THE FEAR OF COMMUNISM
The history of Britain is filled with popular riots, mutinies and radical movements. It is thus natural that the British ruling class should have a traditional fear of the ‘mob’, the common people. This fear goes back for centuries. Each time the ‘mob’ was on the move, the intensity of that fear would reach hysteric proportions. And, when the people were quiet, the fear remained, fed by past memories and by apocalyptic predictions. Each time a crisis would occur or be about to occur, the phantom of mob action would make its re-apparition and scare the establishment out of its wits.
When the common people take to the streets they are called a mob. In the eyes of the establishment ‘mob’ reflects the people’s threatening aspect. If instead of a rough and disorderly crowd, it is a disciplined crowd the threat is perceived greater. It would still be reflected in the term mob.
Even when the demands are moderate the threat is felt to be great . For, as the crowd becomes aware of its power, what would prevent it from escalating its demands, and where will it stop?
Any political movement of protest contesting the authority of the king or the government would draw the hate and contempt of the governing class. There is, however, a difference between a Cromwell — who, though he decapitated a king, nevertheless was supported by a bourgeois parliament and had no program directed against the property owners — and a Tyler or Ball who could move the most common people, those with no property at all, against the land owners and the aristocracy. Later, similar men would rise from the ranks of the workers to advocate theories akin to socialism and communism, even before the publication of the Communist Manifesto.
A retrospective look at early ‘mob’ leaders’ may explain the intensity of the Establishment’s fears. John Ball, a fourteenth century preacher, went to jail for his seditious sermons. He once declared :
Good people, things will never go well in England so long as goods be not in common, and so long as there be villeins and gentlemen. By what right are they whom we call lords greater folk than we? On what grounds have they deserved it? Why do they hold us in serfage? If we all came of the same mother, of Adam and Eve, how can they say or prove that they are better than we, if it be not that they make us gain for them by our toil what they spend in their pride? They are closed in velvet and warm in their furs and their ermines, while we are covered with rags. They have wine and spices and fair bread; and we oat-cake and straw, the rain and the wind in the fields. And yet it is of us and of our toil that these men hold their state.
On another occasion he said:
When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?
A peasant revolt headed by Wat Tyler freed John Ball from jail. As to Wat Tyler himself, ‘he was assassinated by the Mayor of London, in the presence of the young King Richard II (1381), and his movement collapsed’ . The king’s hatred and vengeance was a measure of his fear.
At a time at which communications were much slower than today, perturbations in any European country would, nevertheless, reverberate and impact on every other country. They would, in time, generate the feeling that nowhere can the property owners be really safe unless they act together in complete solidarity.
The Tyler revolt in England was preceded by the French Jacqueries. The Wycliffe’s writings in England inspired the Hussite movement in Bohemia with its communistic tendency. For the establishment, the enemy was one wherever it raised its head. It is thus that all the European aristocracy united against the French revolution. The French nobility would, in the ranks of the enemy’s armies, fight against the French republic. The republicans would say that the French nobility was betraying its country. The French aristocracy would say that the republicans were betraying God and civilisation.
The three headed Hydra of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity could not be destroyed. Restoration of monarchy in France proved to be illusory. The French revolution in 1848 was followed by similar movements of revolt all over Europe. A return to Bonapartism was followed in France by the short-lived Commune of Paris. This regime mainly supported by workers, by ‘the mob’, had no respect for privileges and property . It also considered working for a factory owner a kind of slavery .
With the help of French war prisoners, liberated from internment by the Germans for this very purpose, the Commune was brutally crushed. The well-to-do in all countries would be able to breathe freely again. But the call was close . Everyone remembered how the French ideas had previously shaken the whole of Europe. A victorious Commune in Paris, or anywhere else, would certainly be followed by Communes elsewhere, and ultimately everywhere.
The Commune was beaten, but the spirit of rebellion within the common people, could not be extirpated. Socialist ideas continued to spread within the working class. The battle once more ignored frontiers. The German Marxist theories had currency all over Europe while Irish secret worker’s societies spread in the United states. The ‘rule of the mob’ in any one European country, was a reason for scare in all other industrial countries.
The socialist movement did not start with Karl Marx. Along with the mild socialist ideas of Robert Owen, more class-oriented socialist writings appeared in England. In 1838 Bronterre O’Brien wrote :
The history of mankind shows that from the beginning of the world the rich of all countries have been in a permanent state of conspiracy to keep down the poor of all countries, and for this plain reason — because the poverty of the poor man is essential to the riches of the rich man.. The rich have never cared one straw for justice or humanity since the beginning of the world. We defy any historian to point out a single instance of the rich of any age or country having ever renounced their power from love or justice, or from mere appeals to their hearts and consciences. There is no such instances. Force, and force alone, has ever conquered them into humanity
For the Establishment this was threatening literature with a distinct flavour of internationalism. It seems to consider a conflict between all the rich people in all the world, and all the poor people in all the world, conflict that can be resolved, the author says, only by force. The struggle was international and would, more and more, become so. Though the threat was far from imminent, it could not be discounted that it would grow more serious.
The appearance of labour societies and labour parties, reinforced the establishment’s doubts in the virtues of democracy and universal suffrage. It could end up in delivering the country into the hands of ‘irresponsible leaders’.
The fear of universal suffrage was traditional. Cromwell’s soldiers, who risked their lives for the victory they secured, asked for the right to vote. It was denied to them, and General Ireton, Cromwell’s son-in-law, stated that “no person hath a right to an interest or share in the disposing of the affairs of the kingdom..that hath not a permanent fixed interest in this kingdom.” He then added that “if you admit any man that hath a breath and being”, a majority of the Commons might be elected who had no “local and permanent interest”. “Why may not those men vote against all property?”. Even Cromwell’s peers were afraid of the people!
E.P. Thomson mentions the case of “The moderate Yorkshire reformer, the Reverend Christofer Wyvill, as to whose devotion there can be no question,” and who “nevertheless believed that a reform on the principle of universal suffrage ‘could not be effected without a Civil War.’ ” The author quotes the reverend saying on the 16th of December 1797:
In times of warm political debate, the Right of Suffrage communicated to an ignorant and ferocious Populace would lend to tumult and confusion.. After a series of Elections disgraced by the most shameful corruption, or disturbed by the most furious commotion, we expect that the turbulence or venality of the English Populace would at last disgust the Nation so greatly, that to get rid of the intolerable evils of a profligate Democracy, they would take refuge.. under the protection of Despotic Power
This sounds like a futurist scenario for fascism. The reverend wrote in 1792 :
If Mr. Paine should be able to rouze up the lower classes, their interference will probably be marked by wild work, and all we now possess, whether in private property or public liberty, will be at the mercy of a lawless and furious rabble
The reverend was expressing the opinion of the property owners of his time. Since then, and in spite of persecutions against the Chartists — one of whose demands was universal suffrage —, British society made great strides in the direction of democracy. The class of property owners, however, remained adverse to it . Churchill himself — who, when he thought it politically expedient, raised the banner of democracy — opposed universal suffrage.
His stand reflected his personal experience. He was Home Secretary at the time of the rail strike in 1911. On this occasion :
Without waiting for requests from the local authorities, Churchill mobilized fifty thousand troops supplied with twenty rounds of ammunition each, and dispatched them to all strategic points.
..The important point was Churchill’s instruction that the military commanders were to ignore the regulations that forbade the use of military unless it was specifically requested by the civil authority. This was a very serious abrogation of control by the Home Secretary, whose consequences could have been alarming.
To be ignorant of the law is bad enough, to know the law and ask military commanders to ignore it, betrays a contempt of the law, and the measure of his fear.
The General Strike in 1926 caused a real panic in the British Establishment :
Despite the massive weight of constitutional and extra-constitutional preparations — against workers’ organisations ill-equipped except in their solidarity — the Conservative mind in 1926 was a study of apprehension and fear. By a decision of the courts the strike was declared illegal and the strike leaders outlawed; obediently, then, the strikers — the leaders and the bulk of the led — retreated from an ‘unconstitutional’ action and called off the general strike. Yet Prime Minister Baldwin, in a broadcast to the nation, sombrely pronounced the strike ‘a challenge to Parliament and.. the road to anarchy and ruin’. ‘Constitutional government’, wrote Neville Chamberlain, ‘is fighting for its life; if we failed, it would be the revolution, for the nominal leaders would be whirled away in an instant.’ Prominent members of official society panicked under the tension of the nine days of strike: the wife of Duff Cooper (Lady Diana Manners) ‘could hear the tumbrels rolling and heads sneezing into the baskets’. And Duff Cooper — generally calm and judicious in comparison with his senior colleagues about relations with the democracy — is the source for this amazing exchange: ‘Diana asked me this morning how soon we could with honour leave the country. I said not till the massacres begin.’
At a committee meeting set up to consider the means of using the Territorial Army on police duties Churchill :
..put everyone at their ease at once. ‘I have done your job for four years, Jix, and yours for two, Worthy, so I had better unfold my plan.’ Whereupon he propounded the eminently sensible idea of asking territorial battalions, particularly those in London, to volunteer en bloc as auxiliary police. They would be paid at military rates, and given a reasonable subsistence allowance in lieu of rations...Joynson-Hicks intervened to enquire where the money for this extra expenditure was to come from. The Home Office, he said, had no funds available. ‘The Exchequer will pay,’ retorted Churchill. ‘If we start arguing about petty details, we will have a tired-out police force, a dissipated army and bloody revolution.’
The General Strike was peaceful and ended peacefully. But, in his fear, Churchill sensed in it the potential for a bloody revolution. Let us note that in such cases, getting money becomes a petty detail .
Early in the thirties the establishment panicked once more at the prospect of the great number of unemployed being radicalised. Churchill had his own ideas :
He denounced “the folly of all plans of marching off the unemployed in gangs and battalions to artificially fomented public works, and professing thereby to remedy unemployment,” and declared that: “There is indeed, a small proportion for whom some disciplinary control in labour colonies might well be appropriate, but the vast majority must look only to re-absorption in the normal or natural industries.” And what if “the normal or natural industries” were decaying and dying? Churchill’s remedy was “for the sheep, compassion; for the goats, discipline.”
Law breakers fall under the arm of the law. “Labour colonies” are not for them. They are for those workers who, while respecting the law, manifest the mentality of a “goat” instead of that of a “sheep”. The disciplinary labour colony considered for them by Churchill is nothing less than a concentration camp for ‘dangerous goats’.
With that kind of fear of the workers, that is to say of the main segment of the British population, it was to be expected that Churchill would not relish the universal suffrage. And indeed, in 1934, he expressed opinions against it . “He wished to give”:
extra votes to the millions of men and women, the heads of the households and fathers of families who are really bearing the burden and responsibility of our fortunes upon their shoulders, and are pushing and dragging our national barrow up the hill (Listener, January 17, 1934).
“On January 24, to the readers of the Evening Standard, he explained at greater length.. that”
..the proceedings of the House of Commons have sunk to the lowest ebb,
“that there were no interest in Parliament, and that popular discontent might well result in the next election in a”:
majority of inexperienced and violent men
“with the result that”:
the responsible elements in the country will lose all control both of the House of Commons and the executive.
“The cure for this state of affairs was to retreat from universal suffrage”,
a universal suffrage electorate with a majority of women voters will have shown themselves incapable of preserving those forms of government under which our country has grown great and from which all the dignity and tolerance of our present life arise.
Churchill would even do without elections, which in his eyes, had little redeeming features. He stated in October 1932 :
Elections, even in the most educated democracies, are regarded as a misfortune and as a disturbance of social, moral and economic progress, even as a danger to international peace. Why at this moment should we force upon the untutored races of India that very system, the inconvenience of which are now felt even in the most highly developed nations, the United States, Germany, France, and in England itself?
The well-to-do feared the people at all times, in Cromwell’s times and in Churchill’s times.
The Bolshevik regime, when it came to be, was seen to embody the terrible nightmare of the ‘mob rule’. With Lenin, the spirit of past English, French and Czech ‘mob’ leaders became flesh, again. The reports from Russia were contradictory but most of the Western leaders were in no need of reports to be certain that the new ‘imposed’ regime was monstrous.
No report denied the belief that leaders there were ruling through mob power. And, when the mob rules in any country, it provokes within the members of the establishment, in all other countries, a kind of Pavlov-like reaction of distaste, frantic fear and irrational predisposition to believe the most ridiculous rumours .
For the establishment, It was enough to know that this mob rule was communistic, that it was against all privileges of birth, rank, position and fortune. These privileges, in the eyes of the well-to-do, were precisely the signs by which the most decent people, the most knowledgeable, those who best represented the progress of civilisation and its culture, could be distinguished. To hurt that group could only be a barbaric threat to Civilisation, be it called Western, European or Christian. There was no need for reliable reports to know what barbaric can be, and therefore is.
In a confidential memorandum, Lansing, the American Secretary of State, wrote on October 26, 1918:
Its [Bolshevism’s] appeal is to the unintelligent and brutish element of mankind to take from the intellectual and successful their rights and possessions and to reduce them to a state of slavery..
Bolshevism is the most hideous and monstrous thing that the human mind has ever conceived. It ... finds its adherents among the criminal, the depraved, and the mentally unfit ... yet this monster which seeks to devour civilized society and reduce mankind to the state of beasts is certainly spreading westward ... A Bolshevik Germany or Austria is too horrible to contemplate. It is worse, far worse than a Prussianized Germany, and would mean an ever greater menace to human liberty.
To consider the possibility of a Bolshevik Germany is an indication of the Allied belief that Bolshevik ideas could spread fast. This was written before the end of World War I, close enough to the end so that its horrible cost in human lives and sufferings could already be known. At the time, nobody in the Allied camp would acknowledge Allied responsibilities in the outbreak of the war. Nobody had the least doubt that the war had been caused by the Prussian militaristic spirit and by no other cause.
The war was not yet won and yet millions of lives had already been sacrificed to put an end to Prussianism. To prefer at that time, ‘by far’, a Prussianized Germany gives the extent of the additional cost in lives and sufferings the Allies were prepared to impose on the European people, if that would be what it takes to stop the ideological spread of Bolshevism.
The quote says more. German Prussianism was being combated because it threatened to militarily dominate Europe. To eliminate Prussianism was an explicit aim of the war against Germany. Russian Bolshevism was an ideological threat. The preference expressed in the quote was for a Prussian Germany with its concomitant military domination, rather than a successful spread of the Bolshevik ideology. Given the two alternatives, we are told what the choice would be. Chamberlain in the thirties believed he faced the same alternatives, and made the same choice.
At the time the memorandum was written, the Allies were supporting notorious brigands who were committing a large number of crimes against the Russian population. Lansing knew it. He knew however that the ‘civilised world’ had little choice. Whoever opposed Bolshevism had to be supported. Only thus could it be stopped, and destroyed. Brigands come and go and, whatever regime they install, it respects the rights of the ‘intellectual and successful’ and protects ‘their rights and possessions’. One should hope that their regime, against all odds, may later become benevolent and, even democratic.
We saw that Lansing also knew the Bolsheviks were popular in Russia. He did not realise that his fear coupled, with his understanding of the Bolsheviks, meant that most of the population in the West, and particularly in Austria and Germany, were ‘unintelligent, brutish elements, or criminal, depraved or mentally unfit’. With such a pessimistic understanding of the common people anything would be better than their direct rule as was the case with the Soviet system, at least in its early days.
With such a view there is a tendency to disbelieve any report describing the Bolsheviks in better terms and to prefer the reports which, no matter how suspect could be their sources, reinforce the prejudice associated with Bolshevism.
At the time, the name of Stalin was barely known; his terrorist regime was still to be instituted. Reliable official reports asserted the devotion of the Bolshevik leaders to their cause, the absence of terrorism and a dedication to the cause of the common people. All this was considered superficial when confronted with the fact that ‘European’, ‘Western’, ‘Christian’ civilisation was being destroyed. There could be no greater terrorism than to dispossess those privileged by destiny. There could be no greater terrorism than to appoint inexperienced common people as ministers, and to subject the cream of the population to their rule.
The Western leaders who, while in possession of reliable information originating from their own representatives on the spot, repeated the unfounded rumours, were not guilty of lying. They chose to believe those rumours which were more in tune with their fears and to discard any evidence to the contrary.
That is not to say that, when it came to combat communism the western leaders abstained from lying. Lying they did whenever it was necessary, either to prevent the Bolsheviks from being seen in a better light, or to ensure the pursuit of a policy which could not be avowed publicly . The following rather long quote illustrates the difference between the reality and the ‘impressions’ which were allowed to dominate over the public opinion. Writing about the ‘backstairs’ contacts maintained with the Bolsheviks through Sadoul (French), Robins (American) and Lockhart (British), Kennan wrote :
They saw the Soviet leaders not as ogres or monsters of sorts, but as human beings, and in many ways impressive human beings at that. It was a startling experience for these men, after long immersion in the Western society of that day — where the accent was so extensively on individualism, on personal vanity, on social rivalry and snobbishness — to encounter men who had a burning social faith, and were relentless and incorruptible in the pursuit of it....
The Soviet leaders knew what they wanted; they worked day and night to carry it into effect; they gave no thought to themselves. They demanded discipline from others; they accepted it for themselves. In their seriousness of purpose, in the forthright simplicity of their behaviour, in their refusal to bother over nonessentials, in their contemptuous rejection of personal considerations to the needs of the movement, in their willingness to get their hand dirty in the interest of the cause in these manifestations of the early Bolshevik personality, a thousand outworn affectations and pretences of the era of the turn of the century seemed to go crushing to the ground. For those who saw this at first hand, the impression was unforgettable...
...Their firsthand knowledge could not fail to make them impatient of the stupid and prejudiced views about Russian Communism that were beginning to find currency in Western officialdom and respectable Western opinion. It fell largely to them to combat such silly and ineradicable legends as the belief that the Bolsheviki were paid German agents or that they had nationalized women.
Note that the three persons who were trying so hard, and so unsuccessfully, to let the truth be known, had been commanded by their government precisely to report the truth. But since the truth was not to the liking of the establishments it was not acted upon, and the ‘officialdom’ went on giving currency to the prejudiced views .
What matters here is the realisation that the fear of communism, in the years separating the two World Wars, was not related to the fear of the Russian state at the service of an aggressive military policy. It was related to the fear that the communist ideas could spread to all of Europe. It was the fear that communism could inspire a modern John Ball movement. It was the fear that whenever the inability of the government to resolve a crisis to the people’s satisfaction could become apparent, the people might opt for a solution ‘a la Bolshevik’. Moreover, a number of crises were looming on the horizon. Similar crises have proven dangerous in the past. They sometimes required the use of force to suppress what was considered to be a rebellion (some strikes for instance). Now that troops appeared to rebel on many occasions, one feared that the government might not be able to suppress such mutinies. This was what the fear of communism — communism as exemplified by the Bolshevik revolution — was all about.
We have seen in the previous chapter that the Allies placed their hate of Bolshevism above the need to reconstitute an Eastern Front against Germany. This cannot be explained by the distaste felt by the Allies towards Bolshevism. Germany was still the enemy against which the Allies had struggled three years and which, still, could conceivably win the war. Why then not to concentrate first on what it takes to win the war as surely and quickly as possible, even if it entails delaying the fight against Bolshevism?
It was however feared that Bolshevism, if not combated, could get a stable hold over Russia. If not eliminated now, the task could later become much more difficult if not impossible. Militarily and economically weak as it may then have been, a Bolshevik regime would be extremely dangerous as a model to be followed. The potential danger to the establishments, all over the world, was so great that it surpassed the threat of a German victory. A victory over Germany would not be worthwhile if it would be followed by the spread of Bolshevism, Now, before it be too late, was the time to ‘strangle [it] at its birth’ .
What greatly intensified the fear of Bolshevism was that, at the end of World War I, conditions in Europe were harsh. Unemployment and hunger were widespread. The disappearance of the German danger weakened national unity. The fighting spirit could not be sustained or revived. Soldiers, be they French, British, or Americans would rebel rather than fight Russia. The British soldiers riots at Folkstone in January 4, 1919 and the mutiny of an American company in March 1919 indicated that the allied armies were not reliable in the fight against Bolshevism in Russia. Could then the army and the police be relied upon to fight Bolshevism at home? J.M. Thompson writes :
The unreliability of troops to fight the Bolsheviks was complemented by labour unrest on the home front. In February 1919 strikes and riots in England reached such proportions that Lloyd George hastened back to London from the peace conference to deal with the situation .
and then :
Even before the armistice, the Western leaders were apprehensive. On October 30, 1918, Colonel House reported to President Wilson that in discussing the danger of Bolshevism with Clemenceau and Lloyd George, the latter “admitted it was possible to create such a state of affairs in England, and both agreed anything can happen in Italy.”
Thompson goes on :
Although there was certainly no imminent danger of a Bolshevik revolution in America, even Wilson was troubled with what he interpreted as signs of future difficulty. On October 16, 1918, he told Sir William Wiseman, a confidential British representative in the United States: “The spirit of the Bolsheviki is lurking everywhere... There is grave unrest all over the world. There are symptoms of it in this country — symptoms that are apparent although not yet dangerous.”
Thompson, speaking of the western leaders at the Paris Peace conference summarises the situation :
Thus from the very beginning the peacemakers were affected by the spectre of Bolshevism. Consider it they must; deal with it they could. Western society was under fire. Revolution threatened Central Europe and even their own countries. The men at Paris believed that they had to bring order to Russia, maintain stability in Germany and Austria-Hungary, and make a peace that would satisfy the aspirations of the masses. And all that had to be done quickly if they were to beat back chaos and anarchy.
In this last quotation, Thompson is using the language of the time, which does not differ too much from the language used during the 1920s and the 1930s. ‘Revolution’ is the communist revolution. To ‘satisfy the aspirations of the masses’ is in order, except in the measure in which the aspirations are pro-Bolshevism as was the case in Russia. To ‘satisfy the aspirations of the masses’ means also to take a position that, formally, answers the challenge of the peace principles lead down by the Bolsheviks .
To ‘bring order in Russia’ should read to use whatever means leading to the suppression of Bolshevism. To ‘beat back chaos and anarchy’ means to succeed in preventing the people, the ‘mob’, from taking to the streets any longer, preventing the people from impeding a military intervention in Russia, and thus reduce the danger of a Bolshevik revolution.
A number of Western leaders have recorded the scare felt by the Establishment at the time. The American statesman Sumner Welles remember that :
Postwar Europe was a desperately shaken community. The same strange contagion of panic which swept Europe at the close of the eighteen century again gripped the continent in the early twenties of this century. Governments and the wealthier classes saw the spectre of Bolshevism in every sign of unrest, political or social.
He also wrote in the same vein :
The revolutionary character emanating from Communist Russia had aroused a panic of hysteria throughout Western Europe and the New World
Samuel Baldwin records that “When the war ended we were in a new world.. class conscious and revolutionary it was.” ‘It was’, placed at the end of the sentence, could give it a sense of solemnity as if the speaker is still shaken by what he remembers.
The story of the Allied military intervention, in Russia, as well as that of its support to groups of doubtful morality and policy, has been partially and summarily told in the previous chapter. The intervention failed for reasons which are no longer controversial though still worth mentioning:
w the soldiers in the Allied armies of intervention did not want to make war any longer. They revolted in many instances.
w the people at home were against intervention. It was feared that, in these conditions, intervention in Russia could bring Bolshevism at home .
w the ‘White’ armies, supported materially by the allies, and considered in the West as representing the will of the people against Bolshevism, were lead by Tsarist officers who were not hiding they wanted to restore the old Tsarist regime. The morale of these armies was low and their troops were deserting constantly to join the Red Army. It became evident that material support would not do. Direct military intervention was needed, and was no longer in the cards.
w the moral of the Red Army was high. Lloyd George stated in a memorandum that the Leninists :
..somehow or other they seemed to have managed to keep their hold upon the masses of the Russian people, and what is much more significant, they have succeeded in creating a large army which is apparently well directed and well disciplined — it is the only army that believes that it has any cause to fight for’.
w the possibility still existed to create an intervention army of volunteers and mercenaries. It was considered but the idea was rejected when the estimate of the cost proved to be prohibitive.
And so, Soviet Russia came out of the imposed civil war as a stable country. The Western world could have come to terms with its existence, but it did not.
For some time the threat of Bolshevism was perceived imminent. For a short time a communist revolution installed a soviet regime in Hungary, and the scare in the West reached new peaks. Then Poland invaded the Ukraine with the hope that the new Soviet regime will not have the strength to resist. The Polish army was however stopped and forced to retreat to the gates of Warsaw. The fear in the West knew no bounds.
With the help of the West, in particular with a Western military leadership that included the General Weygand and the officer De Gaule (to become later the General De Gaule) the Soviet troops were forced to retreat and the Russo-Polish war, initiated by Poland, ended with some Ukrainian territory — East of the Curzon line — in Polish hands.
Finally, the strong fears concerning Italy and Germany dissipated with the advent of Fascism and Nazism. A Bolshevik revolution was no longer imminent in these countries. But the danger was still great and would remain as long as a single country in the world had a communist regime.
The Establishment did not have to go far to substantiate its fears. One could not dismiss the possibility that the communists in France, Spain etc. would become strong enough to come to power. The United Front in these two countries was disliked by the British Establishment. Thus, Franco’s revolt supported by Hitler and Mussolini, had the sympathy of most British conservatives . Franco would prevent Spain from leaning to the left.
While British governmental circles were sympathising with Franco, considerations of the benefits of ‘a strong government’ in France would float around. In a letter to Mr. Eden, from Ambassador Sir E. Phipps in Berlin, on November 10, 1936, we can read :
..it seems by no means certain that a Fascist France need necessarily turn her back on us or throw in her lot with Frau Germania. But in any case it seems absolutely essential for us that (1) a strong Government, capable of restoring and preserving order, should soon emerge in France..
The French government was, at that time, the one brought to power by the Popular Front of Socialists, Radical-Socialists and Communists. The government itself did not include communist members. It is against the same kind of Popular Front in Spain that Franco revolted. To Ambassador Phipps’ credit, it must be said that he was very outspoken against the Nazis. He did not stop warning Britain against the horrors of the Nazi regime and against its aggressive intentions. Nevertheless, when at the time at which the British establishment wholeheartedly supported Franco, to suggest the need of ‘a strong government’ in France to replace that of the Popular Front, while brushing off the danger a French Fascist regime would constitute, is a strong indication of the extent of the British Establishment’s fear and the extent to which it would go to put an end to ‘mob democracy’. Let us note that the ‘disorders’ that occurred under the French Popular Front were of the kind common in Britain itself. The difference was that, under the Popular Front government, many of the workers’ demands were satisfied and there was a definite improvement in their working conditions.
Britain would not feel secure with a French Government that would have wrong priorities, such as defining Germany as the main threat. Britain considered at that time the necessity of doing ‘anything’ to topple such a French Government . Sir Orme Sargent, Assistant Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office wrote in a memorandum:
M. Paul-Boncour at the Quai d’Orsay is a disaster and an invitation to him would only strengthen his position, whereas it must be our sincere wish to see him out of office at the earliest possible moment. In fact, I should go so far as to say that any thing we can do to weaken the present French Government and precipitate its fall would be in the British interest.
One can only guess at the range of measures that would be considered by Britain to topple the French Government. There were enough political leaders in France who shared the British understanding on proper priorities. They were not at ease with a Foreign Affair minister who, far from opposing the Soviet danger, aimed at facing the German threat in alliance with Russia. Such a man had to go. We will see that there is evidence of British influence resulting in Bonnet, the nefarious Bonnet, becoming the minister of Foreign Affairs. The fear of communism lead to the need of an ‘understanding’ with Hitler’s Germany. This would not be possible with Paul-Boncour at the Quai d’Orsay .
But what about the British Labour Party? Could any Conservative trust them? Today the question seems preposterous. The Labour Party has never been revolutionary. Nonetheless, what would occur if, after a sweeping electoral victory, and under the influence of its left wing, it would decide to peacefully implement the socialist principles? For the Conservatives, the question was not academic but very actual.
A two days’ debate was held in the House of Lords on March 20, 1935 on a motion tabled by members of the Labour Party stating that capitalism is the source of most social ills and that the time had come to implement Socialism. During the debate, Labour members of the House of Lords defended the principles of socialism and explained their significance. The exposition was definitely Marxist in tendency. To the Conservatives, Socialism, as expounded by these Labourite Lords, looked very much similar to the Soviet brand of Socialism except for a commitment to abstain from the violent overthrow of the government, for a peaceful evolution and for limited compensations to the dispossessed. The tabled motion gives a taste of what the Conservative Lords were subjected to :
Lord Sanderson rose to move to resolve, That in view of the failure of the capitalist system adequately to utilise and organise natural resources and productive power, or to provide the necessary standard of life for vast numbers of the population, and believing that the cause of this failure lies in the private ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, this House declares that legislative effort should be directed to the gradual suppression of the capitalist system by an industrial and social order based on the public ownership and democratic control of the instruments of production and distribution.
In the presentation of his motion, Lord Sanderson said:
We believe that this capitalist system cannot be patched up, that it has broken down really beyond repair
The debate contributed to convince the Establishment that their rule was not safe. The only reassuring factors were the success of Fascism and Nazism in eliminating the threat of the communist and socialist parties. Sumner Welles, former Assistant Secretary of State and personal friend of Roosevelt, remembers that:
At first, however, the major powers, and in particular Great Britain, breathed a sigh of relief. From their standpoint Italy had become quiet and orderly. It was in hands that would ruthlessly root out all signs of Communism.
Business interests in every one of the democracies of Western Europe and of the New World welcomed Hitlerism as a barrier to the expansion of Communism. They saw in it an assurance that order and authority in Germany would safeguard big business interests there. Among the more reactionary elements of the Church, there was a paean praise..
In the case of Hitler, as in the case of Mussolini, the greedy, the Tories and the short-sighted heralded his rise to power with enthusiasm. I can remember one American Ambassador who publicly applauded Mussolini as the harbinger of a new era of glory, not only for the Italian people but for the rest of the civilized world as well.
The Italian and German example showed the British establishment what was to be done in the eventuality of the crystallisation of the threat. Thus, speaking about Mussolini, Austen Chamberlain stated in November 1925:
It is not part of my business as Foreign Secretary to appreciate his action in the domestic policies of Italy, but if I ever had to choose in my own country between anarchy and dictatorship, I expect I should be on the side of the dictator
Thus, in Rome, in 1927, Churchill congratulated the Italians on their:
triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism.. rendered a service to the whole world.
..Italy has shown that there is a way of fighting the subversive forces which can rally the masses of the people, properly led, to value and wish to defend the honour and stability of civilized society. She has provided the necessary antidote to the Russian poison. Hereafter no great nation will go unprovided with an ultimate means of protection against the cancerous growth of Bolshevism.
With no ambiguity, Churchill is stating that Fascism is the way to go for all great nations in case of the ideological spread of socialism or communism.
General elections were held in Britain on the 30th of May 1929. The Labour party got 287 seats against 261 to the Conservatives and 59 for the Liberals. The increase of Labour popularity did scare the well-to-do in Britain. And though the Labour Party proved to be innocuous, the possibility was there that Leadership contests might bring more combative elements at the top of the Party.
Whether to eliminate the socialist ideology at home, or to prevent the spread of Bolshevism in Europe, the British establishment was convinced that there was no alternative to the overthrow of the Soviet regime in Russia. This was why it turned to military intervention. Its failure did not eliminate its motivation. Since the means used to overthrow the Soviet regime turned out to be inadequate, it is only human that the European Establishment, in particular the British one, endeavoured to find other ways.