Vansittart is demoniacally concerned with the problem of Germany. Lessons of My Life is not autobiographical and has only one lesson: that the war and misery prevalent in Europe for the last twenty-five years are to be blamed on Germany, for which, of course, Germany is to suffer retribution and punishment. His idiosyncrasies would not concern us if they were merely personal. On the contrary, he is merely a crude, vociferous spokesman for the prevailing opinions and attitudes of the ruling classes of the victorious-to-be Allies.

Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin maintain the silence of sphinxes on the future of Germany. Then: plans are so fraudulent and bankrupt that they can best be maintained only in darkness and silence. Meanwhile Vansittart and all his offspring do the necessary “spadework,” poisoning the atmosphere with hatred of Germany, and Germans per se, so that the actions of the victorious imperialists in regard to Germany will be justified in the eyes of the masses.

Unfortunately he has already had some success. Half a million copies of his pamphlet have already been sold. The British Trade Union Congress of 1943 adopted by a small majority the thesis that the whole German people is responsible for Nazism and the war. Unless revoked, this self-inflicted blow by the British labor movement can have an untold harmful effect.

Imperialism can be defended only by the strengthening of national prejudice. And this is all Vansittart’s “theory,” exhorted loudly by the conservatives and taken so seriously by the liberals, amounts to.

By studiously recording the crimes of German imperialism, by pedantically quoting every quotable Junker, general, Crown Prince and reactionary professor, Vansittart is able to agitate the reader very strongly against German imperialism; and here we are confronted by a bit of stupid magic out of the bourgeois hat. By exemplifying the manifestations of Germany only, we are to come to the inevitable conclusion that imperialism and its brutalities and crimes are attributable to Germany alone – or to the German people, all classes alike.

Any sidelong glance into the history of Europe of the last seventy-five years is enough to shove this “theory” to its proper place at the bottom of the waste basket.

“Between 1870–1900, Great Britain acquired 4,754,000 square miles of territory ... Between 1884 and 1900 France acquired 3,583,580 square miles ... Germany had last acquired 1,026,220 square miles.” (War and Western Civilization, by Major General J.C.H. Fuller)

It is interesting to note that Vansittart treats in some detail the betrayals perpetrated by the German social-democracy, their support of war credits and massacre of Spartacus. This is unquestionably a sop to British working class opinion. But if Vansittart was at all interested in the independence of the labor movement from the imperialist state, he could mention, at least in passing, the role of the British Labor Party leaders, who are very cheap to hire as the bourgeoisie’s watchdog, among the workers. Admittedly, choosing between the betrayals of Scheidemann and Bevin, Ebert and Cripps would be pretty much of a toss-up.

It is obvious then that to analyze imperialism as a socio-historical phenomenon would be entirely too revealing. An obscure and analysis-defying proposition that wars are caused by German national psychology serves Vansittart’s purposes much better.

Vansittart’s plans and advice for the future of Germany have some importance, not that they are in any way profound, but because they reveal the explosive contradictions of the entire Allied-German relationship since 1919. When the plans of German imperialism failed at the end of the First

World War, the Allies had good reason to gloat at then- triumph. Lloyd George said: “One of our chief trade competitors has been crippled and our Allies are about to become her biggest creditors. That is no small “achievement.”

But no sooner was this triumph announced than the victorious imperialists had to prop up the German ruling class against a rebellious proletariat. This ruling class had to be propped precisely because the severe economic punishment imposed upon Germany and the consequent occupation of the Ruhr intensified the political and social crisis. Dreading the union of a Soviet Russia and a possible Soviet Germany, the Allied bourgeoisie winked at the arming of an anti-working class Reichswehr of sixty thousand men, although this was a clear violation of the disarmament clause of the Versailles Treaty. The German masses, on the other hand, were clearly told what they could not do.

In 1920, Lansing, the American Ambassador, promised food for Germany only on the condition that “Germany will prove that it can uphold law and order.” The British Ambassador, Lord Kilmarnock, followed in the same vein, promised even raw materials for German industry “only if the capitalist regime remained.”

By 1933 these gentlemen could breathe easier. Aided by the opportunism of the Social-Democrats and the surrender of the Communists, Hitler came into power and proceeded to torture, murder and imprison the cream of the German proletariat. The British bourgeoisie chortled with joy and made certain that nothing should jar the equilibrium of the new Nazi regime. Lloyd George rose in Parliament in 1933 to say:

“In a very short time ... the conservative elements in this country will be looking to Germany as the bulwark against communism in Europe. Do not let us be in a hurry to condemn Germany. We shall be welcoming Germany as our friend.”

The British bourgeoisie did more than cheer Hitler on. Having smashed the largest and most threatening working class on the continent, Nazi Germany was now provided with arms and capital in preparation for a war with Russia.

William Dodd, the American Ambassador to Germany in 1935, wrote of a letter he received from the British diplomat, Lord Lothian, that:

“The problem of the democracies as he (Lord Lothian) sees it, is to find for Germany a stronger place in world affairs, to which in his opinion they are entitled because of their power and tradition. He hopes that this can be accomplished without any sacrifice to the British Empire and with as little destruction of human liberty as possible.”

(Students of history will some day stand amazed at this bit of bloody hypocrisy. The liberals today, of course, can do no better than explain this as “appeasement mentality.” It is only the other side of the counterfeit theoretical coin of Vansittartism.)

By 1938, Hitler had made it clear that he was going to carry out his imperialist ventures in disregard of the role intended for him by the British-French bloc. German exports followed by political propaganda flooded the Middle East, North Africa and South America. The bourgeoisie of France and England were divided in their attitude toward the evergrowing danger of this new imperialism. But their enthusiasm for Hitler’s crushing blows against the German working class was unabated. As late as March 1939, with an Allied-German war clearly on the horizon, Lord Kensley, publisher of the Sunday Times, could write: “We ... have had no quarrel with either Germany or Italy because her system differs from our own.” This view was clearly enunciated even during the war by Anthony Eden, aspirant for the job of Prime Minister and taskmaster of the British Empire.

Occupation, dismemberment and de-industrialization of Germany (either one or all of these) is the only course left to the Allied imperialists. Their last triumph over their German rivals almost resulted in a proletarian revolution. Their support of the German bourgeoisie against the German workers resulted in a new war in which France was overrun and the British Empire nearly wrecked.

The overthrow of Hitler tomorrow will reveal a revengeful proletariat, with a capacity for struggle that will electrify Europe and the world. The Allies must therefore occupy Germany, impose severe punishment for war “responsibility” and maintain its occupation in order to carry out its punishment. This is the program of Vansittart and all the little Vansittarts who have sprung up on both sides of the Atlantic.

A new AMG, perhaps more streamlined and less clumsy than the one in Italy, will smash any revolutionary movement in Germany. This is what Vansittart means by “... the last delusion: German socialists are good fellows.”

Central Europe, which cannot exist economically without Germany, will be directed to live at the expense of Germany, carting away German industry and using the Germans as a source of cheap slave labor in lieu of reparations. This is what the London Daily Express means by “Whether you like it or not, vengeance on Germany is becoming the prime war aim of all Europe.”

That is why the threat of a German revolution is handled by Vansittart with all the skill of a complete political idiot. First he tosses off his belief that “the only hope for German betterment is the left.” He then says that a German revolution is improbable because it will be caught in the crossfire of the more extreme alternatives, nationalism or communism. The latter is unlikely because – now hold your breath – “it is not among our war aims.” This does not prevent him from attacking bitterly “the members of the extreme German left who have been exercising too great an influence on our politics and propaganda.” (It is unnecessary to add that this “influence” is a product of Vansittart’s imagination.) Paradoxically, Vansittart must vehemently deny the possibility of a German revolution because the possibility is so terribly great!

As another generation goes to the slaughter, the ruling classes of both camps can have as “war aims” only a more intense jingoism, chauvinism and national hate. Against this we must clearly indicate the international solidarity of the working class as being not only moral and rational but as the only road to peace. Every time a Vansittart opens his mouth he makes the choice crystal clear.

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