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George Stern

Behind the Lines

(6 October 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 76, 6 October 1939, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

While the war marks time on the Western front, crucial battles are being fought out bloodlessly in Washington and Moscow. The outcome of the neutrality debate in Congress will help shape the manner and tempo of American entry. The outcome of the diplomatic game in the Kremlin will determine the next stages of Russian partic [line of text missing in printed original – Note by ETOL] affect the fate of all the neutrals in the Western Hemisphere. The other will settle the course of all the neutrals in Europe.

Such is the content of this strange interlude in this war of many paradoxes.

From all the countries of the Baltic and the Balkans diplomats are scurrying to the gates of the Kremlin and abandoning hope as they enter there. Estonia has already mutually assisted itself into becoming a new fief of the Stalin regime. Latvia is already on the edge of the same precipice and Finland helplessly awaits its turn. Truly, the Daily Worker did not lie when it said this “is not a war for the defense or rescue of small nations.”

The Stalin-Hitler “non-aggression” pact was followed by the conquest and partition of Poland. The new treaty of “friendship” signed by von Ribbentrop last week is being accompanied by the re-assertion of Russian domination in the Baltic. Not until the maneuver of Hitler’s “peace offensive” runs its course will we see what other acts of loving liberation these pacts portend.

The fate of the Balkan countries and the precise position of Turkey have remained undecided pending a forced decision by Mussolini.

It was to place the issue squarely before his wavering Axis-partner that Hitler summoned Ciano to Berlin. It is not difficult to guess that Hitler was offering his pompous, frightened ally in the Palazzo Venezia his last chance to get in on the Balkan ground flood before Stalin occupies it all.

It is now the favorite pastime of Anglo-French statesmen and their journalistic echoes to gamble on the early break-up of the new Moscow-Berlin axis. Even Winston Churchill did his part in his radio speech to throw a little oil on the fire he fondly hopes is burning under the camp of his adversaries. Russia is not really helping Hitler so much as helping itself and in the process is barring the Nazi drive from southeastern Europe, according to this theory. This is true enough, up to a certain point. But those who calculate that for this reason Stalin and Hitler will oblige Britain and France by flying prematurely at each other’s throats are doomed to sorry disappointment.

For Stalin right now it is of the essence that Hitler remain capable of draining the strength of the Western powers in an exhausting war.

For Hitler – who realizes he must subdue Britain or go down before it – Stalin’s “neutrality,” however malevolent, is worth any price he can pay. For both, thekr self-preservation is wrapped up in continuing for the present along the paths they have chosen. What awaits them around the next bend, however, neither of them really knows.

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Last updated on 17 February 2018