Editorial from the September 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard
THE London newspapers on Tuesday, August 22nd (except the Communist Daily Worker, which was busy ringing up Moscow) reported with astonishment the announcement from Berlin that Germany and Russia had negotiated a non-aggression pact, and that Herr von Ribbentrop, the German Foreign Minister, was flying at once to Moscow for the formal signature of the Treaty. This announcement, which came immediately after the completion of a trade agreement between the two Governments, was confirmed by the official Russian Tass News Agency in the following terms : —
After the conclusion of the Soviet-German trade and credit agreement there arose the problem of improving political relations between Germany and the U.S.S.R.
An exchange of views on this subject, which took place between the Government of Germany and the U.S.S.R., established that both parties desire to relieve the tension in their political relations, eliminate the war menace, and conclude a non-aggression pact.
Consequently, the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, von Ribbentrop, will arrive in Moscow in a few days for corresponding negotiations. —(Evening Standard, August 22nd, 1939.)
The Pact was duly signed in Moscow on August 23rd, thus realising a possibility suggested in these columns more than once.
That the capitalist Press was, for the most part, genuinely surprised is undoubtedly true — though this betrays some simplicity on their part and remarkably short memories. They had reasoned on the basis that Russia and Germany were fundamentally divided over the issue of Communism and that, consequently, Russia could be counted on to help British capitalism in its difficulties with Germany, Italy and Japan, the three principal members of the Anti-Comintern Pact. The reasoning was superficial in the extreme and overlooked the ease with which Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini had arranged pacts of friendship on earlier occasions, for example, the Russo-Italian "Pact of Friendship, Non-Aggression and Neutrality" of September 2nd, 1933, and the ratification and continuation on May 5th, 1933, of a German-Russian Agreement of earlier date. Though Hitler was then in power and was ferociously crushing Communists in Germany, the Russian Government could put its signature to an agreement which affirmed that the two Governments, by prolonging the Berlin 1926 treaty of neutrality and non-aggression, " intend to continue the existing friendly relations between the Soviet Union and Germany."
The Press should also have remembered Stalin's speech of March 10th, 1939, in which he made it very plain that Russia had no intention of falling a victim to what he declared was British-French policy, the policy of enmeshing Russia in war with Germany and Japan.
Yet when all these facts have been allowed for, it cannot be denied that, for Stalin to choose this moment, when a German army waits on the Polish border, to enter into a new 10-year Pact with Hitler represented a staggering affront to all those people who had believed that the Russian Government was above the disreputable ways of traditional diplomacy and that for that Government opposition to Fascism and aggression was a matter of principle. As Mr. Lloyd George — a supporter of the policy of alliance with Russia, who has been much praised by the Communists — says, the German - Russian Pact "is a stunning blow to Britain's Peace Front " (News Chronicle, August 22nd). It was so regarded by supporters of the "Peace Front" in Britain and other countries and, according to Press accounts, was received with jubilation in official circles in Germany and Italy.
Sordid Pacts Secretly Arrived At
The method by which the Stalin-Hitler Pact was reached merits a little attention, if only to expose the Communist hypocrisy of denouncing "secret diplomacy." Without being so naive as the Evening News (August 22nd), which says that the Pact "appears to have, been arranged without the (British) Foreign Office having the slightest inkling of what was going on," it is unquestionable that Germany and Russia must have been negotiating secretly for some considerable time, simultaneously with public declarations by Russia that all they wanted was the Peace Pact with Britain and France against aggression. The Daily Herald (August 22nd) reports from Berlin that, according to German accounts, the secret negotiations began in June, though the Evening News thinks they probably began even earlier, in April, when the Anglo-German Naval Treaty was denounced by Germany. Here we have an example of the cynical indifference of the Nazi and Bolshevik rulers to the views of the masses, so cynical that they can arrange in secret a Pact which must shock millions of simple-minded Germans and Russians alike. These rulers will, however, live to regret their action, for it will have repercussions as yet undreamt of by them.
Taking a long view, this is the outstandingly important feature of the Russo-German Pact, in spite of the fact that at no distant date both signatories to the Pact, having served their immediate purpose, may seek to explain it away as of no particular significance. The fact remains that Hitler, who built himself up on the slogan of protecting Germany against Bolshevism, and Stalin, who built himself up on the slogan of anti-Fascism, will have exposed themselves to their own sincere followers as being prepared to shake hands with their allegedly implacable foes, and to compromise with what they have denounced as the worst of all evils. From this realisation may flow the progressive demoralisation of both the dictatorships, with resulting revived hopes for democracy and Socialism.
Thieves Falling Out
Behind these negotiations are intrigues involving all of the Great Powers, an all in game of international blackmail. It is easy enough to reconstruct what has been going on, with reasonable confidence of substantial accuracy. The British and French capitalists, with interests in Europe, but with great interests in and on the way to the East, have long been vulnerable to an attack in both quarters at once. How, then, to gain the greatest measure of security? Equally the game of the German and Italian capitalists was to mass as many allies and potential allies as possible to keep the ring for their expansion. Russia's rulers, on the other hand, have feared that both groups might settle at the expense of Russian territory when various small nations had been gobbled up. After Munich, and the disappearance of Czecho-Slovakia, British policy veered towards a Russian alliance (though this still did not prevent private and "unofficial" conversations between the Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department, Mr. Hudson, and Herr Wohltat, Economic Adviser to General Goering, about possible economic assistance and a loan to Germany, these discussions being suddenly brought to light towards the end of July.) Nevertheless, British capitalist interests in and about China necessitated some action against, or compromise with Japan. Russia not desiring to be isolated, has retaliated with the Russo-German Pact, intended no doubt as a final warning to the British Government of a real Russo-German alliance unless the British Government would line up definitely with Russia and against the German-Japanese group. But in the international scramble every new alignment of forces provokes further jostling for position, so now Japan will have an increased fear of herself being isolated through loss of German backing, and the Japanese capitalists will have to ask themselves whether to crusade under the banner "Asia for the Asiatics," line up still closer in the Anti-Comintern Pact with Germany against Russia, or revert to the British alliance, and divide the Chinese market with the British Empire. Germany, having used the Russian Pact to try to bring Japan to heel, may drop it as quickly as it was taken up, in which case Russia, Britain and France may yet be forced into a close alliance. At the moment this still seems the most likely outcome, with, as a minor phase, a further attempt by Britain and France to detach Italy and Spain from the Axis. That the Pact is supposed to endure for 10 years will not disturb either party for 10 minutes if they want to break it.
One feature of the situation which has received less attention than it deserves is the trade agreement which preceded the German-Russian Pact. The Manchester Guardian's Moscow Correspondent (August 22nd) states that the trade agreement, under which Germany advances Russia a trade credit of £16,000,000, was delayed because Russia insisted on being supplied by Germany with "equipment of a strictly military nature" in return for Russian exports to Germany. The Guardian's Berlin correspondent states that, according to German accounts, the agreement arose out of Russia's great need of industrial machinery, which Germany can supply," and out of Germany's need for Russian exports. It may well be that economic difficulties in both countries are forcing the two Governments to revise their policies of recent years and, indeed, one German newspaper states that the Russian Government has recently decided to reorganise its foreign trade and aim at expanding it. (Quoted in Daily Express, August 22nd.)
In the meantime, the rights and wrongs of Danzig and Poland fall into their true perspective as mere counters in the sordid international scramble of the capitalist Powers — not omitting the Bolsheviks. One thing at least should be gained, a growing refusal by the workers to be influenced by the shoddy propaganda alike of "big-business democrats" and Nazi-Bolshevik believers in totalitarian capitalism.
The Apologies of the Communist Party
After their first reaction—one of utter consternation—the British Communist Party Central Committee published a remarkable statement in the Daily Worker (August 23rd). Its claims were so amazing and the evidence on which they were based is so negligible that the statement is no less amazing than if the Communist Party had decided to deny everything and declare the whole affair to be an invention of the capitalist Press. (They might just as well have taken this line for all the effect their apologetics seem to have had on most of their followers.)
During recent weeks the News Chronicle has several times reported statements that the German Government was making approaches to Russia for a Pact. Each time the Daily Worker has ridiculed the suggestion and put it down to pro-Nazi influences in Great Britain. Now, when it transpires that the statements were correct, and the Russian Government had secretly been negotiating such a Pact, the Daily Worker (August 23rd) blares forth in great headlines that the German-Russian talks are a "Victory for Peace and Socialism," a "Blow to Fascist War Plans and the Policy of Chamberlain." In brief, the argument is that Mr. Chamberlain's policy was that "of endeavouring to strengthen Germany to attack the U.S.S.R., and to refuse the Peace Front," and that "the action of the Soviet Union in its present negotiations with Germany has spiked the guns of the pro-Fascist intrigues of Chamberlain and has strengthened the hands of the British people in their fight for the Anglo-Soviet Pact. Now is the time and the hour to develop the mass movement for the immediate signing of the Anglo-Soviet Pact."
The statement further declares that it represents a climb-down and defeat for Hitler, and that the Pact is fully in line with past declarations of Russian foreign policy. To show this the statements made by Stalin in March last are quoted. One in particular will show the hollowness of the Communist Party's defence. Stalin is quoted as having said : —
We stand for the support of nations which are the victims of aggression and are fighting for the independence of their country.
To justify the present attitude Stalin should have added, "We also stand for Pacts of Non-Aggression with the aggressor State (Germany)." He did not do so, but that is what the Communists are now seeking lamely to defend.
If, as the Communist Party say, the Pact means defeat and "capitulation," of Hitler and the Axis Powers, they signally fail to explain why, in their own words, "the Berlin papers spread the news in the largest of type across their front pages. "
Altogether, the whole of the Communist Party's explanation fails to explain away the glaring impossibility of reconciling the action of the Russian Government with the propaganda of the Communist Party.
One true statement—but only half the truth—is this : —
What kind of discussions are proceeding to-day in German factories, shipyards and mines ? What a strengthening of the mass opposition to the Hitler regime the negotiations will present ? What an exposure of Hitler they represent.
For the other half of the truth read "Russia" for German and "Stalin" for Hitler, for it will be just as disconcerting in Russia as in Germany.