Source: Published in Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922 (https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/897-to-the-masses), pp. 1143-1148.
Translation: Translations by John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters & Andy Blunden for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission.
The World War ended with the overthrow of three imperialist powers: Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia. Four great bandit states were left as victors on the battlefield: the United States, Britain, France, and Japan.
The peace treaties, with the Versailles Treaty at their heart, represent an attempt to consolidate, politically and economically, the world domination of these four victorious powers, by subjecting the rest of the world to their colonial exploitation. In social terms, they aim to secure bourgeois rule over the proletariat of their own country and also with regard to the victorious Russian proletariat through an alliance of the bourgeoisies of every country. To this end they have set up a wall of small subject states around Russia and armed them, with a view to strangling Soviet Russia at the first convenient opportunity. In addition, the defeated states are expected to repay fully all the material costs suffered by the victorious states in the war.
Today it is clear to everyone that the peace treaties were based on false assumptions. The attempt to establish a new equilibrium on a capitalist basis has failed. The history of the last four years reveals continual oscillation, constant insecurity, economic crisis, unemployment combined with overtime, governmental crises, party crises, and crises of international politics. Through a long series of conferences, the imperialist powers have tried to halt the disintegration of the world system constructed by the peace treaties and conceal the fact that the Versailles Treaty is bankrupt.
The attempts to overthrow the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia fell through. In all the capitalist countries, the proletariat is strengthening its support for Soviet Russia. Even the leaders of the Amsterdam International had to concede that the overthrow of proletarian rule in Russia would mean the victory of world reaction over the proletariat as a whole.
Turkey, as the vanguard of the growing revolution in the East, has successfully blocked implementation of the peace treaties by force of arms. At the Lausanne conference, an important component of the treaty structure will receive solemn burial.
The extended economic crisis has provided proof that the Versailles Treaty’s economic concepts are untenable. The leading imperialist power in Europe, Britain, which is highly dependent on world trade, cannot restore its economy without the re-establishment of Germany and Russia.
The United States, the strongest imperialist power, has turned its back on the treaty structure and is seeking to establish its world-wide imperialist power on its own. This undertaking has won support from important parts of the British world empire – Canada and Australia.
Britain’s oppressed colonies, the foundation of its world power, are rebelling, and the entire Muslim world is in either open or clandestine revolt.
All the assumptions of the treaty structure have proven to be invalid except for one: that the proletariat of all bourgeois countries must pay the costs of the war and the Versailles Treaty.
Among the victorious powers, it would seem that France had scored the greatest increase in power. In addition to the conquest of Alsace-Lorraine, occupation of the west bank of the Rhine, and claims for the unpaid billions of German war reparations, France is at present actually the strongest military power of the European continent. With the help of its vassal states, whose armies are trained and led by French generals (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania), with its own large army, its submarines, and its air force, it dominates the continent of Europe. It plays the role of watchman of the Versailles Treaty.
However, the economic basis of France, its small and declining population, its enormous internal and external debt, and its resulting economic dependence on Britain and the United States, provide an inadequate foundation for its appetite for boundless imperialist expansion. In terms of power politics, it is extremely restricted by Britain’s control of all important naval strongholds and the petroleum monopoly of Britain and the United States. In economic terms, the increased supply of iron ore that it gained through the Versailles Treaty is diminished in value by the fact that the coal needed to exploit it remained in Germany, in the Ruhr region. The hope that France’s ruined finances could be restored by German reparations payments has been revealed to be a delusion. All the world’s financial experts agree that Germany cannot possibly pay the amounts needed by France to repair its finances.
The only solution for the French bourgeoisie is to lower the living standards of the French proletariat to the German level. The hunger of German workers is a preview of the poverty that French workers face very soon. Some sectors of French heavy industry are now deliberately promoting the devaluation of the franc. Now that the Versailles Treaty structure has been shown to be unusable, this devaluation will be the means to shift the costs of war onto the shoulders of the French proletariat.
The World War brought Britain the unification of its world colonial empire from the Cape of Good Hope through Egypt and Arabia to India. It has retained control of all the most important outlets to the world’s oceans. By making concessions to its settler colonies, it seeks to construct a world Anglo-Saxon empire.
But despite all the British bourgeoisie’s adaptability, despite its dogged attempts to reconquer the world market, it has become clear that Britain cannot flourish in the world situation created by the Versailles Treaty. As an industrial state, Britain cannot survive unless Germany and Russia are economically restored. Here the conflict between Britain and France is growing more acute. Britain wants to sell goods to Germany, which under the Versailles Treaty is impossible. France wants to collect enormous sums from Germany to pay for the costs of the war, which ruins Germany’s capacity to purchase. That is why Britain favours dismantling reparations, while France is conducting a veiled war against Britain in the Near East, in order to compel Britain to give way on the question of reparations. The British and French bourgeoisies make new deals at the expense of Germany, while the British proletariat carries the costs of war in the form of millions of jobless workers.
The most important element in the Versailles Treaty structure is Central Europe, the new colonial territory of the imperialist robbers. Fragmented into countless small states, an array of economically unviable territories, these regions are incapable of following an independent policy. They have sunk to the status of colonies of British and French capitalism, incited against each other by the Great Powers, in line with their changing interests. Czechoslovakia, carved out of an economic territory of sixty million people, is locked in a permanent economic crisis. Austria has shrunk to an unviable remnant, which can only maintain the appearance of political independence thanks to the mutual jealousy of neighbouring states. Poland, which received vast territories with non-Polish population, has become a French outpost, a caricature of French imperialism. In all these countries, the proletariat must pay the costs of the war through reduction in its living standards or high unemployment.
The Versailles Treaty focuses above all on Germany. Disarmed, robbed of any means of defending itself, it has been delivered over to the imperialist powers for good or ill. The German bourgeoisie tries to make common cause – now with the British and now with the French bourgeoisie. Through heightened exploitation of the German proletariat, it strives to satisfy some of the French claims, while simultaneously using foreign help to secure its rule over the German proletariat. But even the most intensive exploitation of the German proletariat, reducing Germany’s workers to the status of Europe’s coolies, and the dreadful poverty to which Germany’s proletariat has been reduced by the Versailles Treaty, has not made it possible to make the reparations payments. Germany has thus become the plaything of Britain and France. The French bourgeoisie aims to resolve this issue through armed force, by occupying the Ruhr region. Britain is absolutely opposed to this. Only the assistance of the greatest economic power, the United States, has made it possible to go some way toward conciliating the contradictory interests of Britain, France, and Germany.
The United States pulled back from the Versailles Treaty structure some time ago, by refusing to ratify the treaty. Emerging from the World War as the strongest power economically and politically, and as a major creditor of the European imperialist powers, the United States displayed no desire to grant Germany the further massive loans that would make it possible to overcome the financial crisis of France. The capital of the United States is more and more turning away from the chaos of Europe, seeking with growing success to build a new colonial empire in Central and South America and in the Far East, while utilising protective tariffs to secure for its own ruling class the right to exploit its internal market. Abandoning Europe to its own devices, it encounters the opposed interests of Britain and Japan. By exerting its economic superiority through construction of ships of war, the United States has compelled the other imperialist powers to sign the Washington Agreement. In so doing, they swept away one of the most important underpinnings of the Versailles Treaty structure, Britain’s naval supremacy, and thus removed any incentive for Britain to hold to the alignment of powers foreseen in the treaty.
Japan, the newest of the imperialist world powers, keeps out of the chaos created in Europe by the Versailles Treaty. But its interests were strongly affected by the growth of the United States to world-power status. In Washington, Japan was forced to renounce its alliance with Britain, removing yet another of the basic underpinnings of the division of the world that took place at Versailles. Meanwhile, it is not only the oppressed peoples who rebel against British and Japanese domination, but also the British settler colonies, who seek to protect their interests in the approaching conflict between the United States and Japan by establishing closer links with the United States. The structure of British world imperialism is, in consequence, cracking up more and more.
Towards a New World War
The attempt of the imperialist great powers to create a stable foundation for their world domination has shattered miserably against the obstacle of their conflicting interests. The mighty edifice of the peace treaty lies in ruins. The great powers, along with the vassal states, are arming for a new war. Militarism is stronger than ever. And although the bourgeoisie is deathly afraid of the new proletarian revolutions that would result from a world war, the inherent laws of the bourgeois social order are inexorably leading to a new world conflict.
The Second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals are exerting themselves to support the radical wing of the bourgeoisie, which chiefly represents the interests of commercial and financial capital, in its ineffectual struggle for the dismantling of reparations. Here as everywhere, they walk hand in hand with the bourgeoisie. The task of the Communist parties, above all in the victor states, is to explain to the masses that the Versailles Treaty structure shifts all the burdens, in both victorious and defeated countries, onto the shoulders of the proletariat. The proletarians of every country are the real victims of the bourgeoisie’s treaty structure.
On this basis, the Communist parties – above all of Germany and France – must carry out a common struggle against the Versailles Treaty. The German Communist Party must stress the readiness of the German proletariat to assist the proletarians and peasants of the devastated north of France in rebuilding their homes. It must simultaneously conduct a forceful struggle against its own bourgeoisie, which is ready to carry out a policy of meeting treaty obligations together with the French bourgeoisie (the Stinnes agreement), at the cost of the German proletariat. The German bourgeoisie is willing to deliver Germany over to be a colony of their French counterparts, provided that their class interests are protected.
The French Communist Party must exert all its strength against the imperialist efforts of its own bourgeoisie, against the attempt to enrich the French bourgeoisie through heightened exploitation of the German proletariat. It must fight for an immediate end to the French occupation of the Rhineland, against the occupation of the Ruhr district, against the break-up of Germany, and against French imperialism. It is not enough in France today to fight against defence of the fatherland. The task today is to struggle everywhere against the Versailles Treaty. The Communist parties of Czechoslovakia, Poland, and France’s other vassal states must link the struggle against their own bourgeoisie with that against French imperialism. Mass actions, carried out jointly, are needed to explain to the proletariat that the attempt to implement the Versailles Treaty can only plunge the proletariat of all Europe into the deepest poverty, and that the struggle against it is in the common interests of the proletariat of every country.
1. After the victory of Turkish independence forces over the Greek army in 1922, France concluded an agreement with the nationalist government in Angora (Ankara) and withdrew its occupation forces from Turkey, while Britain attempted to hold its positions on the Straits against the Turkish advance.
2. Representatives of nine governments met at the Washington Conference (12 November 1921 – 6 February 1922) to discuss naval disarmament and conflicting interests in the Pacific. The Soviet republic protested its exclusion and declared it would not be bound by conference decisions. The Comintern warned against a U.S.-British bid for world hegemony at Japan’s expense. The conference adopted a five-power agreement for naval arms limitations, which lasted until 1936.
3. The deadlock over reparations payments obstructed reconstruction of the devastated regions of northeast France, which these payments were to finance. French owners of damaged property sought a solution through direct negotiations with German capitalists. In September 1922, their representative, Guy Louis Jean de Lubersac, president of the Federation of Cooperative Societies of French Liberated Regions, concluded an agreement with German industrialist Hugo Stinnes, whereby the Stinnes group would deliver building materials for reconstruction, to be counted as part-payment of reparations. However, French-German relations deteriorated rapidly in the months that followed, and the agreement was never implemented.