HATING THE SOVIET UNION
The Communist revolution destroyed in the Soviet Union the power of the aristocracy and that of the capitalists. This was quite enough to engender the Western Governments’ hate towards it. There were, however, idiosyncrasies, peculiar to the circumstances of the revolution, which sharpened the feelings of the Western establishment against it. The Tsarist family was killed without even a formal trial . The liquidation of the properties of the nobility and the bourgeoisie, proceeded at an unusually fast rate. This could be explained by their support of foreign intervention and by their massive emigration.
In addition, the West was very displeased with the ways displayed by the Soviet leaders and government. The Soviet regime disclosed the secret treaties concluded by the Allies. These treaties specified how the expected war spoils would be divided between them. This was done in accordance with a principle unknown till then in diplomacy: the principle of open diplomacy or, in other words, a stand against secret treaties and agreements.
The disclosure of a secret is not a ‘gentlemanly act’. The Western leaders could have no affinity for such a behaviour. They suspected that there was more to it than just the respect for a new principle. Was not the Bolshevik leaders’ intent that of embarrassing the Western leaders and achieving an easy public relation success?
Open diplomacy is an appealing slogan. It certainly has its merits. It remains to see if it is always practical. Secret diplomacy is to be condemned when it aims at preventing the people most concerned from knowing measures affecting them. The Soviet Union did not always practice open diplomacy. Apart from the well know secret codicils which accompanied the Soviet-German non-aggression pact of 1939, a less publicised secret agreement was made with Germany, in the 1920’s. It aimed at military co-operation between the two countries. This agreement allowed the Germany of the time to proceed with some rearmament, military training and prototype testing, away from French surveillance.
Another irritant was the tone of Soviet diplomatic communications. Its flavour can be appreciated from the following example :
In a curious effort to pull Wilson’s leg, Chicherin proposed that the League of Nations should be based on the ‘expropriation of the capitalists of all countries’. ‘In your country,’ he went on, ‘banking and industry are in the hands of such a small group of capitalists that, as your personal friend, Colonel Robins, assured us, it would be enough to arrest twenty heads of capitalist cliques and to transfer to the masses the control by which, by characteristic capitalist methods, they have come to power, to destroy the principal source of new wars.’
John M. Thompson states that this kind of letter was an exception and that other communications were ‘uniformly well written and conciliatory, with a conspicuous absence of revolutionary rudeness’. Nevertheless, even when few, such letters, associated with other unpalatable diplomatic manifestations, could not but increase the feeling that it was difficult to deal with the Bolshevik leaders.
Trotsky, after the Brest-Litovsk armistice, proclaimed ‘to the toiling peoples of Europe, oppressed and bled white’ :
We conceal from nobody that we do not consider the present capitalist governments capable of a democratic peace. Only the revolutionary struggle of the working masses against their governments can bring Europe near to such a Peace. Its full realization will be assured only by a victorious proletarian revolution in all capitalist countries...
In the peace negotiations the Soviet power sets itself a dual task: in the first place, to secure the quickest possible cessation of the shameful and criminal slaughter which is destroying Europe, secondly, to help the working class of all countries by every means available to us to overthrow the domination of capital and to seize state power in the interests of a democratic peace and of a socialist transformation of Europe and of all mankind.
Such declarations did not endear the Soviet leaders to the Western governments. The first paragraph is provocative. The second promises interference in the internal affairs of the capitalist countries. Trotsky justified it by the special ‘emergency situation’: the need to stop ‘the shameful and criminal slaughter’.
Though the Soviet Union would later reach an agreement with other countries, including Britain, not to intervene in the internal affairs of the other, doubts remained as to the sincerity of the Soviet Union.
And then there was the Commintern, The Third Socialist International. It was unlike any other international organisation. A strict discipline reigned in its ranks and the member parties were bound to abide by, and publicly defend, the majority decisions. In it, furthermore, one member had in fact a dominating position. The Soviet Communist party had such a prestige that it was unlikely a Commintern majority would stand against it. Later the domination would become ‘physical’ in the sense that a number of representatives of illegal parties (illegal in their native countries) would be arrested and ‘eliminated’ by the Soviet authorities.
The Soviet Union’s attitude was based on two premises. On the one hand it was believed that the world proletarian revolution was knocking at the door. We quote from the invitation to the first congress of the Communist international :
The present period is that of the decomposition and collapse of the entire world capitalist system, and will be that of the collapse of European civilization in general if capitalism, with its insurmountable contradictions, is not overthrown.
It is interesting to note the general concern for the preservation of European civilisation. The capitalist West, and the communist Soviet Union, were each seeing the disappearance of the other’s regime as a perquisite for that preservation.
The Bolshevik also believed that their revolution would not last unless it was accompanied, or soon followed, by world revolution. A resolution drafted by Lenin and presented at the third congress of the Communist International states :
..international imperialism has proved unable to strangle Soviet Russia.. and has been obliged for the time being to grant her recognition or semi-recognition..
The result is a state of equilibrium which, although highly unstable and precarious, enables the Socialist Republic to exist — not for long, of course — within the capitalist encirclement.
The Commintern was to direct the world revolution including the Bolshevik one itself. It was thought that, to succeed, the Commintern had to be created in the image of the successful Russian Bolshevik Party.
Since the Bolshevik revolution was the greatest achievement of the world proletariat, the main task of the Commintern had to be the defence of the Bolshevik revolution. That meant the defence of the Soviet Union itself. It therefore became difficult to distinguish the Commintern from an institution at the service of the Soviet foreign policy.
Soon the Commintern became irrelevant. With or without it, the communist parties, very willingly, were prepared to follow and defend all the sinuses of Soviet foreign policy. The West, nevertheless, went on attributing to it a sinister significance.
Another irritant in the Soviet behaviour, and that of communist parties in the West, was evident in much of their propaganda, and some of their statements. They were sometimes characterised by a rigidity of thought leading to the use of quotations from Marx, Engels, Lenin or Stalin instead of convincing arguments.
One sign of that poverty and rigidity of thought was the Soviet attitude towards religion. It is easy to tolerate the atheism of the communist party and of its leaders. It is understandable that the regime took measures against that fraction of the religious hierarchy that remained tied to the Tsarist regime. However, the major themes of social justice, equality of opportunities and Soviet power, are not incompatible with primitive Christianity. The Soviet regime could have, without deviating from its atheist stand, proclaimed that the communist regime and a purified Christian church, should be allies in the institution of a society which takes care of the underdogs and provides security for all, from cradle to grave. It was too much to expect from a dogmatic and unimaginative leadership whose paranoiac fear, later, saw a traitor in each dissenter.
Soviet Russia, soon to be named the Soviet Union, had two acknowledged redeeming features. After Stalin’s victory over Trotsky, she stopped advocating a world revolution and adopted the policy of building socialism in a single country. Concurrently, the main international duty assigned to the workers all over the world was no longer to provoke a socialist revolution but to prevent their governments from plotting against the safety of the Soviet Union.
The second redeeming feature consisted in the fact that though the Soviet Union did not participate in the Versailles Peace negotiation, and though she was dissatisfied with a number of its decisions, she, nevertheless, did not aggressively press territorial claims. On the contrary, she was prepared to conclude agreements of good neighbourhood with all the countries lying along her borders.
Revolutions have their phases. The French revolution passed through different stages some of which were particularly violent. It is to be expected that, after a while, revolutions ‘settle down’. Politicians often deem it unfair to condemn the violent aspects of a political change, ascribing them, when they want to do so, to uncontrollable events, and considering them as transient effects. On August 5, 1937, Cordell Hull, the U.S. secretary of State told the German Ambassador :
The more intelligent and thinking people in this country looked upon these racial and religious occurrences more as a matter of temporary abnormality or the outcroppings of highly wrought up emotions, especially in view of the past history of the German people...
This was said four years after the advent of Nazism. During this period, Hitler had massacred in June 1934 a great number of troublesome companions, had left the League of Nations, had proceeded rearming, had militarily reoccupied the Rhineland, had proclaimed the anti-Semitic Nuremberg laws, had established a regime of terror, had made dominant a spirit of dedication to war. This was said less then three months after that Germany, in violation of all recognised international rules, bombed and completely destroyed the Spanish town of Guernica. It was known to Hull that Hitler advocated the belief in German racial superiority and in Germany’s right to expand at the expense of her neighbours.
Austen Chamberlain, the then British Foreign Secretary, wrote about Mussolini in the same amicable spirit :
I believe him to be accused of crimes in which he had no share, and I suspect him to have connived unwillingly at other outrages he would have prevented if he could. But I am confident that he is a patriot and a sincere man; I trust his word when given..
It takes a saint to be so forgiving and so gullible, and Austen Chamberlain was neither a saint nor gullible.
There was no readiness, on the other hand, to grant Soviet leaders the benefit of the doubt because of special circumstances, for having been subjected to foreign military intervention etc.. etc.. Hatred of the Soviet Union and fear of its regime were too great.
However, it could have been expected that when an evident congruence of interest between the West and the Soviet Union would become apparent, it would then be possible to co-ordinate measures for the common interest. This would not require trusting the Soviet regime or the capitalist one. After all, self-interest is a recognised legitimate national motivation.
Such a congruence of national interests became more and more evident with the advent of Nazism in Germany in January 1933. The Nazi regime not only liquidated the German communist party but it manifested ambitions for expansion at the expense of the Soviet Union. It advertised a need for ‘vital space’ and let it be known that this need would be fulfilled by the conquest of the Ukraine.
Though Britain played an essential role in allowing the rearmament of Germany, it soon became clear that Germany constituted a danger to the West. The policy followed by the Soviet Union in the years 1933-1938 only makes sense if we accept that she consistently worked for the creation of a front of ‘peaceful’ countries, countries with no agenda for expansion, to stand firmly opposed to aggression, and ready to use all means to stop it.
The Soviet Union’s efforts were rejected and her motivations were questioned. This was done without giving her a chance to prove how sincere she was, or admitting her sincerity on the grounds of her own self-interest.
Hatred of the Soviet Union was so blind that it worked against the national interests of the Western countries. Captivated by the prospect of German’s aggression against the Soviet Union, they chose to trust Hitler, though the evidence for his sincerity was far weaker than that available in the case of the Soviet Union
A non-Christian may hate the inquisition without hating Christianity. Likewise an opponent to communism could hate Stalinism, and other particular idiosyncrasies of the Soviet regime, without hating communism. The Western establishment hated communism in whatever form or shape. It intensely disliked the particular communist brand implemented by Stalin. There is, however, no communist brand that could find enough grace in their eyes to produce a feeling of opposition untainted with hate. Nazism and Fascism gained their admiration. It is therefore not the dictatorial aspect of Stalinism which offended the West. They could live with much worse, as long as it was not communist. A regime that could exist and develop without private ownership of the means of production was, in their eyes, indecent, immoral, and uncivilised. It was moreover, to them, as dangerous as an epidemic of the plague.