GENERAL ARTICLES

Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER

The Swing to the Left

A. Beverley Baxter February 15 1945
GENERAL ARTICLES

Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER

The Swing to the Left

A. Beverley Baxter February 15 1945

Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER

The Swing to the Left

A. Beverley Baxter

ALL WARS are, in essence, civil wars, if we believe in the theory of the L human family, but this war has

been the crudest of all, because it has been waged against the human spirit. Pity, chivalry, faith and prayer itself have been crushed until cynicism and despair huve spread like a plague even where the German has not marched. To understand what is happening in Europe today those busic facts have to be accepted.

It is in times like these that the extremist comes into his own and finds fruitful soil in the minds of decent men who have grown weary and have lost their

belief in the eternal values. That is one reason why in every country in Europe, including Britain, there is a tremendous sweep toward the Left in politics, a desire to hand over government to the men who have never had a chance to rule.

Here in Britain, where passions seldom get out of hand and evolution is always preferred to revolution, the propaganda of the Left has reached the proportions of a torrent. The Socialist Party, respectable and unadventurous by instinct, remains in the coalition and refuses to admit the Communists or Commonwealthers to affiliation. Yet nothing is more certain than that the Socialists, if they win the next election, will eventually be captured by the firebrands.

From that to the totalitarianism of the Left is but a step—and when I use “Left” in this connection I mean the extreme Left. Nothing is static in politics, the world is always in a state of change, and the war has hastened that process by unleashing forces which may prove stronger than the men who will try to direct them.

I want to be as objective as possible in painting the picture as I see it, and will endeavor to show how good intentions and genuine idealism are mixed up with what is sinister and unpredictable. Let us accept the premise, that evil does not enter into it at all, and that even those who are most violent genuinely desire to better the lot of the common man. I do not know whether you in Canada have any parallel to the situation here and on the Continent, but it is possible that the sap is stirring in the trees even with you.

The other day, when the Greek debate was taking place at Westminster, a crowd of excited Communist factory workers cornered me in the public lobby and protested against the killing of Greeks who had fought “against Fascism.”

“You mean they fought against Germany and Italy,” I suggested.

“No, no!” they protested. “They fought against Fascism. This is a war of the workers against the Fascists.”

I relate that for one purpose only, to call attention to the attitude of what is known as the Left Wing in -every country in Europe. With the oversimplification of minds that are not used to subtleties or shades they now believe that the present war was started by capitalism and Fascism with the purpose of enslaving the workers. Therefore the workers, or the Left Wing, are the residuary legatees of victory. To them the spoils of conquest—in other words the right to form governments and fashion things to their own choosing.

Historical Patterns

IF YOU try to tell them that Mussolini was a man of the people, a Socialist, who seized his chance to establish a one-party tyranny in Italy, they will shout that he was a Fascist. If you tell them that Hitler was a down-and-out, a painter of signs and characterless sunsets, a man of the people supported by large sections of the people in the fateful formulative years

of the Nazi movement, they will answer that he was a Fascist. Tell them that the Germany of the Kaiser and of Frederick the Great was exactly of the same soul as the Germany of today and they are not. interested.

The only difference between the tyranny of Frederick the Great and the Kaiser as opposed to the tyranny of Hitler and Mussolini is that the latter have displayed a more devilish ingenuity—there is nothing new in autocracy, whether it comes from the Left or Right. The French Revolution broke the chains of the serfs in Europe, and, despite its ferocity,

created a noble vision for humanity, but it speedily degenerated, through exhaustion and corruption, to a point where Napoleon was able to apply the strong hand and fashion a military machine which not only conquered Europe but whose ambitions kindled a fierce revival of ultranationalism among his enemies.

Events have a habit of fitting into a pattern, and so we can see from the distance of time that the French Revolution, with its idealism and excesses, gave birth to French militarism, which in turn gave birth to the curse of ultranationalism which was to breed the world wars of the 20th century. To pretend that there is anything new in the Fascism of Mussolini, Hitler or Franco is to deny history itself. Yet so persistent is the belief that the world war and the world revolution are struggles between Fascism and the Left that the truth is lost in the confusion.

To the men who keep their vision clear it is evident that the war is one of conflicting nationalisms representing democracy and autocracy and that the political struggle is between totalitarianism and democracy. Germany, the eternal criminal, aims at destruction of free nations by weight of arms, and then the destruction of democracy as a way of life. The Left Wing propagandists are historically wrong when they try to make it an issue between the workers and the Fascists.

They are tired of the word “democracy” and only give it lip service when expediency necessitates. As an example of this take the sordid scenes when Sir Oswald Mosley was released from prison. For hundreds of years Englishmen fought and died for the principle that no man could be detained in prison without trial. That struggle culminated in Magna Charta, when a few crabbed Latin sentences, signed by a king’s unwilling hand, gave liberty to half the world.

Mosley, in his intentions and thoughts, may have been as guilty as Judas but he was never brought to trial. Yet when he was released the Left Wingers stormed Westminster to protest. Why? Because he was a Fascist. If he had been one of those Communist leaders who did their best to obstruct the war effort in 1940, and richly deserved imprisonment, the same crowds would have demonstrated to secure his release. We should have heard much about the liberty of the subject, although it was completely forgotten in the case of Mosley.

The other day in a committee room of the House of Commons the Members of the Conservative Party presented Churchill with an 18th century painting of Parliament, to commemorate his recent 70th birthday. He talked to us, not for publication, but as a band of comrades who had chosen him for leader. In reviewing the past he came to 1940. “It is my belief,” he said quietly, “that in that year the British Empire not only saved itself but human liberty.”

Who doubts that statement? There is glory abounding for the mighty victories of Russia and America, but nothing can take from the great democratic Commonwealth of British nations their destiny

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—inspired service to mankind when they stood alone.

The People’s War

Rut is the splendor of that glorious hour to shine only on the Left? Better than most people, because of my association with the aircraft factories, I know what the workers contributed toward victory when invasion threatened. Twelve hours a day, seven days a week, they labored with hands and hearts that refused to grow weary. It was magnificent, beyond praise or gratitude. The giant of British labor has not faltered in this war.

Factories can supply the sinews of victory but they cannot achieve victory itself. Who were the young pilots who rode into the summer skies against the massed formations of the Luftwaffe? Many of them came from the universities in the Dominions, from homes where they had known comfort, and were as innocent of political partisanship as they were of the war guilt itself.

In Britain those pilots were the sons neither of the factory worker nor the old-established country families. They came from the mute, inglorious middle class, from the pleasant suburban home, often, too often, the only child of an ex-officer from the last war. The sons of factory workers fought just as bravely in the Army, and the sons of the county families joined the Guards and regiments of the line, fighting and dying with courage enriched by tradition.

On the seas the merchant and fighting ships were manned by rough, dauntless men who faced death because the sea was their heritage and in their blood. They were commanded by officers trained through the years to hold the shield against the encroachments of the enemy. On the battlefield our Armies were led by Wavell, Montgomery, Alexander, Mountbatten, Gort and others, whose families had been wealthy enough to equip them for a military career.

In other words the whole nation fought the war. It was the democracy of Britain in union with the British democracies from across the seas which saved human liberty for the world. Those who would reduce such service to partisanship or party advantage are not worthy to have fought in such a cause.

Churchill, in his talk to us yesterday, summed it up in a phrase. “I have always believed,” he said, “in retaining what is best in the traditions of the past, just as I have always believed in evolution.” Unhappily, in the extremism of the present time, tradition is outmoded and evolution has become too mild a word.

In studying the trend of political thought in Europe one cannot omit the profound influence of Russia. The gigantic accomplishments of Soviet Russia in the field have given to the Left Wing sections of every country a feeling of importance and respectability. This is logical and understandable. Russia, as the birthplace of Communism, was denounced and derided of men, and those who believe that Russia’s war achievements are based on her political creed have a perfect right to walk with pride in the Market Square.

Unhappily in Greece, and not only in Greece, the Left Wing claims the right not only to walk in the Market Square but to march in it with rifles in their hands. As Communists, and therefore the spokesmen for Russia, they denounce all other forms of government as Fascist and demand the right to rule.

It does not matter that King George of Greece and his Dictator Metaxas declared war against Italy (when Britain stood alone) and even refused to bow to the German ultimatum. To the mob all the heroism of the ages cannot cleanse the memory of Metaxas or the hands of King George for their crimes against Greek democracy. There is no atonement for those who stood against the virtuous Left.

To the Left Wing the war dates from the day that Russia became a belligerent. Before that it was a capitalist war or an imperialist war or an economic war, but with Russia’s participation it became a holy war, and the Communists are the saints. I imagine that Stalin is not greatly impressed and there is no evidence that he tries to encourage such a preposterous philosophy, but he would be less a realist than he is if he did not accept the fact that these militant bands must strengthen his influence in western Europe. Russia’s slogan is “Death to the enemy!” Russia’s stooges change it to “Death to the Fascists!”

Tories Preserve Democracy

When Germany is defeated the British will hold their first general election for more than nine years. That election will be as fateful as it is unpredictable. If it were normal times there would be much to be said for the Conservatives going in to a period of opposition. It is not good for the parliamentary system or for the Conservatives themselves to have one Party in more or less perpetual power. Yet because of the circumstances which will surround the next election it seems to me that the safeguard against totalitarianism can only be the return of the Tories with the largest representation.

As the Liberals cannot hope to be more than a minority factor it leaves the Tories the only Party which can represent British democracy as a whole. I do not claim that they are the perfect representation or that privilege and tradition do not play too great a part in their counsels but with all their faults they do speak for the nation in every section of its life.

The struggle that the old world is facing is between totalitarianism and democracy, it is not between Fascism and Communism. All forms of totalitarianism are a threat to democracy, whether it is German, Italian, Japanese or Russian. That is why I sincerely believe that the wild propaganda of the Left in Europe, with its class hatred and its bitterness, even though it has its component of genuine idealism, is menacing human liberty. I believe, with them, that the era of the common man is at hand and that poverty is a crime against God, but that era must embrace us all, and progress be denied to none.

Otherwise the dark night of Europe will not pass in our time.