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George Stern

Behind the Lines

(17 November 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 88, 17 November 1939, p.  1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Adolf Hitler was recently credited with saying: “If you wish to conquer by force, you must be strong. If you seek to conquer by negotiation, you must be stronger.”

Because he could not fulfill the conditions of this shrewd maxim of power politics, Stalin has failed in his attempted squeeze play on Finland.

As in the case of his diplomatic failure with Turkey, Stalin’s threats have dwindled, for the time being at least, to newspaper bluster in the most approved Hitlerian style.

With the immediate backing of the three Scandinavian countries and the not inconsiderable moral, support of Roosevelt, Finland was able to put up more resistance to Stalin than the Baltic states could muster.

The result was a judicious climb-down by the Kremlin. Its demand for a “mutual assistance pact” was dropped as were several of its territorial proposals. But the continued demand for a naval base on the north coast of the Gulf of Finland, presumably at Hangoe, was refused by the Finns.

The negotiations were consequently broken off and the oft-threatened bolts of Stalinist lightning ricocheted harmlessly across the pages of Pravda instead of descending upon the Finns.

In Moscow the correspondents predict a lengthy campaign of pressure, military economic and journalistic, similar in style and tempo to the press wars waged by Germany prior to the absorption of Austria and Czechoslovakia. Actually, what the Kremlin now waits for is a new turn in events which will enable it to resume its crude aping of Hitlerite diplomatic blackmail without risk of war.

For Stalin, unlike his ally in Berlin, is compelled to shy like a frightened mare from such a risk, even when it comes from so tiny a foe as Finland. His strategy is designed to weaken the other powers to his own level of insecurity in hopes then of becoming relatively strong.

So while the Finnish pot continues to simmer, Stalin may turn his attention once more to the Balkans where the interplay of British, Italian, and German influences offer a fruitful field for inexpensive intervention.

The only bar here is now the Anglo-Franco-Turkish pact which opens the Dardanelles to the British in case Rumania is attacked. This the Russians were unable to prevent, because the Turks shrewdly withdrew their bets from the Russian board and placed them on the British fleet instead.

But what the Kremlin may try, in collusion with the Reich or without it, is a bloodless advance into the Balkans which will fall just short of forcing Allied intervention. Similarly, the negotiations with Japan are likely to proceed at a faster tempo.

But right now, sitting silent behind the Kremlin walls, Stalin knows he is nothing but a papier-mache Sphinx. He doesn’t want to let anybody get near him with a match.

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