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George Stern

Behind the Lines

(17 October 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 79, 17 October 1939, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Trial peace balloons are popping more loudly right now than the guns on the western front.

Behind the empty rhetoric of Chamberlain and Daladier, behind the veritable flood of inspired peace rumors in the press, it is not difficult to discern the dim outlines of backdoor diplomatic schemes.

On the German side the purpose of peace maneuvers is plain. Even an armistice now on Germany’s terms would be a victory for Hitler of the first magnitude. That is why there will be no armistice – on Germany’s terms.

But what form would Anglo-French counter-proposals take?Nobody takes seriously the pompous bunk in the Chamberlain-Daladier speeches about national honor, condoning of “aggression,” and non-recourse to force in international relations. Least of all does anybody seriously believe that Britain or France are going to make any possible deal with Hitler contingent upon the re-creation of Austria, Czechoslovakia, or Poland.

Already, when pressed on the subject of their war aims, the French and British leaders are growing progressively vaguer. They cannot define specific aims of a war the precise form of which has not been determined as yet.

It is in this domain that the backdoor diplomats are busily at work. In London, Paris – and in Washington – ways and means are undoubtedly being sought to shift the war’s axis in a way that will turn its sharp end against Russia. The spectacular Russian grabs in the Baltic and now into Scandinavia are undoubtedly a source of profound concern to the leading Nazis and the Reichswehr generals. In those circles the British and French may hope still to find the lever with which they can swing the guns around at Russia.

That is why it is no accident at all that Washington is receiving with every evidence of serious consideration the Scandinavian plea against Russia’s drive. That is why the entire propaganda of the Allies is concentrating on convincing the Germans that the Hitler-Ribbentrop policy has actually proved disastrous for the Reich because it leaves Germany’s fate in the war up to Stalin.

It is the hope seriously entertained in London and Paris that the fragile Berlin-Moscow axis can be smashed if the right formula is found that accounts for the slow tempo of military operations. With winter almost upon us, the probability of an offensive along the western front fades, and leaves a period of four or five months ahead for the diplomatic game to be played out.

Stalin’s moves have shown that he has by no means discounted this possibility. The military provisions of the pacts forced on the Baltic States are all aimed, without exception, at the future contingency of conflict with Germany. But whether they will actually enhance his ability to meet such a conflict, if it comes, is something only the event will show.

Stalin’s whole policy is based precisely upon avoiding such a clash. From this we may safely assume that if the Anglo-French maneuvers should show any signs of succeeding at all – and this is still far from the fact – Stalin will pull some speedy surprises of his own out of the Kremlin’s bag of tricks. By next spring – perhaps even sooner – the war may present a quite different aspect then it now so provisionally assumes.

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Last updated on 17 February 2018