GENERAL ARTICLES

Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER

The Red Tsar Marches

November 1 1939
GENERAL ARTICLES

Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER

The Red Tsar Marches

November 1 1939

Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER

The Red Tsar Marches

LONDON, October 10 (By cable. Passed by Censor).

In the end, all great issues are decided by the imponderables.

AS I write this cable, the statesmen of Europe are so engaged in trying to estimate the imponderables that it would seem that no one has much time to give to what might be called the ponderables—that is to matters which can be definitely understood and assessed.

In London. Paris, Berlin, Rome and a dozen smaller capitals, the national leaders are all engaged in a European crossword puzzle. Joseph Stalin is the only one who is not taking part. 1 le claims that he knows the answers because he invented the puzzle.

The situation will not last. It cannot. My own guess is that the guns will soon start to roar in real earnest and that all obscurities will lxlost in the fierce hurricane of Homeric conflict on land, on sea and in the air.

Yet it is right that the world’s statesmen should take timeto look into the future, even if on the surface it seems a mockery of the armies which were summoned from the ranks of civil life and sent to glare at each other across a frontier. There is danger in inaction. When war is conjured up from the flames of Hades, it loosens incalculable forces. When the result is a war without serious fighting, those forces play in strange channels. Even so. the risk must be taken to allow the national leaders to study the im|x>nderables.

Without the antics of Moscow the war was clean cut, and not only victory, but the aftermath of victory could be clearly map|x*d. There were two plans, of course, one belonging to Hitler and the other to the Allies. The Hitler plan was a short war against Poland, and then a peace offensive in which the Democracies, having sustained no aerial or military attack, would be asked to collaborate in a hundred years peace on Hitler’s terms. This plan, of course, was known to London and Paris and would not have had the slightest chance of success. Therefore we come to the plan of the Allies. Germany was to be blockaded and held at bay throughout the winter until, with her growing internal disintegration, she would collapse or risk everything in a mad attack in which she would throw in everything she had. This was sensible and admirable strategy on the part of the Allies which would achieve a certain and final result with the minimum loss of life. When the war was ended. France and Britain would be complete masters of Europe and would at once begin regeneration of that unhappy continent. In carrying out this great rebuilding process, I have no doubt that all firearms would be taken away from the Germans for a very long time. Personally I would be strongly in favor of that.

Soul of Pet . r the Great

T T NFORTUNATELY. no one reckoned sufficiently with Mr. Joseph Stalin, who combines a high sense of ironic comedy with a remarkable gift for direct action. Most people thought that when Lenin died his soul entered the breast of Stalin. That is exactly what did not happen. Instead, the soul of Peter the Great rose from the grave, or descended from the clouds, and found sanctuary in the new Red 'Tsar of Russia. Peter was a great imperialist. 1 le dreamed and achieved a Russia which, from its Balkan fortress, could turn its eye in all directions like a beam from a lighthouse.

"If he could do it. why not 1?” queried the successor of Lenin. International revolution and world Communism were good enough slogans to rouse a d<xùle people in the beginning, and to give them dreams in place of bread. But

there were no dividends in that kind of nonsense. The thing was to make Russia powerful—and the ideology could take care of itself.

Stalin, being an Asiatic, possesses infinite patience. He waited for years, and filled in the time by liquidating all those who showed any signs of feeling strongly toward any ideology. He was not going to have the pace forced by any Leninites or Trotskyites who were simple enough to believe in the battle cries of the 1917 November revolution. The pistol shots went on through the nights and the years. Stalin had one great advantage over the Tsars who had preceded him. They murdered, but suffered from fits of remorse that drove more than one to insanity. Stalin is a Georgian, incapable of remorse. He cannot spell the word and does not know' its meaning.

There were, however, two countries which stood in his way. There was that sprawling miracle of the British Empire, where people were allowed to govern themselves and trade with each other w ithout so much as a revolver or commissar’s knout to discipline them. As long as Britain remained supreme, the dream of the new Peter must remain in the secret recesses of his brain. But at last the Red Tsar saw his chance. Germany, the second of his enemies, was getting out of hand. I litler had mounted a horse which he could not control. His jx>lic-y of endless triumphs was bringing him at last into direct conflict with Britain. Uncle Joe rubbed his hands. Sweet were his thoughts as he ate his solitary dinner which had been prepared and tasted by men whom he could trust. His two mortal enemies were almost certain to go to war.

Then there were rumors that the British would send delegates to ask Moscow to join the Peace Front. Stalin looked up from his fixxl. “Fire Litvinov,” he said, “and tell Maisky nothing.”

Litvinov had tried so hard for real peace and a real League of Nations. That was excellent when Russia was an impoverished outcast trying to find any path that would take her back into Europe. But those days were over. This Peace Front plan of Britain’s was too dangerous. It might succeed. “As for the fellow Maisky in London, cut off his telephone. Like all men we sent to England he has become seduced,” said Stalin. P<x>r little Maisky! He was so pleased when the British went to Moscow. He was so feted in London, and so applauded when he assured us all that everything would turn out well. The Peace Front was wonderful. Then, as time went on. he used to come to the House of Commons to find if we could tell him anything of what was going on in Russia.

What Stalin Wanted

YYyTEEKS passed. The Georgian Tsar was in no hurry.

*^ The proud English suitor was on his knees. Let him stay there until his trousers were shiny. Stalin had not forgotten the snubs over a quarter of a century.

But Stalin did not dismiss the suitor. Instead, he put forward a plan. He would help the British and French against Germany, if he were allowed to enter Poland. Esthonia. Latvia and Finland with his armies, so as to stop the Germans conquering those countries. To the eternal credit of the British, they refused. Their purpose was to lilx-rate small countries, not to enslave them either to Slav or Teuton.

Stalin smiled. "Send for the German Ambassador.” he said. The Nazis acted swiftly. The trade commission left Berlin. The rest of it you learned on the radio as the lovely August nights were outraged by the news that Bolshevism and Nazism were holding hands and murmuring how wrong it was for them to distrust each other. The world gasped, but the cartoonist of the London Sunday Graphic depicted the whole thing in what I consider the most brilliant cartoon

of the war to date. He drew' Hitler as an absurd and frightened bride, leaving the church on the arm of grinning bridegroom Stalin. Glancing up at Stalin, the bride is saying, “I didn’t quite like the way he A. Beverley Baxter, M.P. said till death do us part.

With the discernment of an artist the cartoonist had realized at once that Stalin had tricked and mastered the dupe from Berchtesgaden.

Never has a gambler so overplayed a hand as did Hitler on that occasion. The remorseless destroyer of little nations was out of his depth when facing Britain and France and dealing with Stalin. He tried to be cunning. He thought to cheat again. So certain was he that Stalin feared him that he counted on immobilizing Russia, thus leaving Germany to make a deal with the Allies in the West, and then at some later date he would begin the march on Moscow' that would have no retreat.

So the war with Poland began. Hitler had planned a two months war with the Baltic republic. The Poles expected to hold the enemy for six months. Poor, brave people. They could not forget that they once beat the Germans in 1400. In vain did the British and French staffs urge the Poles to prepare a strong line of defense. “We shall rely on a war of mobility,” said the Polish High Command. They did not realize the tragic irony of the words.

Nothing in history is more stirring than the bravery of the Polish soldiers and civilians when Hitler at last unleashed the hounds of war. Alas, nothing could have been worse prepared than the plans of the Polish General Staff. Admittedly the German air force created havoc and confusion behind the lines, but even so, the direction of the Polish war effort was pitiful. Courage alone cannot keep steel at bay, and so the collapse of Poland wras seen to be inevitable.

The whole timetable had gone wrong. Stalin struck the gong. “March!” he cried, and the Red stream began to IX)ur across the frontier to engulf the retreating Polish hordes.

It was cruel beyond words, cynical beyond belief. Over the prostrate body of their victim. Hitler and Stalin once more gazed into each other’s eyes. But it was Hitler w-ho lowered his first. The posturing sign-painter of Austria, the ham actor of Munich, the mystic mountebank of Berchtesgaden, surrendered his dreams without a protest.

I Ie was as broken as any jxxir Jew' grovelling from the blow's of a storm tnxiper in a concentration camp. “The actions of the Russian army.” said Berlin, “are in complete accord with the understanding reached in August between the German and Russian Governments.” There was no harm in saying it. The Germans might believe it, anyw'ay.

Encirclement Complete

YY 7TIEN THE first shock was over in Britain and W France, a sudden brief optimism sw'ept political circles. Was not Russia blocking Germany in every essential direction? Gone was Hitler’s chance to possess the Galician oil fields. Gone was the threat to Roumania’s w heat and Roumania’s oil fields. Stalin had become the policeman of Eastern Europe, holding a red signal against the Gemían juggernaut. The wretched Hitler counted the cost. Italy had been chilled, Japan angered, Spain disgusted—all the magnificent achievements of the antiComintern pact were in the dust. Hitler had gone to Moscow to prevent encirclement of the Reich. By doing so he had completed it.

Ciano hurried to Berlin to make enquiries as to what were Russia’s intentions. Where would her encroachment end? What was the deal between Hitler and Stalin? Hitler blustered, fawned, sulked and lied, but he could not hide Continued on page 50

Continued from page 12

the fact, that he was unable to answer the questions. His generals, smarting under the murder of Von Fritsch, were asking the same questions. So were the admirals. With the cunning of a maniac, Hitler thought it out. If he was afraid of Russia, what about the Democracies? If Germany went Red, how long would it be before the tide of Communism would overrun the Rhine and eventually cross even the North Sea until it crimsoned those proud islands of the damned? So he made his famous speech. I listened to it on the radio, lost in wonder that even a nation of Germans could accept that wild hysterical creature as their leader. Yet there was method in his madness. He dismissed Russia and Italy with a mere sentence for each, and cried for peace. He asked God to help the statesmen of the Democracies to understand the sincerity of his heart—and never before can I remember him calling on God. Not once, but hundreds of times he flung the magic word Peace at the dummy deputies of the Reichstag, but it found its target in the listening millions of all countries. The mothers of Britain, who had wept as their sons left for France, felt a pitiful stab of hoj>e in their hearts. They had wanted their sons to play their part and serve the country; they had steeled themselves against the dread months of waiting and praying—and now from the enemy there was this human cry to end slaughter before it really began.

Already the I louse of Commons had felt the impact, even before Hitler had spoken. The first relief that Russia had stymied Germany in the East was giving way to a feeling that the fate of Europe might pass under the control of Soviet Russia when the exhausted warring nations at last laid down their arms. Lloyd George had sensed it lirst, and had urged the Government not to reject Hitler’s terms too peremptorily when they came. Duff Cooper assailed him at once in a speech that was hot with passion. An angry House vented its fury upon the old man who had been the spirit of victory in the last war. Lloyd George rose in protest. “I do not think.” he said quietly, ‘‘that the word surrender can be associated with my name.” The House had howled him down, but he had won a cer1 tain following in the country.

No one wanted peace on Hitler’s terms.

but they wanted peace if it could be secured with honor and security. Once more the fear of Russia had worked its spell on the dwindling minority of the country.

That is where the matter rests as I finish this cable. By the time these words are read the riddle should he solved. But, greatly daring, I prophesy that Chamberlain will tell the House that Britain desires peace no less eagerly than Germany, but that Hitler’s terms are not terms at all but an ultimatum, and not capable even of discussion. If Hitler really wants peace, he will say, then let him give up Poland and Czecho-Slovakia. Even Hitler could hardly persuade his people that these countries now offered any menace to the Reich. Until that was agreed to, there could he no armistice or any discussion of a general conference. Beyond that I do not think Chamberlain will go, except to reiterate Britain’s willingness to assist Europe to a new and better order of things. In other words, Chamberlain will pass the responsibility of continuing the war to Berlin. Hitler might conceivably reply that he would withdraw from Poland and Czecho-Slovakia, but would insist upon a small military force in each country to ensure no discrimination against the Reich. This will be rejected by London and Paris and Hitler will then be forced to declare that the war is really on, although the point at issue is unimportant, and certainly of little interest to the German people. In that case Britain would have manoeuvred him into a bad position and weakened his hold on his own country. In the meantime the neutrals will press hard for peace and may create an entirely new factor by doing so. but only a miracle can prevent the guns from having the final say.

It all sounds strange and unheroic, but it does not mean that Britain is less resolute. Our only concern here is to destroy Hitlerism while retaining what is worth while in European civilization. That is why His Majesty’s Government is watching every move, and that is why Joseph Stalin waits with the patience of an Asiatic vandal who has been suddenly allowed past the gates of the Western Bourgeoisie, whom he is so willing to destroy.