From the November 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard
In 1914 it was “Poor Little Belgium.” Now it is “Poor Little Austria,” “Poor Little Hungary,” “ Poor Little Ireland,” according to taste. Fifty years ago it was “Poor Little Bulgaria,” and fifty years before that “Poor Little Italy” and “Poor Little Greece.” It is always “Poor Little” some country or other. “ Poor Little X—, “Poor Little Y—,” or “Poor Little A B C.”
Always there are sentimentalists ready to respond to this trick of personifying countries, ready to give sympathy and assistance to the weak or small nation bullied or downtrodden by the great and powerful. Yet it is all a sham. Countries are not persons, but geographical units of the all-embracing capitalist system of society. In the small, just as much as in the large, there is oppression of the weak by the strong, coercion of the poor and dispossessed by the rich and powerful who control the State, the organ of coercion. Those who help the Austrian State against the encroachments of neighbouring Powers are helping nobody but the Austrian ruling class. Those who strove to “free” Poland from the Powers which had shared its territory, and who gloried in having helped to reconstitute the Polish State were only giving the Polish workers and peasants a different set of masters. Those who fancied they were fighting for “Poor Little Belgium” were only fighting for the interests of the British and Belgian capitalists, which happened at that time to coincide.
The history of the struggles of subject nations to be free is full of the most ironical changes. The victims of one year are the bullies and assassins of the next. Poland, dismembered and annexed by Russia, Germany and Austria, has been re-created under the Versailles Treaty. Now it is the Germans, Russians, Jews and other minorities imploring help and protection against Polish tyranny. Italy, in the 19th century had all the Liberal sentimentalists shedding tears over her wrongs at the hands of the Austrian tyrants. Now Austria, the pre-war Empire itself dismembered, sorrows for her children, tyrannised by Italy in provinces annexed in 1918. For nearly 50 years, from 1871 to 1918, France mourned her lost provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. Now Germany mourns the same reconquered provinces. In 1905 all the Labourites in the world sympathised with “Poor Little Japan” in the war with the great imperialist Russia. Now the same sentimentalists side with “Poor Little Russia” against the big Japanese Bully. Sometimes, as in the case of Saar Territory and Austria, the sentimentalists are divided, or forced to perform a quick right-about-face. From 1918 to 1933 the British “Poor Little Nation” busybodies demanded the right of the populations in Saar Territory and Austria to be united with Germany, and roundly condemned French and British Governments for their alleged opposition. Now that Hitler is in power they are demanding that Austria and the Saar be prevented from joining Germany. Germany, of course, is working the same appeal to sentiment, in the reverse direction, and is asking the German workers to shed tears (and, if need be, go to war) in order to bestow on Saar Territory and Austria the honour and privilege of being restored to the great family of Germans.
It is all a gigantic racket, worked by the forces of capitalism, using muddle-headed sentimentalists as their tools and dupes. When the avowed enemies of Socialism, or its false friends, tell you that Socialists have a hand in this business you will know that they are lying. Socialists are not supporters of capitalist Nationalism anywhere or at any time.
Lord Beaverbrook, who supported the last Great War, is now using his newspapers to popularise the policy of isolation from European entanglements. He says that Britain should never again go to war because of the quarrels of Continental nations. If Germany wants to eat up Austria, Poland wants Danzig, and France wants Saar Territory, let them do whatever they please. It is, he says, none of “our” business. So far so good. Socialists will heartily agree. We can also agree with his ridicule of the contrary position taken up by the Labour Party (which Lord Beaverbrook's newspapers, with studied dishonesty, refer to as the “Socialist Party”). But even so, Lord Beaverbrook's own position is every bit as ridiculous and anti-working class, for while telling the workers not to fight in the quarrels of the Continental Governments, his papers are insisting on the maintenance of a “strong central Government" under British control in India. In other words, English workers should not fight to prevent Austria going over to Germany, but should fight in order to prevent the Indian capitalists from obtaining undivided control in India. Why, Lord Beaverbrook? What does it matter to English workers which group of capitalists gets the loot, the wealth extracted from the exploitation of the workers? It is the job of the workers in each country to deal with the capitalist class in that country. The Indian workers will some day deal with the Indian section as we shall with the English. But Lord Beaverbrook, anxious for the investments of British capitalists in India, in effect wants English workers to fight defending those investments against Indian capitalist interests.
An authority on the subject of small nations is Mr. Vernon Bartlett. Writing in the News-Chronicle on October 5th, he told us all about the Saar, all, that is, except the one thing which really determines the issue. He told us what were the chances of Saar Territory going to France, or Germany, or remaining under League of Nations control. He told us that the French and German Governments are pouring millions of marks into the Saar each month, in order to influence the voting. What he did not tell us was what are the chances of Saar Territory going neither to the Germans, nor the French, nor the League of Nations, but to the population who live there. He left it out, if he thought of it at all, because he knows it is not even dreamed of. None of the interests concerned would permit such a thing. If there were any possibility of the Saarland workers! (and English workers) voting for taking over the mines, land, factories, etc., for the use of the community as a whole, and thus dispossessing the French and German and English capitalists, who own them, not only France and Germany, but the whole capitalist world, including Lord Beaverbrook, would be aghast. Whether in the Saar or in England they would all rush forward to stop such infamy.
The capitalist interests, which use patriotism, religion, national independence, and love of the scenes and traditions of particular geographical areas as a means of provoking national hatreds, are not concerned at all with the interests or convenience of the working class, but only with protecting their own property, markets, investments, and so on. Fighting to gain or protect national independence serves no interest, except that of the capitalist class. It solves no problem, not even that of nationality, for each success by one nationalist movement creates other similar problems. Socialism alone can solve the real problem of the working class, the poverty problem, and will in so doing restore national differences to a position in which they will cease to be a danger to the world.