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Maurice Spector

The Record of the Democracies

(April 1938)

From The New International, Vol. IV No. 4, April 1938, pp. 115–119.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

THE FASCIST POWERS worship what Goethe called the inseparable trinity of war trade and piracy is plain as a pikestaff. They wreak their imperialist violence on Ethiopia, Spain and Austria. They pile up super-arms for the day of Armegeddon. They are the enemies of human civilization and harbingers of a new barbarism. All this and more the liberal and Stalinist press pound into us incessantly and it is true enough. But what follows? That we reverently thrill to the sermons of Cordell Hull and march with the New York Times in a crusade for collective security? That we range ourselves with “the great law-abiding, liberty-loving powers”? But who are these Great Democracies, these bulwarks of our liberties, guardians of world peace and repositories of civilization? One glance is sufficient to disclose our old friends, the Allied and Associated Powers who saved Democracy from 1914 to 1918.

The opening sentence of a 5-volume history [1] of the Versailles Peace Conference reads as follows:

“The war was a conflict between the principles of moral influence and material force, of government by consent and government by compulsion.”

Our favorite whited sepulchre, H.G. Wells, wrote,

“We fight because a whole nation has become obsessed by pride, by the cant of cynicism and the vanity of violence, by the evil suggestion of such third-rate writers as Gobineau and Stewart Chamberlain, that they were a people of peculiar excellence, destined to dominate the earth ...”

Said Premier Asquith,

“The purpose of the Allies in this war is to pave the way for an international system which will secure the principle of equal rights for all civilized states.”

England would not sheathe the sword “until the rights of the small nationalities are placed upon an unassailable foundation.” Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation of the signing of the Armistice in which he declared,

“Everything for which America fought has been accomplished. It will now be our fortunate duty to assist by example, by sober friendly counsel, and by material aid, in the establishment of just democracy throughout the world.”

Now that Bernhardi and Treitschke were cast down and Grotius and the sanctity of treaties exalted, what did the democratic Peace of Paris look like? Pretty much as the terms of the Secret Treaties regarding the future peace settlement had laid down. In 1915 the Allies secretly supplemented their lofty aspirations by inducements of a more substantial character. Tsarist Russia was promised Constantinople and all of Poland. France was to recover Alsace Lorraine and be given control of all German territory as far as the Rhine, and Great Britain should appropriate the bulk of the German colonies. Italy in 1915, and Roumania in 1916 were both promised territorial aggrandizement. In 1916 Russia was secretly awarded Central and Northern Armenia and lands south of the Black Sea; France was given the sovereignty over Southern Armenia, Cilicia and the Syrian coast, with Damascus and Mosul as a sphere of influence. Mesopotamia was reserved for Great Britain. A year later Italy was promised the southern half of Anatolia. (Smyrna was simultaneously pledged to Italy and Greece!) Though China too had entered the war on the side of the Allies, Japan was to have the forcibly-leased German Chinese port of Kiaouchau.

The peace treaty deprived Germany of two-thirds of her iron, 26% of her coal, 13% of her territory, 7% of her population, 40% of her blast furnaces, 30% of her steel mills, 28% of her rolling mills, and a million square miles of her colonies. To the protesting Germans the Allies virtuously explained that it was all being done for the good of the natives.

“Germany’s dereliction in the sphere of colonial civilization has been revealed too clearly to admit of the Allied and Associated Powers consenting to make a second experiment of their assuming the responsibility of again abandoning 13 or 14 million natives to a fate from which the war has delivered them.”

The colonies were thus assigned to those more humane and experienced in the art of their administration. England saw her duty and accepted the extra load to her White Man’s Burden without demur.


In 1914 England ruled over an empire of 12 million square miles, one quarter of the inhabitable surface of the globe, and of which area she herself constituted less than one hundredth part. The possessing class of one-tenth of the population of this empire dominated 370 million natives of India, 50 million natives of Africa, and millions of Malay, Polynesian and Chinese natives. To this overseas empire Britain now added Mesopotamia, Trans-Jordania, Palestine, the German colonies of East Africa and Southwest Africa, as well as parts of the Kamerun and Togoland. The British Empire now controls half the world’s annual production of gold, a third of the coal, a fourth of the cotton, a fifth of the wheat and a sixth of the pig-iron. British capitalist investments of 20 billion dollars abroad netted the governing classes a return of 1 billion dollars a year. The “Blessed Isle” had indeed won the war. German competition was destroyed and England dominated trade from Cairo to Singapore.

Occasionally the natives, for whose welfare she is a trustee, doubt England’s democracy and there is trouble. Concentration camps have to be set up in India, and the extremes of the massacre of Amritzar may become necessary to restore the natives to a mood of cooperation. The “pacification” of the Indian Northwest Frontier keeps thousands of British troops constantly engaged. In 1927 the Chinese went on a rampage against British extra-territorial rights and Great Britain was compelled to dispatch an expeditionary force. The Arabs take violent exception to the British Zionist policy in Palestine, and it becomes necessary to stamp out terrorism by burning their villages wholesale. But enough has been said, perhaps, to demonstrate the high moral difference between British occupation of Egypt and the brutal Japanese conquest of Manchuria. To confuse these would be tantamount to missing the fine ethical distinction between Italian ambitions to replace France in Tunisia and France’s replacement of Turkey in Algiers. What Britain finds unpardonable is the utter disregard that Japan and Italy have manifested for the sanctity of treaties.

She can never condone a breach of faith. For example, in 1897 Lord Salisbury who suspected that a Belgian syndicate had obtained a concession for building a railway from Peking to Hankow, directed the British Minister to inform the Chinese that Her Majesty’s Government had been badly treated.

“Unless they agree at once (to employ British capital) we shall regard their breach of faith concerning the Peking-Hankow Railway as an act of deliberate hostility against this country and shall act accordingly. After consultation with the Admiral you may give them the number of days or hours you think proper within which to send their reply.”

The status quo created by the Treaty of Versailles was naturally a beautiful thing for the imperialist states satisfied with their holdings. The present territorial distribution of markets, colonies and raw materials was declared virtually sacrosanct and boundaries were treated as immutable. Having destroyed German competition, Great Britain however finds herself menaced anew. Japan in the east and Italy in the Mediterranean give the City sleepless nights. With almost a billion dollars of British capital invested in China, with Hong Kong, Singapore, the East Indies and Australasia to defend, there is every reason for the British government to express abhorrence of those who violate the sanctity of treaties. The Ethiopian crisis sent Britain into a paroxysm of idealism over the League covenant, with what results are generally known. The conquest of Ethiopia, like the present Japanese occupation of China, places England before accomplished facts and negotiations are proceeding on both fronts for a deal at the expense of the colonial populations, with democracy having nothing to do with it.


The other great beneficiary of the Versailles Peace was the French Republic. With an area of 212,659 square miles, and a population of 42,900,000, France exploits African colonies with an area of 3,894,727 square miles, and a native population of 38,668,000, including Algeria, Tunis, Morocco, part of West Africa, Equatorial Africa, Madagascar, parts of former German Togoland and Kamerun Colonies. Her Asiatic Empire comprises the five provinces of French-Indo-China, and Syria and Lebanon, a total area of 331,050 square miles with a native population of 25,660,000. Here too the natives are singularly lacking in appreciation of the benefits of French democracy, whether it is of the National Union or the Popular Front variety. Again and again French troops have had to put down popular uprisings in Syria, Morocco and Algiers.

The restoration of Alsace-Lorraine and the control of the Saar gave France the illusion that the old equilibrium having been displaced, she could replace it with her own diplomatic and military hegemony. To this end she built up an elaborate system of post-war alliances with the other beneficiaries of the new distribution of power, Belgium, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Jugoslavia and Roumania. But the base for long-range French hegemony on the continent was too narrow. The center of world economic gravity had shifted to the United States and France never was in a position to organize European economy. On the contrary, her post-war authority depended on the chaos brought about by the Balkanization of Europe. Every move of French imperialism against Germany from the imposition of the impossible reparations to the occupation of the Ruhr merely accentuated the antagonisms and the crisis. French security was built on sand. The world-wide economic crash finally blasted away the foundations of French hegemony.

As a result of French policy the foundations of bourgeois democracy in post-war Germany were also blasted away, but at no time were the Allies concerned about preserving European “democracy”. England was interested in the restoration of Germany’s industry so far as it was necessary for the stability of British markets, and the extraction of a reasonable amount of reparations. She was equally concerned about maintaining the balance of power, since that has always been the aim of Downing Street. The British government, therefore, viewed Hitler’s advent with some satisfaction as a means of holding French ambitions in check. France was interested chiefly in keeping Germany in a state of perpetual subordination. Neither of the two victorious Democracies were motivated by any other than imperialist considerations. Although the Weimar Republic had suppressed the uprising of the revolutionary Spartacists in blood, it never was for that reason treated other than as a potential imperialist rival. When the Cuno government attempted to evade reparations payments France occupied the Ruhr regardless of what revolutionary situation might ensue. The German middle class was wrecked and in default of proletarian action became ripe for the Hitler coup d’etat. French financial coercion of Austria, when the Bruening government tried to evade the prohibition of Anschluss by framing the Austro-German Tariff Union Pact, helped pave the way for the crash of 1931 in the Reich. It could not be otherwise. The notion that England or France are animated by concern for democracy is fantastic. The imperialist power which only yields a dominion government to Ireland in bloody civil war, and the imperialist power which suppresses the colonial populations of Indo-China, can hardly be expected to foster either genuine democracy or self-determination. The League of Nations was what Lenin called it, “a den of thieves”.


One of the most revealing chapters in the record of the Great Democracies was their attempt to strangle the Russian Revolution. Allied intervention in Soviet Russia began in March 1918. The Czechoslovaks were organized. Allied Expeditionary Forces landed at Murmansk and Vladivostock. White Guard revolts were incited. Lloyd George and Winston Churchill strained every nerve and expended huge sums to foment counter revolution in the Caucasus in order to gain possession of its oil. Wilson sent an expedition to the Archangel on his own hook. The end of Allied military support witnessed the collapse of the counter revolution and the anti-Bolshevik uprisings. Yudenitch was driven out of the Baltic area, Denikin was expelled from Southern Russia, and Kolchak collapsed in Siberia. But the famous French democracy continued nevertheless in its efforts to destroy the Soviet Republic. Poland was encouraged in her territorial ambitions and Wrangel was subsidized to renew the struggle in Southern Russia. That counter revolution did not triumph was due only to the heroic resistance of the Russian workers and peasants.


Something should be said about the role of the third Great Democracy. No one has expressed it more succinctly than Harold G. Knowles, formerly American Ambassador to Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Bolivia.

“We have been guilty of violating the sovereign rights of neighbors and proceeding contrary to universally recognized principles of international law. We have imposed our force upon weak people, and defenceless countries, and slaughtered thousands of her citizens. We have attacked them when they expected we would defend them.”

The Monroe Doctrine sets the United States up as the imperialist guardian of South America. Monroe’s own formulation has been adapted to the requirements of modern imperialism until it means the right of the United States to declare which is the constitutional party in the event of a revolution in Latin America (1912 first intervention in Nicaragua), and to take over political and economic control as in Haiti in 1915 when the United States reaches the conclusion that the Latin America country is unable to maintain law and order. It is applied to enforce and secure the cancellation of public debts, as in the case of Santo Domingo 1916, and it has been applied when revolutionary ideas are conceived to endanger the private interests of American capitalists (Nicaragua and Mexico).

The same Wilson who was to utter his solemn platitudes about self-determination ordered the bombardment of Vera Cruz when Huerta failed to salute the United States flag by way of reparation for an alleged insult. Vera Cruz was captured by United States forces and occupied for several months. That was in 1914. Two years later a punitive expedition was dispatched to capture Villa. They didn’t capture Villa but they spent about $130,000,000 trying to.

During the Great Depression there was an apparent retreat from Dollar imperialism. Roosevelt proclaimed his good neighbor policy. Thus the Hawes-Cutting bill of January 1933, and the Tydings-McDuffie bill of March 1934 provided independence for the Philippines after a ten year period. In March 1930 the J. Reuben Clark memorandum on the Monroe Doctrine reiterated that it would not be used to justify intervention in Latin America. In 1934 a new treaty abrogated the Platt Amendment Treaty of May 1903, abolishing all United States rights of intervention or of military and fiscal control in Cuba. Haiti was relinquished by executive agreement in 1933, and the Marines withdrew from Nicaragua the same year. But at no time has there been any real surrender of United States strategic, political or financial interests. The principal motive behind these concessions was the desire to retain the good-will of the Latin American countries and restore shrinking markets for American exports. Cordell Hull explained the new dispensation in these words,

“A new spirit inspired by the policy of the good neighbor was born at Montevideo. It was the spirit of the Golden Rule ... We must sell abroad more of our surpluses.”

In the last few months American imperialism has resumed its aggressive attitude. The independence of the Philippines is being adjourned, reprisals are directed against Mexico for its oil nationalization policy, and the “utmost concern” is evinced by the State Department about the commercial relations of South American countries with the “Fascist Aggressors”. As a measure of reprisal against the Mexican government’s nationalization of the oil industry Roosevelt and Hull have decided to strike a blow at the very foundations of Mexican economy. Washington announces that the Silver-Purchase Scheme will be halted. Since metal constitutes 76% of Mexico’s exports and provides 13% of her revenues, the meaning of the New Deal’s policy towards Mexico is plain. It is the attempted imperialist coercion of a semi-colonial country to prevent her national self-determination, to dictate her domestic policies, sabotage her agrarian program and keep her workers in the US owned oil industry on starvation wages. Washington stands solidly behind the rapacious American oil interests. The New Deal’s velvet glove is a thin cover for the mailed fist of dollar diplomacy.


It is nothing but a liberal myth that bourgeois democracy is somehow a guarantee of a pacific foreign policy. We have seen how little democracy there can be in the relations between the British ruling class and the Indian “native”. Bourgeois democracy is founded in the economic exploitation of both the working classes and the colonial masses.

“Pacifism”, as Trotsky says, “stands on the same foundation as the theory of the harmony of social interests. The antagonisms between capitalist nations have the same economic roots as the antagonism between the classes.”

The theory of bourgeois democracy which is based on the assumption that government is the expression of the popular will implies that there is such a thing as “democratic control of international policy”. The fact of the matter, of course, is that no department of the State is a closer preserve of the imperialist interests, the interests of the economically dominant class, than foreign policy. The stakes of diplomacy arise from the interests of the ruling class. The agrarian autocracy of Tzarist Russia ruled by the landed nobility was territorially aggressive and so was the agrarian democracy of the United States before the Civil War. The Dutch commercial state of the 17th century and the English state of the 18th century were hungry for commodity markets. The industrialized capitalist states of the 20th century fight for investment markets, and monopolies in trade and finance.

The foreign policy of a country like Japan, or of the Fascist countries, is obviously free of control by democratic pressure. But it should be noted that in England foreign policy is equally free of “democratic control”. The power to make war and peace is part of the prerogative of the Crown which Parliament has never taken away. Treaties are made without legislative consent. The House of Commons never even discussed the Anglo-Russian Treaty of 1907 before it was ratified by the Crown. Nor did the Commons ever have the chance to discuss the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1905. Everybody knows the familiar instance of the repeated assurances to Parliament in 1913-14 that England had no obligations to France until the outbreak of the war when Parliament was informed that the country was bound by the terms of the Entente Cordiale. While the power of the French President to declare a war is dependent upon the consent of parliament, the term war does not cover military expeditions against backward peoples, which permits the President to take in quite a lot of territory. Nor is there any obligation to submit alliances, arbitration treaties, etc. to Parliament. Neither the Treaty of Berlin 1878, nor the Franco-Russian Alliance 1891, were approved by the French Parliament before being ratified.

In the United States where the Presidential power to make treaties is subject to the consent of two-thirds of the Senate and the power to declare war rests with Congress, the Executive has nevertheless been able to evade these checks. If the United States is “attacked” the President may declare a blockade and permit acts of war without waiting for Congress. McKinley sent troops to China in 1900, Wilson sent troops to the Archangel in 1918, and Coolidge sent three warships to Honduras in 1923, all without authorization of Congress. As Commander in Chief of the military forces, the President has repeatedly intervened in Caribbean and Latin American countries upon his own authority. The President has a further device for evading restrictions imposed upon his treaty-making power. He may annex territory to the United States, make an armistice or negotiate a treaty by “Executive Agreement” such as Theodore Roosevelt negotiated with Santo Domingo, when the Senate balked.

More recent evidence of the disregard of the “will of the people” when the imperialist interests of the United States demands it, is furnished by Franklin Roosevelt’s manipulation of the Neutrality Law and his aggressive formulation of a foreign policy that is the opposite of the “isolationism” implied in the popular support for the Ludlow Referendum. In an injured tone Secretary of State Hull recently asked:

“What warrant is there in reason or in experience, for the assumption – which underlies such proposals as the plan for a popular referendum on the subject of declaring war – that the Chief Executive and the Congress will be at any time more eager and more likely to embark upon war than would be the general body of citizens to whom they are directly responsible? No President and no Congress have ever carried this country into war against the will of the people.”

Woodrow Wilson was elected on the slogan that he “kept us out of war”, but on his re-election he plunged the country into the war on the side of the Allies. In the period of 1914–1917 United States trade with the Allies increased from 1½ billion to 4 billion dollars. By 1917 the United States had loaned the Allies 2 billion dollars. In 1917 Walter Hines Page, US Ambassador to Great Britain, sent the following confidential message to Wilson:

“Perhaps our going to war is the only way in which our present pre-eminent trade position can be maintained and a panic averted.”

So we went to war.


All the sermonizing in the world cannot obliterate the fundamental fact that the “crisis of democracy” derives from the decay of capitalism. Consider such a thing as the evaporation of the famous Spirit of Locarno. Signed in the Autumn of 1925 the accords of Locarno adjourned all territorial disputes arising from the Treaty of Versailles. Germany renounced the purpose of recovering her lost provinces. Great Britain and Italy guaranteed the status quo at the Rhine against either French or German aggression. Germany entered the League of Nations. To bourgeois pacifists it looked for a moment as if the terrors of the Versailles Peace and the occupation of the Ruhr were to be dissipated. But the “appeasement” of the Germans that followed proved illusory. The temporary German prosperity of the period was based not on a real development of industry or commerce, but on American and British loans with which to pay reparations and purchase essential raw materials abroad. With the crash in the United States and the end of American and British loans, the economic life of the Reich collapsed again. This also was the end of the Stresemann policy which had worked on the assumption that if Germany loyally accepted the terms of the Versailles Treaty she would be able to recover material prosperity along with her former enemies. German capitalism in fact had only adopted the Stresemann idea as a stop-gap; its revenge for the bankruptcy of Stresemannism took the form of Hitlerism.

German collapse was of course due to the Versailles Peace in part only. Versailles intensified all contradictions of capitalist imperialism by creating eleven new national states, with eleven new national frontiers. In their own way the international bankers saw this when in 1926 in convention in London they declared,

“It is difficult to view without dismay the extent to which tariff barriers, special licenses and prohibitions since the war have been allowed to interfere with international trade and to prevent it from flowing in its natural channels ... One state lost its supplies of cheap food, another its supplies of cheap manufacturers, industry suffered from want of coal, factories for want of raw materials. Prices have risen, artificial dearness has been created. Production as a whole has been diminished, credit has been contracted, and currencies have depreciated ...”

Or as Trotsky once put it, far more concisely,

“Imperialism is the predatory expression of the tendency of modern industry to tear itself completely away from the stupidity of national narrowness, as it did formerly with regard to local and provincial confinement.”

The mere restoration of the old German frontiers would not have solved the crisis materially. The cause of the crisis was that the productive forces in Germany were potentially geared for the frontiers of the world market. The real and permanent solution of the crisis lay therefore in the political and economic union of Europe without state barriers, without strangling tariffs, and without armaments. But such a United States of Europe is only conceivable under the dictatorship of the proletariat, and despite the urgent revolutionary situations of 1918, 1923 and 1933, the German proletariat under its social democratic and Stalinist leadership failed to take revolutionary action. The initiative thereupon passed into the hands of Fascism and neo-German imperialism.

The inglorious liquidation of bourgeois democracy in Germany points the roads-end of popular frontism in France, Spain and wherever it is tried. Whatever its form, Catholic-social-democratic-liberal coalition, socialist-communist-radical-Popular Front, Labor-Government or New Deal – bourgeois democracy in the epoch of its imperialist transformation, is utterly incapable of maintaining the social equilibrium nationally or internationally. It is profoundly true and attested by every fresh experience since 1914 that humanity faces the alternatives either of slaughter under imperialism or peace through the Revolution in Permanence. The futility of the bourgeois peace societies lies in the fact that though frequently aware of the economic reasons for imperialism they propose solutions that are impossible without social revolution. What they ask is the voluntary, self-liquidation of capitalism. Thus they suggest that trade restrictions should be done away with, that embargoes on exports should be lifted, that monopolies should be abolished, that international cartels should be dissolved, that all people should have equal access to raw materials, that tariffs should be reduced, the standards of living raised, and the world disarm. But how all this is to be done without waging war on capitalism is a mystery.

The war against Fascism can only be waged as a class war against imperialism. Between the Fascist and the so-called democratic powers the real antagonism is not of “ideologies” or the political regimes, but of markets, colonies and raw materials. The idea of England or France or the United States waging a war for democracy as a political ideal is nonsense. As well have expected the Russian bourgeoisie to initiate the bourgeois revolution. The foreign policy of the Popular Front is a sheer caricature of Jacobinism. Marx supported Germany against France in 1870 and the north against the south in the American Civil War, but he did so on the basis of the then existing class relations. He was supporting an aggressive capitalism against a decaying feudal order. In the war against feudalism, Marx saw a way to the victory of democracy as the prerequisite for the victory of the working class movement.

The reformists tried to exploit Marx’ position of that time in order to justify their own support of the rival imperialisms of 1914. But the imperialist transformation of democracy already accomplished in 1914 carries with it today, the Fascist transformation of the bourgeoisie.

The war against Fascism can be waged successfully only as a revolutionary war. Such a war would have been justified in 1923 when the revolutionary crisis was maturing in Germany, the country was splitting up into two armed camps, and the Red army was on the alert in the Soviet Union. Had the German workers fought Hitler in 1933, and had the military forces of the Soviet Union not been weakened by Stalin’s economic adventurism, mobilization of the Red army against German Fascism, and the revolutionary war in cooperation with the German proletariat would have been in order. But that is not the kind of war that the advocates of Collective Security, and of the “peace-loving” nations against the aggressor nations, have in mind. In the United States the last war produced 21,000 new millionaires, one for every five American doughboys killed. The proletariat of the Fascist and “democratic” countries equally must proclaim Karl Liebknecht’s slogan, “The enemy is within your own country”!



1. Published under the auspices of the Institute of International Affairs.

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