GENERAL ARTICLES

Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER

Russia's Star Rises

February 1 1942
GENERAL ARTICLES

Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER

Russia's Star Rises

February 1 1942

Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER

Russia's Star Rises

LONDON, Jan. 10 (By Cable). At the moment of writing the Russians are smashing their way to Smolensk where, if reports are true, Hitler has established his headquarters. Napoleon also had his headquarters at Smolensk a cen tury or so ago: and as Hitler, like Joan of Arc, is given to listening to voices, he no doubt summons the Little Corsican to advise him on how to escape the winter, the Cossacks and the wolves that are gnawing at his vitals.

The gigantic dimensions of the battle in Russia are almost beyond human understanding. The consequences will be such that history itself may date a new chapter from the day the Germans launched their attack against the Soviet. Never have the experts been made to look more foolish. Never has a nation so skilfully concealed the extent of its war preparations. Never has a battle contained greater political potentialities than this desperate struggle in the snow-covered plains of Russia.

The only man I know who has been absolutely right is a voluble Russian Jew who is a small miller somewhere in Western Canada. One night last September when our train pulled out of Winnipeg, westbound, an excited little man came up to me in the observation car and introduced himself. He spoke with a foreign accent and at such a speed that the ear and the understanding could hardly follow him. He had come to the good country of Canada a few years ago from Russia. They were kind people, the Canadians; he was glad to be one of them. His father had died in the Revolution and he had a brother in the Red Army. My wife entered and I introduced her. “Oh,” cried the little man, “I am proud to meet Miss Dorothy Thompson!”

After this excursion into the improbable he went back to the war, politics, Canada and life in general. At last I was able to ask him a question— “How long can Russia hold out against the Germans?” His eyes flashed with excitement. “I will tell you,” he said. “The Germans will not take Moscow and I do not think Leningrad, either. The Germans have destroyed much Russian war industry but Stalin has a huge second line of production in the Urals. The Russian Army is very large and very good; they will retreat slowdy until winter and the Germans will be trapped. The Russians will then beat the Germans.”

He had no doubt whatever of the outcome. “Stalin is very clever,” he said. “For a long time everything has been for the Army. When you join the Red Army you get better food, better education, and are respected. It is grand to be in the Red Army.” Thus talked the little Russian Jew who had become a Canadian miller. As it turns out, he knew more than all the experts of Britain and the U.S. put together—and he certainly knew more than Hitler.

Last night an American diplomat, quoting a reasonably accurate source, told me that Russia

had 700 divisions as opposed to Germany’s 280 when the battle began. If that figure is anywhere near correct than it is not only staggering but makes a laughing stock of every secret agent in existence. Seven hundred divisions! No wonder the German radio laments each night that its frozen troops are fighting an unequal battle. No wonder the British public cheers everything Russian and has made of Soviet Ambassador Maisky the most popular figure in London.

Smash to Berlin?

ÍET US try, however, to sift the hard facts and ^ then take a glimpse into the future. Here is what is known in London as a result of direct contact with Moscow:

1. Stalin is definitely optimistic.

2. Compared with his generals Stalin is a pessimist; they believe that they are going to smash right through to Berlin.

3. At the beginning of the battle the German Air Force had a superiority over the Russian of fifty per cent; this has been wiped out.

4. Stalin greatly admires the British Navy and Air Force, but thinks our Army is of a size fit only for colonial adventures. He thinks the courage of the British people under air raids was splendid.

5. Stalin is in favor of a powerful Poland after the war, which means presumably that the Poles will get the whole of East Prussia.

6. Stalin thinks Turkey has played a useful and honest role in the war.

7. Stalin believes Germany should be completely disarmed.

There are other points which cannot be revealed just yet, but what I have given is sufficient indication of Russia’s present attitude toward the unfolding drama of events. Perhaps the most astonishing turnover of opinion is the regard that Stalin has for Churchill. You will remember, or perhaps you will not remember, that Churchill organized the war against the Bolshevik regime in 1919. It was a flamboyant attempt to replace the Reds with the Whites but history, always true to itself, saw to it that the threat from outside merely succeeded in consolidating the country behind the none too strong Lenin administration. Now Stalin thinks Churchill a grand fellow. What a strange turn of the wheel it will be if Churchill, the White Sir Galahad of 1919, should be the honored guest of Red Moscow in 1942.

But Stalin has good reason to be grateful to Britain’s Premier. When Hess came over to these Islands it was to reveal the German plan for attacking Russia and to ask us either to make peace with Germany and cease fighting, or to make peace and join the attack on Russia. This information was at once conveyed to Moscow, which gave Stalin an invaluable few weeks to prepare for battle.

There is another man to whom we should all be grateful—Neville Chamberlain. When Russia joined in the partition of Poland after that country’s defeat in 1939, there was a great outcry that Britain should make itself an honest nation by declaring war on Russia. Chamberlain, with his uninspired common sense, muttered that he saw no

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London Letter

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reason to add Russia to Britain’s enemies as long as there was a chance of detaching the Soviet from its concordat with Germany. Later came the Russian attack on Finland and public opinion here became vociferous, for the spectacle of a huge nation striking at a small one rouses the most primitive resentment. We can see now the Russian tactical necessities in the matter, but at that time the attack on the Finns roused revolt in every decent breast. Chamberlain held back and as usual was denounced as an appeaser. Quietly an Anglo-French force of 100,000 soldiers was got ready and a number of British volunteers were allowed to go to Finland. The clamor went on and both Daladier and Chamberlain were being hard pressed.

Then Hitler, who has something more than genius for committing blunders, publicly warned the Swedes that they must not allow allied troops to pass through their territory to aid Finland. If he had been as shrewd as he is vain, Hitler would have done everything possible to embroil Britain with Russia. But he didn’t; and Chamberlain held the Anglo-French force back, thus adding still more to

the outcry against him. The maligned man from Birmingham would not even go to war against Russia when he had been presented with two glorious opportunities.

Let us heave another brick at his memory and then let us give three hearty cheers for our glorious ally and friend, the Russian Soviet.

Secret of the Soviet

NOW let us return to the present.

What is the secret of Soviet Russia? How has the once Great Incompetent among nations become a mighty military power, magnificently equipped with modern weapons and fighting with courage and patriotism that is wholly glorious? There are those who will shout at once that the answer can he given in one word —Communism. Well, let us be perfectly fair. If we compare the fruits of Russia under Communism with the fruit of Russia under Czarism, then we must admit at once that in realism and material accomplishment the Bolsheviks have proved infinitely superior. What is more, Communism has not lessened the love that the Russians always had for

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their own soil, but has actually intensified it. There used to be many jokes about the Five Y ear Plan, but at least Russia had a plan, which was something the Democracies never enjoyed. And if the engineers of capitalist U.S.A., Britain and Germany helped the industrialization of the Soviet, that does not lessen the immense achievement which has resulted in the powerful country we .see today.

When this war is won and Russia is the strongest military conqueror in Europe there are certain to be political repercussions in every other country. Left-wing movements will be stimulated into greater activity than ever before and we shall hear the old cry of the workers’ and soldiers’ government. In other words there will be attempts to reproduce in certain countries the political parallel of Russia in 1919. One does not need second sight to visualize the rising status of labor everywhere. That is to be welcomed. Labor has earned the right to full partnership and it will be a better world when that is recognized. But before we reach out with our arms and take Communism to our breasts it would be well to consider one or two facts.

Russia had experienced centuries of tyranny under the Czars which had to be liquidated. It was not so long before the last war that the serfs were liberated. The revolution was therefore violent—perhaps it had to be -and cruel beyond description. Parliamentary government, such as it was, disappeared; freedom of the press was gone and there had come into being what a witty Russian called “the two-party system”—that is, one party in power and one in prison. Perhaps it was the only way Russia could achieve discipline. It meant the rule of secret police, it meant isolation from the outside world, it meant the era of pistol and informant, it meant the end of intellectual freedom.

But there were many compensations. A new Russia was emerging from the old, incompetence was being liquidated. Men who had so short a time past been serfs felt new pride and ownership in their country. True, it was collective ownership, but that is better than serfdom. When Victory comes will those Russians not expect a greater measure of personal freedom as their reward? I remember ill-fated Kerensky once saying that a nation which has tasted freedom, if only for a day, will never rest until it has found freedom once again. It is not beyond probability that Stalin realizes this and will move toward the centre in his general policy.

Future Roads

STALIN has learned many things in this war. He saw the despised, effete British Empire stand alone against the Axis powers and give Russia twelve invaluable months to prepare. He has seen the British Empire, with no chains but those of sentiment and tradition, rally like members of a family to a common cause. He saw the British and American people send him vital

supplies although their own position in the Far East was thereby jeopardized. In other words, he has seen the falterings of Democracies but also their inspiring powers of resurgence. In our turn we have seen the harshness of the totalitarian regime in Russia, but also its realism which has shamed the rest of us. Russia is certain to move forward to a greater measure of political personal freedom as time goes on. The process may be slow, for freedom is not a star that can be snatched from the skies.

On the other hand, we who have enjoyed freedom for centuries cannot plunge into a political experiment that would leave one party the absolute master of the country. If we have allowed free speech, free press and free Parliament to bemuse our national purpose and thus weaken democracy to a point that its very existence is threatened by totalitarianism, then we must search our hearts and ask why we misused these things. But we cannot give up freedom now. Of all people the British dare not shackle the right of a man to think his own thoughts, speak his mind, worship in his own way and elect his own rulers.

There will be great changes and upheavals when the war is over and the voice of the extremist will be heard in every land. We of the British Empire can learn from Russia: we can never learn from Germany. But we must remember that the war genius of the British people is their ability to alter without destroying. If a new Jerusalem is to be built on ola England’s green and pleasant Land, we must see to it that we hold in reverence all those things of spirit that have been handed down through the ages. Discipline must come but freedom must stay.

So in this first month of 1942 Soviet Russia and the British Empire look at each other with mutual admiration, but also with the knowledge that both will go forward to the future on different roads, though the roads may converge eventually. We honor Soviet Russia for her epic bravery and her realistic preparations to meet the German menace. She honors us because when the world collapsed and the tide of tyranny threatened to overwhelm the Western Hemisphere, we held the dikes alone.

That is not a bad basis for co-operation in the future.

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Fuel And Wind Resistance

DRIVERS who burn up the road at high speed pay for their folly by also burning up an excessive amount of fuel. Recent mileage efficiency tests, conducted by Plymouth experts with several popular makes of automobiles, showed a startling loss of power and fuel at higher speeds to overcome wind resistance alone. At eighty miles per hour, the average car lost fortyeight horsepower just to buck the wind, which is equivalent to climbing a 6.8 per cent incline. At forty miles an hour, the loss was reduced to six horsepower.—Popular Mechanics.