Thirty Years – 1922-1952
The Story of the Communist Movement in Canada
TOWARDS THE END of the 1930's Hitler's drive to a predatory expansionist war became evident to all who did not deliberately refuse to see. At the same time the disarmament proposals and the program of collective security put forward by Maxim Litvinov in the name of the Soviet government won the support of widening circles of peace-loving people. The Soviet disarmament proposal was the democratic and peaceful alternative to the imperialists' plans for war. The Communist Party had campaigned consistently for more active Canadian support for disarmament and the strengthening, of the League of Nations. The eighth national convention restated the position of the party on that issue in a comprehensive resolution on Canada's foreign policy. The convention called upon the government:
To accept full responsibility in the League of Nations and
to exercise full Canadian sovereignty in the field of foreign policy.
To help strengthen the machinery of the League of Nations' action in accord with its covenant.
To stop Canadian support of the then British policy of cooperation with Hitler and Mussolini (loans, credits, strengthened diplomatic relationships, etc.).
To cooperate with all other peace-loving countries on the American continent, uniting the weight of those forces against the drive to war.
To live up to the letter and spirit of the Kellogg Peace Pact and other international treaties and obligations.
To remove the ban on the export of arms and materials to the legal democratic Spanish government.
To give full support to China in its just resistance against Japanese invasion. To stop the shipment of war materials to Japan.
To nationalize the nickel industry and to tax heavily all profits made from war contracts.
Then, as now, the Communist Party with all genuine supporters of peace insisted that way was not inevitable. But the eighth convention reiterated the thesis put forward by Norman Freed in his earlier elaboration of the official party position on foreign policy that, "He who does not fight for peace, cannot avert war."
"War if not inevitable. War can be prevented by the might of the people. We can, by our united struggle, bar the road to the warmakers, we can preserve peace, we can prevent fascism."(1)
The peace policy advocated by the Communist Party could have barred the road to the fascist drive to war had energetic, united, democratic action been developed on a sufficiently broad scale. It was evident, however, that the great international finance-capitalist interests and the governments in their service were looking to the "anti-Comintern axis" to solve the problems of the imperialist system by Hitler's "drang nach Osten."(2) Governments which could have made collective security effective were determined to destroy it. By the Anglo-Italian Treaty the Chamberlain government had in effect, endorsed Mussolini's bloody rape of Ethiopia and his invasion of Spain. Advancing millions of pounds along with the treaty, the British government saved Mussolini from economic disaster and literally underwrote his regime. By granting a "standstill" agreement to Hitler, enabling him to use the proceeds of German exports to Britain to buy British goods without paying for British exports into Germany for the time being, the Chamberlain government helped to finance the German war preparations. As the general secretary of the party pointed out: "Men who have enjoyed power, whose forefathers in many cases enjoyed power, allied with others who represent vested financial interests . . . are straining every nerve to build up Hitler as a barrier against the people who want to achieve a better life and extending democracy."(3)
Hitler seized Austria, then the Sudeten. The imperialist governments who had given their solemn pledge to go to the defence of Austria if she were attacked, refused to take any action. When Czechoslovakia was attacked the Soviet government called upon its partners, Britain and France, to take the action to which they were pledged, but they refused. Instead of acting to maintain the integrity of Czechoslovakia, Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier, premier of France, flew to Germany to meet in a friendly discussion with Hitler and Mussolini. Together they hatched the cynical bloodstained Munich Pact.
Political reactions to the Munich Pact revealed with increasing clarity the sharpening line of division in world politics. Numerous public men who previously had given lip service to the idea of collective security recognized in the Munich Pact an unacknowledged alliance between British and German imperialism. Victims of their own wishful thinking that Hitler would extend his Nazi empire only to the East, they joined the chorus of approval. No serious effort was made to maintain the pretence that the "peace in our time" proclaimed by Chamberlain meant peace for all mankind. There was cynical, tacit admission that Chamberlain's hope was peace for British imperialism; while Hitler destroyed the first workers' state. It is important to note the contrasting reactions of the leaderships of the Communist Party and the C.C.F. The Communist attitude was expressed in the following words written by Tim Buck:
"The only effect it can have is to strengthen Hitler's power for aggression, strengthen the fanatical belief among the Nazis that the great democracies are afraid, provoke widespread breakdown of confidence in international treaties, a far-reaching drift of small states from the orbit of French-British influence toward the Rome-Berlin axis and open the door wide to European war, with Hitler in a much more favorable position."(4)
Every Canadian, indeed every adult in the world who is possessed of even elementary information concerning the events of 1938-39, knows that the above-stated position of the Communists was correct. It has been vindicated completely by history. But what was the position of the leaders of the C.C.F.? The following quotation from a front-page story in the Calgary Herald describes the C.C.F. position perfectly:
"'Chamberlain did the only thing he could have', stated J. S. Woodsworth,
M.P., federal leader of the C.C.F. Party, when he discussed
the recent world crisis and Canada's foreign policy at a meeting
of the Knights of the Round Table in the T. Eaton Company's dining room at noon today.
"... Mr. H. S. Patterson, K.C., thanked Mr Woodsworth on behalf of the club 'for his acceptable view of the recent crisis'."(5)
All attempts to achieve collective security having failed, the Soviet government attempted to secure a military alliance, binding itself and the British government to mutual assistance against a Nazi attack upon either one. The Chamberlain government rejected the Soviet proposal for a military alliance. British-Soviet negotiations were broken off and the Soviet government entered into negotiations with the Nazi government. Out of these negotiations came the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact. Chamberlain's scheme had ended in fiasco. His government had egged Hitler on to the very threshold of war, gambling that he would make war only against the Soviet Union. The Soviet government had exhausted every possibility of securing agreement with the British government for mutual military assistance to prevent Hitler from launching a world war. The Chamberlain government cynically had prevented such an agreement. But the fascists' aim was world conquest, not to "pull chestnuts out of the fire" for British imperialism. The decisive issue at stake was, in fact, fascist world conquest or military defeat of the fascist powers. Lacking Soviet-British agreement, the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact was the sole alternative by which the Soviet government could maintain the conditions for the defeat of Hitler's plan. The Soviet-German pact guaranteed the defeat of the fascists; the Chamberlain government paid the political price of its own reckless adventurism.
(1) Norman Freed, Report on A Foreign Policy for World Peace - A Democratic Front for Canada. New Era Publishers, Toronto, 1938, p. 109.
(2) "Drive to the East."
(3) War in Europe, Tim Buck, p. 14.
(4) The Daily Clarion, Toronto. Quoted by Sam Carr in National Affairs Monthly, April, 1944, p. 16.
(5) Calgary Herald, October 11, 1938.