Isaacs Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

George Stern

Powers Gird for Spring Crisis

Altmark Affair Ushers In New Phase

Extension of War Fronts Nears

(24 February 1940)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. IV No. 8, 24 February 1940, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

The Altmark incident was the first real harbinger of Spring, the first critical Spring of the Second World War.

It came as a sharp warning to all the neutrals./p>

“It means,” said the Paris newspaper l’Intransigeant on Feb. 19, “that neutrality as it has hitherto been practised cannot last any longer.”/p>

Norway, caught fast between the two conflicting powers, stands as a fateful symbol for all the small states of Europe that are still trying to keep their balance on the narrowing zone still left for neutrals to tread.

Fearful of offending Germany, the Norwegians blinked their eyes to the fact that the Altmark, when it passed Bergen was actually auxiliary warship and had some 300 British prisoners aboard. The British then deliberately ordered its warship to violate Norway’s neutral waters and to rescue the prisoners.

Out of the diplomatic and press barrage laid down around the incident emerged the belief that the British were testing their way for eventual occupation of Norway’s coast, with or without Norwegian consent, for the double purpose of increasing the effectiveness of the blockade and facilitating direct intervention in the Soviet-Finnish conflict.

Whether this is actually the intention of the British war lords it remains for the coming weeks to tell; for it is now universally agreed that the Spring will witness some new major turn in the war, the extension of the war fronts and the launching of an offensive on one sector or another in a first real test of the strength of the opposing forces.

Along with the swallows, what else is this Spring likely to bring? The possible answers, in tabular form, come somewhat as follows:

  1. In Northern Europe: France and Britain intervene in force in the Soviet-Finnish war, compelling Norway and Sweden to become belligerents. Germany sends forces to fight the Allies, probably on Swedish soil, in an effort to protect its crucial Swedish sources of iron ore and other metals. Acting in concert with Germany, the Soviet Union completes its conquest of Finland and sends the Red Army into Sweden.
  2. In Western Europe: Germany begins offensive on the Western front, across Holland and Belgium and/or Switzerland. The war in the air begins.
  3. In Southeastern Europe: German-Soviet pressure increases on Rumania to assure the flow of Rumanian oil and grain into Germany. Rumania may possibly capitulate to avoid becoming a battlefield. If it does not, part of the Allied Near Eastern forces will be sent to its aid and an Allied fleet will steam through the Dardanelles to attack the Soviet Black Sea coast. Italy will enter the war on the side of the Allies but heading an “independent” bloc including Yugoslavia and Hungary.
  4. In the Near and Middle East: Allied attack on the Soviet Union begins through the Caucasus and possibly from Iran and Afganistan. Main objective: Caucasian oilfields.
  5. Far East: The U.S. keeps its embargo club poised over Japan’s head, increasing its pressure to force Japanese entry into (or cooperation with) the Allied bloc, offering a compromise at China’s expense if Japan will engage the Soviet Union on the Far Eastern front.

All these possibilities are obviously closely interlocked. Making due allowances for time lags that might extend into the Fall and possibly even to next winter, it is clear that if a clear-cut military decision is to be sought, hostilities will spread to all the zones mentioned separately, above.

The one possible variant is the continuation of the stalemate situation on the Western front proper, with activity confined to large scale use of artillery and aerial warfare.

From the Allied point of view the object would be to inflict a decisive defeat on Germany – a defeat decisive enough to unseat the Hitler regime and bring a chastened Reich into the Allied entente for continued war against the Soviet Union.

From the German point of view the purpose would be to exploit to the fullest extent possible the German superiority in armaments which cannot long be sustained if the Allies are given more time to whip their war machines into shape. Through use of its tremendous power in the air and unrestricted warfare at sea, Germany would seek to cripple the Allies and, if not to achieve complete conquest, at least to carve itself a larger share in the world’s spoils as the price of its participation in a joint enterprise against the U.S.S.R.

Stalin’s Downfall!

From the standpoint of the Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union, the entire perspective, in any or all of its facets, spells the utmost peril. It means that Stalin, against his will and against all his instincts of self-preservation, will find himself engaged in major conflict with the powers and saddled tight in the German alliance. Continuation and extension of the war will mean the downfall of Stalin.

From the standpoint of the workers of Russia, and of the rest of the world the question is: will Stalin, when he falls, drag the Workers State down with him? Will he go dawn .under the blows of world imperialism, or will he go down under the impact of the Russian working class, aroused by its peril to the defense of its revolutionary conquests?

The answer to that question will be found not only within the Soviet Union but among the masses of soldiers and workers and peasants bearing the brunt of the boss war on all fronts across the tortured face of the world.

Fear the Masses

If our imperialist rulers are compelled, despite their own fears fop their own rule, to enter into this titanic test of strength, they will soon discover the enemy at home. For they will have to exact sacrifices on a scale never before seen and they will not exact them unchallenged.

They know this. That is why even now, well past the eleventh hour, the efforts continue to find a new balance, however precarious, that will somehow dull the razor-sharp edge of the crisis they find themselves in.

America’s Central Role

American imperialism, represented by Roosevelt, is playing right now a central role in these efforts. It regards itself as the arbiter-in-chief and intends to use its power to impose a settlement that will insure its own paramount rule in world affairs. If possible it will seek to do so by manipulating its economic weapons, but is preparing steadily for the inevitable necessity for using its armed strength as well, primarily in the Pacific against its chief rival there, Japan.

Zero Hour

In the immediate situation, the central objective of American imperialist strategy is to focus the war as soon as possible into a war of the powers against the Soviet Union, to crush there the spectre of workers’ rule and to throw open to the victorious imperialist bloc the rich lands of the Russias. If to do this it is necessary to crush Hitler first, the Western powers will get all the aid they need to do so, economic and military. It is to see if this decision is really inescapable that Roosevelt has sent Welles to Europe. That is why Welles has gone on the very eve of zero hour.

Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 2 February 2019