Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Russian Invasion of Finland (1940)

Editorial from the January 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

When Russian troops invaded Finland the official excuse put forward by Molotov in a broadcast reproduced by the Daily Worker (December 1st, 1939) was that the “ only purpose of our measures is to ensure the security of the Soviet Union, and especially Leningrad." He repudiated annexationist aims, laid the blame on the “unfriendly” Finnish Government, and discovered provocative acts, “including even artillery firing on our troops." He did not deny that the Russian Government was demanding concessions from Finland, but put against these the offer of certain territory in exchange.

To provide an excuse and a background for the argument that Russia was not at war with the Finnish people, but only with their Government, the Russians set up a puppet Government of their own and claimed that they were only defending themselves against Powers who were using Finland as a jumping-off ground for an attack on Russia.

Within a short space of time the excuse took on a more concrete form, and by December 23rd the Daily Worker was telling its readers that “the capitalist governments are now fully launched on their war of intervention against the Finnish People’s Government and the Red Army"—so history was made (and falsified) in the approved imperialist manner.

This flagrant act of “ Power-Politics" lost the Bolshevists the sympathy of many workers abroad who had still tried to believe that Russia was not playing the same cynical game as the rest of the Governments. It also placed a strain on the Communist propaganda machine. Molotov had said there was no war with Finland, so the Daily Worker went to extreme lengths to report the conflict day-by-day without ever using the word war! Its writers felt sensitive about the slaughter of Finnish workers in the name of Peace and Socialism, so at first they passed off the bombing of Finnish towns as the invention of corrupt journalists.

Later on, when the war extended and Russia declared a blockade of Finland, Mr. Harry Pollitt gingerly touched on the matter of helping people by blockading them and slaughtering them (Daily Worker, December 27th, 1939). After saying that Russia had protested against the Anglo-French blockade of Germany and is helping to break that blockade by supplying foodstuffs to all countries who desire it, Mr. Pollitt said: —
“The Soviet Union’s blockade on Finland will not impose any starvation on the Finnish people, for the Soviet Union will look after them. ...”
If Mr. Pollitt were to stop and consider the inevitable consequences of waging war, including the bombing of ports and railways and the forced evacuation of territories by civilians, he would realise that even granted the will to “look after” the Finnish people, the Russian Government cannot carry out the pledge Mr. Pollitt makes on their behalf.

Mr. Pollitt admitted that, “People are being killed in Finland, and we won’t run away from this fact"—but he did run away from it, by saying, “the responsibility is that of the Tanner and Chamberlain Governments.”

In the meantime, while Russian shells and bombs were slaughtering Finnish workers, Herr Hitler was sending to Stalin his “best wishes for your personal well-being and a happy future for the nations of our friends, the Soviet Union” (Times, December 22nd). To which Stalin replied: “The friendship of the peoples of Germany and the Soviet Union, cemented by blood, has every reason to be lasting and firm” (Manchester Guardian, December 27th). This is rich, coming from the man whose main charge against his fellow-Bolsheviks, who were done to death in the purge, was that they were in the pay of the Gestapo.

From 1919 to 1939
Communists try to maintain that Bolshevist policy at home and abroad has remained essentially unchanged through all the vicissitudes of the past 20 years. They affect to see no disharmony between the Hitler-Stalin Pact and the earlier support of the League of Nations and the Socialist Peace Front. Actually, they do themselves or their predecessors an injustice in thus trying to square cynical acts of aggression with their former statements of principle. Their present actions in Poland and Finland are not in conformity with the Bolshevist declaration of 1917-18: “No annexations, and withdrawal of occupying troops”; “Restoration of any lost political independence.” Nor can they be squared with Litvinoff’s statement at Geneva on September 21st, 1937: —
An aggression remains an aggression whatever the formula beneath which it is disguised. No international principle can ever justify aggression, armed intervention, the invasion of other States, and the violation of international treaties which it implies. —(Manchester Guardian, December 13th, 1939.)
What has caused the Bolshevists to commit an act which provokes feelings of disgust and resentment even among workers who were their sympathisers? There are several reasons, one of which goes right back to the time when the Bolshevists first seized power in Russia.

The more immediate reason is that the Russian Government undoubtedly does feel that from a strategic standpoint Russia would be better placed if various strong points in Finland were under Russian control. The capitalist world being what it is, the Russian Government has reason to fear that, at some time or other, some foreign Powers may want to make use of Finland, as the Allies did in 1918, and as Germany has done since. There may, in addition, be some substance in the statement by the Moscow correspondent of the Manchester Guardian (December 9th, 1939), that Russia wants the Finnish nickel mines as her own resources have proved inadequate.

The other reason is inherent in Bolshevist principles and tactics. The Bolshevists never based their case on the need to win over a majority to an understanding of Socialism. They did not believe it necessary or possible to do so: or more accurately, they knew it to be impossible at the moment, and so they built up a case on assumptions which made it unnecessary. They thought that they could introduce Socialism by minority action and dictatorship. They thought they could “build Socialism in one country” and offset the political backwardness of the mass of the workers by means of terrorism at home and military force abroad. But these ideas were not born fully developed; they have gradually grown and hardened under the pressure of events, and from time to time other ideas have held partial sway.

Back in 1918 Litvinoff, in his book, “The Bolshevik Revolution” (page 53), was unable to decide whether Russia could count on the help as well as the sympathy of workers abroad. He had been disappointed in his expectation that “the Germans would not dare to march against Socialist Russia for fear of their own people,” but, he went on to say, “ If only they could get a respite, the Russian Socialist Republic would be firmly established and would, in due course, even without actual fighting, exercise such a potent influence over the peoples of other countries that the German rule, not only in the territories forcibly separated from Russia, but also in Germany and Austria themselves, would be destroyed. This view carried the day, and the future will show to what extent it was right.”

Events did not come up to Bolshevist expectations. That was bound to happen because the workers of the world were not “ripe for revolution,” as Lenin mistakenly supposed. Lenin’s blindness was handed on to Stalin when Lenin died, and as late as November, 1932, the British Communists, under orders from Moscow, could be saying that, “the masses in Germany are turning towards the revolutionary way out under the leadership of the German Communist Party.” (Manifesto issued by the C.P.G.B.) Actually the German workers were turning to Hitler.

When Hitler came to power, established his position and carried through German re-armament, the Bolshevists had to reconsider their foreign policy. They had to ask themselves again to what extent they could rely for help on workers abroad. After a compromise in the shape of the League of Nations policy under Litvinoff, they took a drastic turn by signing the Pact with Hitler, and are now going all out for the policy of building themselves up militarily in border countries, but in so doing they have vastly weakened their hold on the sympathy of workers in other countries.
Was it possible for history to have taken any other course? Was it possible for the Bolshevists to have remained loyal to their first conception of world revolution based on the minority-led movement of the non-Socialist masses ? They may have wished to do so, but they had committed themselves to the fatal course of trying to impose Socialism by means of dictatorship on an unready world. Lenin and Litvinoff may have had good intentions, but history proves them wrong and endorses their Socialist opponents, who maintained at the time the impossibility of achieving Socialism by dictatorship, war and terrorism. Taking, on this question, an attitude similar to that of the S.P.G.B., the late Karl Kautsky showed where they were wrong in his “Terrorism and Communism,” written in 1919. He concluded his criticism of dictatorship and its resulting terrorism and suppression with the following passage : —
“ It (Socialist development) will not proceed on the lines of a dictatorship, nor by means of cannons and guns, nor through the destruction of one’s political and social adversaries, but only through democracy and humanity. In this way alone can we hope to arrive at those higher forms of life, the working out of which belongs | to the future task of the proletariat.”

No comments: